This article examines daily encounters between Jewish and Arab societies and their mutual influences on one another during the British Mandate, focusing on the beaches of Haifa as a case study. Mandatory Haifa was a “mixed city”1 in which the two dominant population groups, Jewish and Arab, shared a public space that inevitably entailed daily encounters as a mundane aspect of the urban routine. Haifa is a unique case because at the time it was experiencing more accelerated economic, social, spatial, and demographic growth than any other city in Palestine. From a small town of little regional relevance in the late-nineteenth century, it grew during the Mandate years into a regional crossroads, industrial metropolis, British capital, and administrative and military headquarters. As a new economic hub, it also attracted thousands of Jewish and Arab immigrants. In 1922, there were 24,634 inhabitants in the city, of whom 18,404 were Arabs and 6,230 were Jews. In 1931, the city had 50,403 inhabitants, of whom 34,480 were Arabs and 15,923 were Jews. According to the census conducted in 1944, the population of Haifa grew to 128,500 residents, with 62,500 Arabs and 66,000 Jews. In 1947 the city already had 130,000 inhabitants with an equal number of Jews and Arabs.2 These rapid urbanization processes (which were already underway toward the end of Ottoman rule) modified Haifa’s urban public space and generated new forms of leisure and recreation. Within a few years Haifa experienced a tremendous expansion of commercial and public institutions of leisure, which began to operate and cater to diverse social groups.
Among the most popular leisure sites to emerge during this period in Haifa, as in other coastal cities in Mandatory Palestine,3 were the organized beaches.4 They served as a magnet for Jews and Arabs, who would routinely pass the time there, side by side, throughout most of the Mandate era. This article analyses these interactions and uncovers the mutual influences produced by this inter-cultural encounter. In addition, it demonstrates that physical proximity between these communities in a mixed city, which was experiencing the emergence of a national conflict, generated a complex relationship characterized by mutual curiosity and constant reciprocal examination. Focusing on beaches, this study scrutinizes how the cultural and leisure life of each community constituted a subject for observation, comparison, and competition for its counterpart. The process took place both directly, through actual encounters at the beaches between individuals, and indirectly, through (conscious as well as unconscious) imitation of the neighbouring community’s observable forms of recreation. The article shows that for each community, this dynamic produced a range of reactions that simultaneously included criticism and condemnation alongside adoption and imitation of leisure models and infrastructures, which had an internal influence within each community. Thus, an examination of Haifa’s beaches reveals the great extent to which the Arab and Jewish societies were deeply interrelated and influenced by each other during this formative period. It also enables us to see them not as a mere reflection of the political conflict, but as independent subjects which did not sweepingly adhere to national ideologies.
During the Mandate period, the city of Haifa saw the emergence of a vibrant cultural life which altered daily individual experiences and desires. Leisure became a central component in the lives of ordinary people in both the Arab and the Jewish communities.5 As there was no physical barrier separating the recreational areas of the two communities, people could spend their free time at one another’s leisure sites. The centrality of the new leisure scene made these venues a neutral space for daily interaction and spontaneous encounter as well as cultural collaboration between Arabs and Jews. Unlike other public spaces in the city, such as workplaces, public transportation, or shopping centres, where inter-community meetings were inevitable, spending time in the other community’s leisure locale was a voluntary action of personal choice. Therefore, using leisure as a category for historical analysis provides us with a unique vantage point to examine the intricate and multifaceted reality in which, notwithstanding people’s awareness of or commitment to the national cause, they chose to visit the recreational sites of the rival collectively.
In this sense, a study of leisure culture challenges the conventional – Israeli as well as Palestinian – historiography, which has based its investigation of both societies on the ‘Dual Society’ paradigm.6 Such works, which gave disproportionate attention to political, diplomatic and military aspects, addressed each community separately downplaying the importance of reciprocal relations and mutual influence in other spheres of life. These studies established a misleading assumption whereby the two communities lived and developed in detached from the other, with the interaction between them mainly taking the form of conflict and violence.7 In recent years, however, new historical studies have emerged that challenge this approach, pointing to a variety of reciprocal relations that took place between Jews and Arabs in different areas.8 As part of this new scholarship, the present article points to the daily contact between Jews and Arabs in the city’s leisure and recreation spaces, which had a cultural impact on each society. Given the limited scope of this article, we cannot examine all Mandatory Haifa’s recreational sites.9 We will therefore concentrate on beaches, which constituted a central component of leisure culture at the time. Their great popularity made these places an important arena for encounters between Jews and Arabs of different social classes. Moreover, focusing on beaches sheds light on the manner in which local entrepreneurs, both Arab and Jewish, participated actively in constructing and actualizing the spreading urbanization and modernization processes underway in those years. The present examination of interactions between the two communities relies on the analytical model proposed by Baruch Kimmerling, one of the pioneers of scholarship based on the analysis of Jewish-Arab relations during the formative years of the Mandate era.
His model aims to uncover the reciprocal influences of the two collectivities in relation to the process of crystallization and society-building within themselves. To this end, he divides the encounters between the Arab and Jewish communities into two main types: “concrete interactions” and “model interaction”. According to the model, “the concrete interactions were the systems of exchange and competition, cooperation and conflict which existed between the two sides in different spheres, both on the level of (individuals) fulfilling social roles, and on the level of groups or social strata within each of the collectivities”.10 On the other hand, “the model interaction derived from the attitude to the existence of the other side in the interaction over its image, its perception of its essence, and its activities. Thus, for different parts of the collectivity, the other side became a positive or negative reference group, either in its entirety or else in differential spheres of action”, as a result of which the other collectivity became a partial or complete model to be imitated or rejected.11
This article explores both types of interactions between Jews and Arabs as they manifested at the beaches of Haifa. Although in practice these two forms of interaction were not differentiated, but rather intertwined and conditional on one another, the analysis focuses on them separately so as to permit an in-depth examination of each one. As Kimmerling asserted, “there is no doubt that analysis of the two societies from such a reciprocal perspective will add significantly to the understanding of their imminent developments”.12
During the Mandate era, the beaches of Palestine generally, and Haifa specifically, came to be recognized as popular leisure sites, drawing large sectors of the population. During those years, swimming in the sea and spending time on the shore gradually became a new cultural ritual that represented the ultimate landscape of modern leisure in Jewish and Arab societies alike. Yet the emergence of beaches as a resource for pleasure and enjoyment was a relatively late phenomenon in the history of the Mediterranean regions. From Antiquity through the eighteenth century, the beach aroused fear and anxiety in popular imagination, which perceived it as a perilous place, a source of unknown catastrophes and diseases.13 In the Palestinian context, the sea elicited much hostility which manifested in folk wisdom, expressed through such sayings as “the treacherous sea” or “the sea only gives us death”.14 In the mid-eighteenth century, European elites started touting the curative qualities of fresh air, exercise, and sea bathing, thereby paving the way to the emergence of the “restorative sea” notion, which became associated with the virtues of balm and healing.
The 19th century marked the transition from the use of beaches for restorative purposes to its use as a site for recreation and relaxation, and gradually this approach permeated the middle and working classes as well.15 In tandem with this transformation, summertime vacation sites began to pop up in the coastal cities of southern Europe, while the solar revolution enhanced the attractiveness of these sites by promoting suntans as healthy, aesthetic, and fashionable.16 These changes paved the way to the recognition of sea bathing as a popular leisure activity, which in turn spread to Middle Eastern shores during the later decades of the nineteenth century. Until that time, Haifa had been a small fishing town, where the sea served primarily as a source of food. The gradual urbanization that took place during the late nineteenth century, in combination with settlement by foreign communities, transformed the local population’s antagonistic attitude toward the sea. During those years, the city’s residents began swimming at a few unregulated beaches that emerged along the northern section of the port.17 In 1898, in preparation for the German Kaiser’s visit to the city, the Templers built a pier on the shoreline of the German Colony, which over the coming years became a main bathing beach that also offered dressing rooms and fast food.18 In the first decade of the 20th century, the local population began discovering the attraction of beaches and the pleasures of a stay at the seaside. The introduction of improved transportation and the rise of secular tourism during the Mandate period accelerated these developments and turned the beach into a commercial site for leisure consumption.
Soon after the inception of the British Mandate, the municipality of Haifa leased the German Colony shore to a group of Palestinian and Jewish entrepreneurs who collaborated in its renovation, constructing separate bathing areas for men and women, a spacious café, and an auditorium for plays and concerts.19 Adjacent to this beach, which became the most attractive recreation site in the city, were several unregulated beaches. In the mid-1920s, a Palestinian businessman, Aziz Khayyat, recognized the power of attraction that organized beaches in the Jaffa-Tel Aviv area held and decided to establish a private beach, which eventually became known as al ‘Aziziyya beach among the city’s residents.20 Since the shorelines near the city centre were rocky and therefore unsuitable as bathing beaches, Aziz Khayyat purchased ten dunams of sandy coastline south of the city, adjacent to Samir village.21 Shortly after opening the beach to the public, Khayyat introduced a number of innovations and improvements. As he himself related to the newspaper al-Karmil:
The shore stretches along three kilometres, of which half a kilometre consists of bathing beaches, and on this part of the shore we built huts and pergolas with reclining chairs where seating is free. We also established separate bathing areas for men and women, where each shower area has a number of rooms, and the sandy shore is clean and free of gravel. In addition, we built a few of iron poles and tied ropes between them, for people to grab if they are afraid or tired of swimming. A nice café has been opened on the beach and we paved several paths along the shore.22
In the late 1920s, the government began constructing a modern port in the city, which was intended to serve as transportation hub for the British Empire in the Middle East. The shoreline was extended into the sea in order to expand the business zone near the port, thus destroying the public beach adjacent to the German Colony and leaving Khayyat Beach as the only organized establishment in the city. Given the lack of public transportation to this beach, located several kilometres from the city centre, some form of transportation services became a necessity. For the first few years Khayyat used two trucks refurbished with benches, and as the number of bathers grew, he established the Khayyat Beach Bus Service which crossed through Hadar Hacarmel, the German Colony and Bat Galim neighbourhood.23 Toward the end of the decade, as the popularity of the beach further increased, Khayyat initiated negotiations with the management of Palestine Railway in order to add a rail line to the beach.24 Initially the PR management rejected the idea for financial reasons, but eventually it became convinced of the need for a direct route to the beach, which was inaugurated in August 1931. When the company began earning a handsome profit from popular beach-bound train, it decided to operate the line on a round-trip basis four times daily, with stops at main stations around the city.25 Having a railway line enhanced the success of the beach and encouraged its owner to improve the site’s infrastructure and offer additional recreational services.26 These included regular performances by the British military orchestra, dance parties on Friday nights, and a daily afternoon concert, among other activities.27 Such innovations established Khayyat Beach as the most modern and advanced bathing beach not only in Haifa but throughout Palestine.28 Descriptions by Haifa resident Abd al-Latif Kanafani reinforces this conclusion:
The al ‘Aziziyya recreation site included a bathing beach, amusements, and a top-tier restaurant [that was] sought after by all the visitors because of its high quality, which was unparalleled in the country as a whole. The food and drinks were of the highest quality and standard, served by a Nubian waiter wearing a fez and shining white clothes. Around his waist was a red sash, similar to those of the palace servants that frequently appeared in the Egyptian movies. Meanwhile a jazz orchestra played dance music for hours upon hours in an atmosphere of merriment and joyfulness.29
During the 1930s, the city saw the emergence of a few more organized bathing beaches, mostly under Arab ownership. “Near Jaffa Road was Seikaly Beach, owned by the Seikaly family, a reputable Haifa family, as well as Abu Nassur Beach, known today as the Quiet Beach.”30 Abu Nassur Beach was called also as the East beach (situated near the current site of Rambam Hospital), and unlike Khayyat Beach, which was somewhat far, it was located in the city centre and its accessibility attracted residents from across the city.31 The beach was opened to the public in 1933, resulting, as reported by the newspaper Filastin, in “many beachgoers thronging to it…. Mr Abu Nassur managed the beach with determination and enthusiasm, which brought many praises”.32 Another well-known beach was al-Butaji Beach, situated in the southwestern part of the city near Tel Shikmona, which drew middle-class families as well as foreign residents.33 In the mid-1930s, Bat-Galim Beach was inaugurated by a Jewish-owned company named Bat-Galim Seashore Enterprises, Ltd., which sought to construct a well-tended, sophisticated Jewish beach. Adjacent to the beach, the company built a swimming pool, the first Olympic-sized pool in the country, surrounded by a stadium with a seating capacity of 2,500-3,000.34 Because most of the regulated beaches in the city were private, the municipality decided to create a public bathing beach, which opened in June 1939 near the port’s breakwater.35 All these beaches provided a refuge from the summertime heat and the overcrowding that characterized many of the city’s apartments. Over the years they became epicentres of entertainment and well-established popular recreation sites that formed an integral part of the city’s leisure culture.
Ill. 1 Palestine Railway Advertisment
The spread of Haifa’s beaches made them accessible to all the city’s residents. While other recreational commercial options were quite costly and primarily attracted the urban elite, the beaches provided an accessible public leisure space that drew people from all walks of both Jewish and Arab societies. As a consequence, they became a prominent site for concrete interactions between Jews and Arabs. A review of these sites sheds light on the complexity that characterized leisure sites at the time, as on the one hand they provided a venue for daily interactions between residents of the two communities, while on the other hand they became infused with political tension.
Khayyat Beach was undoubtedly the most popular beach in Haifa and therefore drew the attention of various newspapers in Hebrew and Arabic, which closely covered the activities there. In July 1931, one of these newspapers reported that “thousands of residents in Haifa and other cities are thronging to the bathing facilities on the seashore at Khayyat Beach in order to escape the tremendous heat Palestine has been experiencing in recent days”.36 Another news item, in the newspaper Filastin, stated that droves of people, Arabs, Jews, and British, were flocking to Khayyat Beach from across Palestine because of the heavy heat wave affecting the region and Europe.37 The beach’s sophisticated facilities, in combination with the recreational options it offered its customers, drew young Jews and Arabs who regularly spent time at the beach together or side by side.38 A reporter for the newspaper Filastin praised the well-tended facilities on the beach, observing that “multitudes of young Arabs and Jews come [to the beach] and after they tire of swimming, they sunbathe until their bodies blacken to the point that one cannot tell who’s who”.39 Similar descriptions of shared reactional activity involving Jewish and Arab youths or families emerged from interviews with city residents who had frequented Khayyat Beach in their younger years.40 The sense of routine and calm that characterized the experience of Jewish beachgoers who visited Arab-owned beaches even during the rising political tension of the late 1940s is evidenced in the memoirs of Haifa resident Amos Yarkoni, who described his childhood trips to the beach:
In the summer, the whole family would go to the sea every Saturday, to the “cabin on Khayyat Beach” that was rented for the entire season. The cabin, one of dozens in a broad arched structure facing the sea, was in a closed section that required an entry fee. In order to reach the bus station – a service also operated by Aziz Khayyat – all of us would march with all our equipment from home to the station at HaNevi’im Street. Most of the passengers on the bus knew each other, and calls of “Vus hert zach?” [in Yiddish] and “Al-Hamdullillah” [in Arabic] sounded from one end of the bus to the other.41
As an experienced businessman seeking to maximize profits, Aziz Khayyat took measures to expand his client base across all of the city’s communities. He reached out to the Jewish public through an advertising campaign in the Hebrew press42 and urged Palestine Railways to publish its timetable of beach-bound trains in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. In an interview, his grandson described how “Grandpa Aziz” provided services suited to people of varying financial means, so as to attract Jewish and Arab beachgoers from different social classes: “Anyone who came to the beach and did not have much money could pay one grush [penny] and receive a number and a hanger on which to hang his clothes, and would attach the number to his bathing suit. He was also able to choose whether to go to the [beachside] café and receive a coffee, tea, or sandwich. Anyone who had money would rent a locker for the entire year in advance and leave his belongings there.”43 Different testimonies confirm that these measures proved to be effective, as the beach did indeed draw many bathers from throughout the city, who would pass the time together on the seashore in a calm and positive atmosphere.
Arabs and Jews also spent their spare time together at the Jewish-owned Bat-Galim beachside Casino. Given the arrival of large numbers of immigrant Jews from Europe, and the presence of the British community, alcohol consumption became a popular leisure activity during those years, including within the Arab community.44 In the local context of Haifa, the Bat-Galim Casino attracted Muslim residents who sought to consume alcohol openly, without facing criticism from religious circles within Palestinian society.45 Haifa resident Jiryis Jamil, for example, described his experience of visiting the site while serving in the city’s British Army post:
Every Friday and Saturday evening we would go to the beach at Bat-Galim, which had a large nightclub owned by Jews. We all went there: generals, captains, and Arab soldiers from the city. We went with the British officers and spent all night there, listening to music in all languages, dancing with the [women] dancers, drinking alcohol, lots of beer…. In the morning my friends would be completely drunk, so I would put them in a taxi and send them back to the base.46
With their exposure to Western modes of leisure, members of Arab society began gradually adopting these practices and, over time, incorporating them as an organic part of their own leisure-time activities.47 Influenced by the city’s European communities, the Khayyat Beach dance club would host mixed Western-style dance parties. Local cultural clubs also hosted such parties. In the summer of 1942, for example, the Orthodox Club hosted a dance party for which it hired a Jewish dancer employed by the Bat-Galim Casino club. The event, which drew large numbers of people from the city’s Palestinian community, was a resounding success.48 Subsequently, the Casino management and the Orthodox Club decided to join efforts and host dance parties at the dance club on a regular basis. They set the entrance fee for members of the Orthodox Club at 100 mil, which would cover the dance performance, refreshments, and alcohol.49 This cooperative Arab-Jewish endeavour sparked ire among the city’s Palestinian nationalists. A few days after the dance party, a member of the national leadership, Rashid al-Haj Ibrahim, telephoned the chairman of the Orthodox Club, Hanna Naqqara, and asked him to come over. An undercover agent of the intelligence and counter-espionage arm of the Haganah (the Mandate-era Jewish paramilitary), disguised as an Arab, was present at the meeting and later reported:
That evening we arrived at his place at 9pm…. After some discussion, al-Haj Ibrahim asked Hanna Naqqara: Are you chairman of the board of the Arab Orthodox Club? He answered yes. Rashid said: Do you continue to fly the Arab flag above the club? He answered yes. Rashid said: I am very saddened by that. You are the chairman of the board, and you and your associates are Arabs, you bear the name ’Arab Club’ and fly the Arab flag, but you respond to Jewish invitations and participate in their dance parties. Be aware that if I hear of such an event again, I will have your club shut down by the lions surrounding me (shabab) and he added: We have given our lifeblood and there remain among us people willing to sacrifice for Arabness and honour.50
Participation on the part of Orthodox Club members in Jewish cultural events was not exceptional. Although literature seem to have neglected this, it was customary for Arab residents to attend holiday celebrations organized by the Jewish community. In 1932, for example, the newspaper Davar reported that “the party on Purim eve at Ein-Dor Cinema had many attendees – Jews, Arabs, English, and Germans danced until sunrise”.51 For the Arab community, these places offered entertainment of a different nature from what was familiar to them and exposed them to new forms of activity as well as dress, food, and alcohol, which intrigued them and drew their attention by virtue of their dissimilarity. In this context, British-Greek historian Panayiotis Vatikiotis, who grew up in Haifa, observed in his memoirs
The biggest spenders were the Arabs, because what is more appealing to an Arab than a European restaurant and nightclub with a selection of food, drink, and entertainment managed by a charming Hungarian woman?!52
Flowing and exchange of cultural norms were also evident in terms of women’s presence at the beaches. As a result of urbanization and modernization processes, rising education levels, and greater employment opportunities, growing numbers of Palestinian women began venturing out to urban spaces and actively participating in public spheres previously regarded as the exclusive purview of men.53 While these shifts inherently posed a potential threat to the male order, they also provided a channel for greater freedom and liberation for women. As part of this process, the practice of sea bathing gradually became a normatively acceptable and trivial matter for Palestinian women of various classes, who viewed it as an opportunity to emancipate their bodies from the strict confines of their dress code. The atmosphere at the beach was open and liberating, as reflected in revealing swimsuit fashions. Western-style bathing suits permeated the Palestinian local culture following of the daily encounter with British and immigrant Jewish women who introduced new dress patterns.54 As interviews with Palestinian women attest, during those years women began wearing Western-style swimsuits imported from Europe or the United States. A few described how they or women in their families used to wear such swimsuits to the beach. Samia Shehadeh, for example, recalled, “During that time many women would go to the sea; my mother used to go to Abu Nassur Beach or al ‘Aziziyya on her days off or on Sundays…. She had a picture of her younger self at the beach. I still remember her swimsuit, short shorts like those of Hollywood actresses.”55 Samia Kazmouz Bakri related that as a young couple, her parents would spend time at Haifa’s beaches alongside Jews, “where my mother learned to swim, and it was she who taught me, as a young girl, to swim”.56 The considerable presence of women at the beach is reflected in a September 1933 news item in Filastin , which urged the owners of Abu Nassur Beach to hire a policeman during the summer months in order “to prevent incidents of immoral conduct, particularly on Saturday and Sunday, when there are larger crowds of women”.57 A Jewish woman resident of Haifa, Rachel Bel-Turksama, described spending time at the beach with her Arab friend: “I had an Arab friend, we were both switchboard operators. She lived in the neighbourhood of Tahanat HaCarmel and used to go to the beach on a regular basis. She and I would wear the revealing swimsuits that were fashionable at the time, and I even have photos of myself with her and with my nephew when we were at the beach together.”58 Even religiously observant Palestinian families who maintained a modest dress code and gender segregation had the option of bathing at certain beaches in the city that unofficially instituted different schedules for male and female beachgoers. In Sohad Qaraman’s family, which she described as religious and conservative, also women would frequently go to the beach:
When my mother was young, there were special times when they [women] would go to the sea… there were specific hours when women could swim freely. For example, Abu Nassur Beach was a public beach and it was known which hours were only for women.59
Nevertheless, there were times when young women still had to struggle against the conservative norms and clash with family members in order to engage in this new leisure activity.60
The increased presence of Palestinian women at the beaches was not trouble-free, but rather a source of deep-seated social tension that drew fierce criticism, all the more so because of the daily intermingling with Jewish society. The public nature of beachgoing, the revealing apparel, and especially the mixing of sexes at the beach were seen as foreign Western practices and a harmful imitation of Jewish women. Various newspapers criticized women for “superficially and artificially adopting a Western lifestyle”.61 Filastin lashed out at young women who spent time at the beach:
These young women overstep the boundaries of morality and modesty in every sense in their rush toward phony European civilization and its condemnable custom, whom Europeans themselves hate, compounding the spread of corruption and decay of morality among them.62
Likewise, the Haifa-based magazine al-Mihmaz, regarded at the time as progressive, printed a half-page caricature of two women, Arab and Jewish, in which it ridiculed Arab women who had been influenced by (what the magazine saw as) the permissive lifestyle of the city’s Jewish women. The caricature portrayed two grotesque figures alongside captions that read “the Arab beauty” and “the Jewish beauty”. Both women were speaking by telephone with “Don Juan who is telling them: I love you, ya ruhi”.63 Sadhij Nassar, whose husband was editor of the al-Karmil newspaper and who herself was a leader in the Palestinian women’s movement, used her weekly column to express scorn toward women who had “adopted the negative traits of the West, particularly the interest in clothing, swimwear, and beauty products”.64 In a radio show titled “The New Arab Home”, the presenter, a woman, also pointed to the undesirable practice among women of “blind imitation of European models”.65 The reason this practice of “imitation” triggered such a deep sense of aversion in Palestinian society had to do with the political circumstances. Against the background of escalating national conflict, Palestinian society had assigned women the responsibility of preserving the “original” Palestinian culture by adhering to traditional values and preserving gender segregation of public and private spaces. Accordingly, beachgoing by women (like other commercial leisure activities) was seen as the undesirable product of the arrival of Jewish immigrants from Europe. Rafiq Jabor, a prominent figure in Arab society, complained that
the Zionists greatly influenced life in Palestine: Customs which the Arabs never knew before had penetrated the country. Vulgarity has spread through the country. The ways of dressing have changed. Before the Jews came, we never saw young girls with décolletage, or wearing dresses which don’t cover their bodies from head to toe.66
Some members of Palestinian society were concerned about the social repercussions of the physical proximity to Jewish society and the inevitable permeation of cultural patterns as a result of daily interaction with it. In the context of national conflict, adoption of the neighbouring community’s social norms was seen as a blow to the “authentic” culture essential for national formation.67
In the new Jewish Yishuv68 as well, the practice of Jews and Arabs spending time together on the beach was a source of internal tension. As a community new to the country, Jewish society ascribed tremendous importance to its image in the eyes of the local Arab society. Accordingly, there was some concern that the practice among immigrant Jewish women of going to the beach and wearing revealing swimsuits was “breaching Arab society’s customary boundaries of segregation and modesty” and could provoke aversion and ridicule toward Jewish society. This anxiety sparked debates between supporters and opponents of mixed men’s and women’s bathing. Opponents argued that “it sets us up for disgrace and mockery in the eyes of our neighbours and observers of our country” and warned that Arab men were flocking to the seashore just “to feast their eyes on the daughters of Israel who bathe in the sea half-naked”, which they viewed as a “terrible national disgrace and scandal”.69 The debate surrounding “appropriate” forms of bathing for women indicates that Jewish society was well aware of the reciprocal inter-community examination and, and in light of their rivalry, feared that it would – to borrow Kimmerling’s terminology – become a “negative reference group” in the eyes of its adversary. As Boaz Lev-Tov has demonstrated, the shared presence of Jews and Arabs on the beaches also generated ethno-gendered tensions within Jewish society, which stemmed from concerns about the breaching of ethnic boundaries and the possibility of personal contact between Palestinian men and Jewish women.70 These tensions sometimes resulted in friction and provocation between individual beachgoers which, because of political tension, turned into inter-community clashes that instantly assumed a national character. Such an incident took place, for example, at Khayyat Beach in the summer of 1935. One Saturday afternoon an Arab male made sexual advances toward a Jewish woman at the beach. The newspaper Davar reported that the Arab man had physically harassed the Jewish woman, whereas the newspaper al-Difaᶜ stressed that he had not touched her at all. Young Jews who witnessed the incident felt the need to prevent the “dishonouring” of Jewish women by Arab men. They regarded the “defence” of Jewish women as a national duty given that Jewish women were seen, as with every national community, as symbolizing the boundaries of the crystallising Jewish nationality. Their intervention led to a physical brawl between themselves and young Arab men. At the time there were more than two thousand bathers at the beach, Jews and Arabs, some of whom were on the shore and others in the beachside dance club. The fighting quickly spread into the dance club, as a result of which the Jewish bathers decided to leave both the beach and the dance hall. Davar reported that “they returned to the city by foot because they did not want to use the [designated beach] buses and they even drove away people who were about to travel from the city to the [beach]”,71 whereas al-Difaᶜ reported that “on their way back to the city they vandalized Arab vehicles”.72 This incident sheds light on the complex, dynamic reality that characterized this period when, on the one hand, daily Jewish-Arab encounters and shared recreational activities were completely a matter of routine, as evidenced by the large numbers of Jewish and Arab beachgoers who shared the seashore; on the other hand, it indicates that national tensions penetrated even leisure sites that were usually characterized by positive inter-community encounter, fanning the flames of inter-personal friction into collective confrontation. Nonetheless, this event and comparable incidents did not prevent the residents of either community from visiting the leisure sites of the other. Evidence indicates that Jewish bathers soon returned to Khayyat Beach, and its owner continued to promote the site in the Jewish press.73 Even in the aftermath of more violent inter-community incidents, such as the Arab Revolt that lasted, intermittently, from 1936 to 1939, Jews continued to visit Arab entertainment sites. Thus, for example, a Doar HaYom reporter, who strolled the streets of Haifa’s “Lower City” after the Arab Revolt, described how the Arab-owned recreation sites were recovering and noted that the owner of one café invited him to enter, stressing that many Jewish police officers and dignitaries visited the place every night, and “no one will harm you even if you walk alone at midnight”.74
An examination of Haifa’s beaches reveals that urban daily life consisted of continuous concrete interactions between Jews and Arabs who chose to spend their leisure time alongside one another. The beaches were characterized by a calm, positive atmosphere that drew people who were seeking to set aside their daily concerns, to have fun and enjoy themselves. Even beaches owned by or located in the neighbouring community were not perceived as an alien or hostile place. In this sense, the beaches provided a unique space that, by its nature, somewhat reduced the sense of alienation between communities and allowed their members to form actual interactions, despite repeated efforts on both sides to construct boundaries between the collectives. As we saw, not only did these concrete interactions not generate mutual indifference, they in fact sparked diverse reactions as cooperation, adoption, or criticism of new cultural forms. Any such reaction, even the very rejection of the other side’s norms, reflected the reciprocal influence that inevitably resulted from this daily encounter.
Alongside the Concrete Interactions between individuals from the two communities, there was a more abstract dimension of interaction, which Kimmerling termed Model Interaction. As part of this interaction, Jews and Arabs observed one another at the collective level and each examined the other’s image and activities within various spheres of life, including the cultural arena. An analysis of the Model Interaction uncovers how the presence of a rival community prompted each community to monitor the lifestyle, cultural trends, and social norms of its neighbour, turning it into a subject for constant comparison. Kimmerling argued that as a result of this dynamic, the two collectivities developed “a degree of explicit or implicit willingness to imitate patterns of behavior (fully or partially) or to reject them”.75
A review of Arab and Jewish newspapers from those years highlights the bi-directionality of this process in practice. In those days the press operated as the primary means of shaping public opinion, while also reflecting the mood of the time.76 Various articles and reports reveal that throughout this period, each community was interested in and curious about the leisure activities and culture of its neighbouring community, which simultaneously served as a model for imitation and an object of condemnation. The major newspapers employed translators who translated and summarized articles and reports that appeared in the neighbouring community’s press. Newspapers in Arabic, for example, devoted entire pages to “Jewish affairs”. One of these had a regular column titled “Akhbar al-Yahud” (Jewish news), while another printed quotes and excerpts from articles in the Hebrew press. Moreover, newspapers closely monitored the other community’s media coverage and, by the following day, printed their responses to the articles that had appeared therein.
The Palestinian press that closely observed developments in Jewish society’s leisure life surveyed what was happening at its beaches and condemned the salient social customs there. Filastin, for example, sarcastically described the prevailing atmosphere at Tel Aviv’s beaches, referring to what it viewed as the provocative swimwear fashion and noting that “the rich and the poor, the thief, the physician, the lawyer, and the Jewish and Arab labourer are all equal at the beach and, regardless of status, spend many hours sitting side by side as they gaze at the bodies of young sunbathing women”. It denounced this behaviour, emphasising that “we should not be seeing such sights in Palestine”.77 The Arabic press, which assumed a central role in consolidating the national Palestinian consciousness, also had fierce criticism for Arabs who chose to spend their time and money at Jewish leisure sites, given that, in its view, this undermined the national struggles’ efforts. As early as the 1920s, Filastin derisively reported that “the proportion of Muslims and Christians who visit the Casino is estimated at 90 percent; we need not worry that the place might be bankrupted”.78 Likewise, the newspaper al-Wahda referred cynically to young Arabs who were wasting their money at Jewish-owned recreational venues: “The Jews respect and love the Arabs because the latter waste their money abundantly by buying Jewish goods. The Zionists lose nothing when [they] buy lands at steep prices from Arabs, given that the [Arab] sellers then waste this money at Jewish entertainment businesses, thus causing Jewish recreational sites to flourish.”79
In addition to criticizing the cultural life of Jewish society and denouncing young Arabs who frequented Jewish leisure sites, the Arab press also called for imitation of Jewish society. Al-Karmil’s editor, Najib Nassar, was aware of the cultural challenges that Zionism posed for the local population and, beginning in the early 1920s, urged his readers to pursue cultural development. In one instance he stressed that “if we do not make the same effort as they do, we will have no strength and nothing will help us”, adding that in light of Jewish settlement in the area, Arab society must make a concerted effort to promote “a new conceptual, cultural, and social movement”.80 Some newspapers compared Arab society’s cultural infrastructures with those of Jewish society, urging their readers or leaders to make an effort to reduce these gaps.81 Filastin, for example, published a letter written by a young resident of Gaza after visiting Tel Aviv, in which he described his impression of that city’s well-tended beaches and called for the tending of Gaza’s neglected beaches “as the Zionists do”.82 Another illustration of cultural imitation was a call issued in the mid-1930s by Ibrahim al-Shanti, editor of the newspaper al-Difaᶜ, to hold a sports tournament comparable to the Jewish Maccabiah and to name it “Antariyyah” after the legendary pre-Islamic hero Antarah ibn Shaddad al-Absi. By proposing this name, Al-Shanti sought to encourage young Arabs to adopt images from the Arab past, as the Jews were doing by invoking historical figures such as the Maccabees.83
The Jewish press, too, was taking the pulse of cultural trends in Arab society. Doar HaYom regularly surveyed the activities at Haifa’s Arab-owned beaches, particularly the popular Khayyat Beach. In 1931 the newspaper reported that “in recent weeks people have been flocking in droves to the beach facilities built by Mr Aziz Khayyat”.84 Shortly thereafter it reported that “last Saturday and Sunday an unusual effort was made by the vehicle drivers to simultaneously bring back the multitudes who had been brought to the beach throughout the day”.85 Against the background of a national rivalry, the success of Khayyat Beach and its capacity to draw so many Jewish bathers generated discomfort among some members of Jewish society. The daily presence of Jews at an Arab-owned commercial site and their recreation alongside Arabs catalysed the emergence of a commercial Jewish-owned beach to provide an alternative to Khayyat Beach. In the mid-1930s, therefore, Bat-Galim Seashore Enterprises, Ltd., began constructing a modern beach “that would be rivalled in the city only by Khayyat Beach”.86 The billboards posted throughout the city in preparation for its opening indicated that its attractions – such as “a shaded sand-plaza, reclining chairs, popular food stands, dance halls with a Casino orchestra, [and] public transportation by Bat-Galim buses throughout the day and at night by Nesher taxis”87 – were intended to make it as appealing as Khayyat Beach. In this context, city resident Kanafani, noted in his memoirs that “the standard at [Khayyat] beach had a great influence on the standard of development at other beaches in Haifa”.88 The desire to dissuade the Jewish public from visiting an Arab leisure site was also evidenced in the separatist rhetoric of advertisements for the new beach. “Come bathe [in the sea] and enjoy the pleasures of the only Jewish beach in Haifa” was the motto of the brochure that announced the opening of Bat-Galim Beach in 1934.89 The brochure listed the stylish services offered at the new beach and marketed it as rivalling Khayyat Beach, not only in the commercial sense but even more so in the national sense. Against the background of an escalating national struggle, various recreation sites, such as beaches, underwent politicization because they provided an effective channel for the spread of national content throughout broad sectors of society. In this sense, the establishment of a new Jewish beach constituted one brick in an ongoing process of constructing a separatist national culture. An article that appeared in Doar HaYom when construction at the beach was in its early stages described the complex processes required for its opening and emphasized that “this important start will provide a great boost toward the opening of Bat-Galim, and more importantly, the community of beachgoers will no longer give its money away to the Arabs as it has to date”.90 A similar tone was evident in the coverage of the mass fight that broke out at Khayyat Beach in 1935: “The governing authorities should be made aware that the time has come to open Jewish bathing sites in Haifa.”91
Despite efforts to create a beach specifically for the Jewish public, however, most of the city’s Jewish beachgoers continued to choose Khayyat Beach. This was primarily because Bat-Galim Beach was mostly rocky,92 whereas Khayyat Beach was flat and sandy, making it comfortable and optimal for bathing and relaxing on the shore. Moreover, the steep entrance fee for the Olympic-sized pool, which was intended to provide an attractive alternative, did not contribute to its competitiveness with Khayyat Beach. Hebrew newspapers that covered the opening decried the steep prices relative to the Arab beach:
The [Jewish] public is still flocking to Khayyat Beach, which is located some distance from the city and whose Arab owner employs only Arab staff. On more than one occasion brawls haven broken out between the Jewish beachgoers and [members of] this staff, and one may recall a demonstration last year when all the Jewish beachgoers left and returned home by foot. And now we’ve been gifted with the pool at Bat-Galim (which indeed was built by purely Hourani labour), and the Jewish public was happy to have a better place to swim. Except that swimming there is very expensive…. Anyone who wants to swim three times per week will pay 10-12 grush [pennies], which is more than what most can pay, and the cost for children is also expensive. It is no wonder that the Jewish public continues to flock to Khayyat Beach.93
For ordinary people, evidently, personal considerations such as comfort and cost carried more weight than collective considerations of ideology and national rivalry. Thus, the efforts to market Bat-Galim as a beach with a national Jewish character and the construction of top-tier modern facilities did not stem the flow of Jews to Khayyat Beach even during the turbulent months of the Arab Revolt. As the article noted, even fights based on nationality did not deter Jewish beachgoers from frequenting the site. This raises questions about the place of the emerging national identity in the daily lives of ordinary people and the extent of its influence on their day-to-day choices, such as where and with whom to spend their leisure time. In this context, the decision by Jews to continue visiting an Arab-owned beach and to spend recreational time alongside Arabs, when a Jewish alternative was available, challenges the prevailing assumption that the national rivalry between Jews and Arabs was the be-all and end-all and that violence assumed to be their primary or even the only possible form of interaction. The issue of Haifa’s beaches continued to preoccupy the Jewish press during later years as well, as reflected in numerous articles describing the ongoing effort to draw Jewish bathers to the pool at Bat-Galim. In the summer of 1943, the Hebrew newspaper HaTzofeh denounced the fact that many Jews were still “dragging themselves to Khayyat Beach and bathing at facilities of non-Jews”. In the reporter’s eyes, spending time among Arabs was an anomaly given that “in order to correct this aberration, an attractive and comfortable pool has been created at Bat-Galim, akin to the high-quality pools overseas”.94
These press items point to the separatist reaction among some members of Jewish society to the cultural challenge posed by Arab society. While such news items, in both the Hebrew and Arabic press, might be seen as mirroring a reality of division and segregation, they actually reveal the reciprocity of relations between the two communities and the way in which they actively responded, whether consciously or not, to the very presence of the neighbouring community and its cultural activities. Looking at the press coverage also illuminates the dual influence that interaction with the neighbouring community had on each society. The sources examined point to a disparity between the willing among individuals, to open up to the way of life of the neighbouring community, and the tendency on the collective level, to reject practices and norms seen as alien and to construct boundaries between the communities. Nevertheless, both societies were, on the whole, aware of the other sides’ cultural trends and of certain advantages in its cultural patterns, and therefore they made efforts to imitate it or to reduce gaps in developing forms or infrastructures of leisure culture. This process was internal in each community and accelerated the formation of their national culture. This finding corroborates Kimmerling’s argument that “[a] wide range of mutual relations led to certain processes (or prevented certain others) within each of the two collectivities and influenced the directions of their formation and crystallization”.95
An examination of the cultural and social history of the beaches of Mandatory Haifa reveals a complex dynamic of relations involving gender, ethnicity, and national politics, and it contributes to a more balanced understanding of daily interactions between Jews and Arabs, which in many respects did not correlate with their political relations. The tremendous popularity of the seashore as a leisure site made frequenting the beaches of the neighbouring community a trivial, routine, and legitimate practice. In fact, commercial recreation sites as a whole served as cultural settings that were open to the entire population. In these arenas, inter-community barriers broke down, even if temporarily. The case study of beaches indicates that at the day-to-day facet, people’s habitual practices and mental needs were sometimes stronger than their identification with a political ideology. The decision to spend time at a specific place stemmed from a personal choice based on preference and style and was detached from political sentiments. Logistical considerations, such as location and cost, shaped the decision about where and among whom to spend one’s leisure time. The analytical model proposed by Baruch Kimmerling was useful for the examination of these cultural connections, as it sheds light on the multi-layered implications of the inter-community encounter. Building on this model, the scrutiny of concrete interactions between Jews and Arabs indicates that the life routine in a shared urban space sometimes overshadowed the commitment to the national cause and demonstrates that the intermingling between the communities was inevitable. Ordinary people made daily choices without considering the potential repercussions of trivial activities such as leisure on the collective arena. In this sense, beaches functioned as a neutral space that had the effect of bringing communities closer and moderating inter-community tensions within the context of a national confrontation. However, precisely because of the friendly nature of this encounter and the physical proximity in these places, they triggered concerns among nationalists who feared the breach of cross-community boundaries. Moreover, an analysis based on the Model Interaction reveals that the cultural lives of Arabs and Jews in the city were inseparably interlinked, and that the two communities had a significant mutual influence on one another. This insight reinforces the understanding that it is not possible to investigate the cultural life (as well as any other sphere) of one of these societies by looking solely at internal processes without considering its interactions with the neighbouring community. Their physical proximity under the context of a national conflict created a complex reality characterized, on the one hand, by a marked pattern of attraction, curiosity, imitation, and adoption, and on the other hand, by a tendency toward competition, condemnation, rejection, and a desire for seclusion and segregation. This duality was a central feature of daily life for both Arabs and Jews in Haifa and it manifested at the same time within the same individual person, institution, or group. It emerges, therefore, that during this formative period, the Jewish and Arab communities were constantly shaping one another as part of their daily reality, whether they were aware of it or not.