Jn Jaffa, a Mu­seum Stands at Odds With His­tory

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Alex Co­co­tas

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

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