Yaffa (Jaffa): Roots, Home, and Homeland

Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian


The special focus on Yaffa (Jaffa) in the recent (Winter 2013) issue of the Journal for Palestine Studies (Arabic) emerged from a study carried out by the Gender Studies Program at Mada al-Carmel investigating the political economy of Yaffa today.  To examine the current condition, the study had to first begin with the Nakba, the single most formative event in Palestine's recent history. Then, we turned to analysing the relationship among space, place, memory, and political economy in Yaffa, as well as the city's history, culture, economy, and psychosocial structures.


Our study led us to read and write Yaffa’s critical position as a Palestinian city that today stands largely severed from Palestinian society, encircled and diminished by Israeli society. Our work challenges the well-orchestrated colonial logic of erasure in order to allow our readers to not only revisit and re-read Yaffa, but to recognize its power in our inner psychologies. We emphasize the critical role of the city’s space, history, and memory in the potential construction of territorial sovereignty and nation building.


Yaffa’s locality carries shared histories, collectively remembered spaces and places—attachments to neighbourhoods, streets, names, favourite sites, events, objects of meaning, and places for congregating, escaping, and regulating public life. Thus the psychosociology of Yaffa, its memory and production of localities, and the attachments of Palestinians to its local life and spaces, becomes a source of emotional connectivity and attachment despite Yaffa’s exile inside its homeland. Memories, histories, and narratives of Yaffa’s spaces, and the meanings they carry about the past, present, and future, as this issue aims to show, enable us to rebuild Yaffa discursively, and implement the right to return, intellectually, home to Yaffa. Yaffa’s definition as Home, as belonging, for Palestinians is a symbol of what has been taken, and what remains under constant attack, even if already dead—as expressed in Ahmed Natour’s article on Yaffa’s cemeteries. The idea of Home that studying Yaffa affords is fundamental to understanding the roots of Palestinians' inner power and also powerlessness—Homes, in their endurance and memories, as with the homes left un-homed after the Nakba; Homes, as the ruins of homes demolished; and Home in its full resonance as a physical and psychological construct.


As a Home of analyses for uprooted Palestinians, whether fully or through disconnection from their centers, Yaffa is a privileged site that has the potential to produce notions of connectivity with one’s self, belonging, membership, and solidarity. This special issue insists upon reading Yaffa as Home, and as a site that is responsible for the preservation of life, psychological and social life. The memory, history, and present readings of one’s home can provide a blueprint of resistance and preservation for the future.


To access the full issue in Arabic, click here.

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