Jn Jaffa, a Museum Stands at Odds With History
On the border of Tel Aviv and Jaffa are the ruins of an old house overlooking the beach and the Mediterranean Sea, with an anomalous black cube rising from its remnants. This is the Etzel House, also known as the Museum of Jaffa’s Liberators. It is dedicated to fighters of the museum’s eponymous organization, better known as the Irgun in English, a Jewish militant group in Mandate Palestine led by Menachem Begin. Along with the nearby Hassan Bek mosque, the ruins are one of just two structures that remain from Manshiyya, formerly the northernmost neighborhood of Jaffa.
The presentations on display in this odd building in the no-man’s land between Tel Aviv and Jaffa constitute a small and isolated example perhaps; but it’s a presentation that’s also foundational to the current Israeli government’s worldview.
After the establishment of Israel, Begin founded a new political party, Herut, which he later merged with other right-wing parties in 1973 to form the Likud, the same party that Benjamin Netanyahu leads today.
I grew up an ardent supporter of Israel and was active in the Israel Action Committee when I was in college. In 2013, I moved from New York to Israel to teach English on a MASA program — supposedly a twenty hour a week commitment, though MASA neglected to mention an almost equivalent time allotment to hasbara. I soon became disillusioned after frequent encounters with vitriolic racism and began questioning everything I knew, or thought I knew, about the country; among the early inquiries was Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus architecture, or rather: the lack of meaningful connections between its architecture and the Bauhaus, which led me further into city’s history and roots. After working in a school, I had a sense of what was happening in the school system — disparaging comments about co-existence from teachers, the general denigration of Arabic as an educational pursuit — but I was not totally prepared for what I found at the museum.
On the day of my visit to the Etzel House, a school group has also come. Another class waits outside. A guide from the museum leads the students around the exhibits. She appears to be from an Orthodox nationalist background, doing national service as an alternative to the military. The students are from a secular school. They have come to learn about the war accompanying Israel’s establishment, particularly the battle for the city where they now stand.
The museum displays set the tenor for the tour. The Etzel, it conveys, was heroic, decisive, an unquestionable moral force for good. The Etzel tried to warn its fellow Jews (about the British, the UN partition plan, the Arabs) but was ignored: The Etzel was correct. The Etzel, whose emblem