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To Buy or Not to Be: Trespassing the Gated Community

Daniel Monterescu

Living in Jaffa is a matter of style. Investing in Jaffa is a matter of wisdom.

—marketing sign posted on a recently gentrified project on Sixtieth Street in Jaffa

'Living an Original': Andromeda Hill as a Neo-orientalist Simulacrum

Walking with a group of Palestinian and Jewish guests, we silently crossed the iron gate of the luxurious gated community. Slowly, we traversed the premises toward the western viewpoint overlooking the Jaffa port. Enjoying the breathtaking sunset, we sat on the bench, still thrilled by the relative ease of our entry. Suddenly, as if reading our minds, a woman of sixty approached us and exclaimed in Hebrew, which she then translated into English, “You can pass, but you can’t stay!” Slightly alarmed but somewhat amused by her response, we nevertheless remained seated. “There’s nothing she can do,” someone said. “The law is on our side.” The elderly resident, we knew, was voicing her frustration in response to the recent court ruling (August 2007), which concluded a fouryear- long legal battle to allow easement and free pedestrian passage through the exclusive project (from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.). Later she identified herself as Meriam Ben Shachar, a member of the (Jewish) residents’ committee of the gated community. A similar encounter was reported later that week in a sensational article titled “Andromeda Ever Since and Forever” in Israel’s biggest national newspaper ( Cohen 2007).1 Celebrating the symbolic victory of Palestinian legal activism, the article relayed the following exchange between Palestinian advocate Hicham Chabaita, the representative of the claimants, and Ben Shachar:

Ben Shachar: I’m an old woman, and I bought an apartment in a closed community so I could live like I would in an old folks’ home. There are gated communities all around the country, because of crime. What would you do in my place? Chabaita: I would sell.

Ben Shachar: No one would buy this.
Chabaita: I would buy.
Ben Shachar: For the price I paid? Chabaita: No. You bought a closed compound. Now it’s been opened up. The value went down.
Ben Shachar: This is really a provocation! In my mind, there is no Arab or Jew. Every person is equally human for me.
Chabaita: You prefer to keep the Arabs outside this place and out of your sight.
Ben Shachar: Why do you say such a thing? I can give you right now the phone number of a person, whose name is incidentally ‘Adel, and he’s like a son to me. And not just one! A whole family!

This dialogic duel points to the new empowerment of a rising generation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, which Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu Baker (2005) have labeled “the Stand Tall Generation.” More important, however, it exposes the powerful mechanisms of urban exclusion and alienation, often hidden under a mask of liberal multiculturalism. These have only recently come under critical public and legal scrutiny, with relatively poor results that do little to change the inherent power asymmetries between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis or the increasing demand for gated communities in Jaffa and Israel at large.

The emergence since the mid-1980s of a neoliberal regime of spatial governmentality in Israeli-Palestinian mixed towns has radicalized the ongoing restructuring of urban space through gentrification and its political implications — population displacement, a militant discourse of rights, and the production of urban alterities ( Isin 2002; Lefebvre 1996; Smith 1996). Addressing such processes, this article analyzes the urban paradox embodied in one of Israel’s most luxurious housing projects located at the core of Tel Aviv’s poorest Arab neighborhood. Far from being viewed as a problem, the construction of exclusionary spaces is explicitly mobilized by the project managers, who continue to market Andromeda Hill as a desired enclave. Its elaborate Web site presents the project as a promise for Jaffa’s rebirth in a simulated space that is simultaneously present and absent from the city’s actual lived space:

Andromeda Hill is a virtual “city within a city” surrounded by a wall and secured 24 hours a day. The open spaces and alleys are paved in natural stone, dappled in authentic Israeli vegetation and ornamented with elements of water and authentic, original lighting. . . . Andromeda Hill has been planned for you to sit at home, view the sea, enjoy the beauty and hear . . . only the waves. . . . Andromeda became a symbol of awakening and renewal, and it is not by chance that the project was named “Andromeda Hill,” expressing the rebirth of old Jaffa.2

A cultural signifier as well as a spatial fact, Andromeda Hill distinguishes itself from other luxury housing projects by devising a hybrid neo-orientalist discourse of locality, ultramodern and authentic. These two motifs combine to devise a marketing strategy that invites the potential tenant to “live an original” in the “New-Old Jaffa” (fig. 1). The Andromeda Hill project thus functions as a real estate simulacrum and architectural pastiche, aspiring to be both in and out of historical time and political space.3 It is “a symbol of renewal” and “an original,” “abroad” (hul in Hebrew) and “Jaffan.”4 This double image, we shall see, represents a paradoxical strategy of coping with the social logic of the real estate project. Presented as a safe and secured gated community (“a city within a city”), it thus remains disconnected from its local milieu and urban texture, while simultaneously constructing itself as the epitome of an imagined Mediterranean mythology (Andromeda on the rock) and local architectural taste (the “Jaffa style”).

The Andromeda Hill project is the largest private housing enterprise promoted by the Tel Aviv – Jaffa Municipality, which designed it as the flagship of a new planning policy in hitherto disinvested Jaffa. In 1989 Murray Goldman, a Jewish Canadian entrepreneur, signed a “combination deal” with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem to build a luxury housing complex on church endowment waqf land, overlooking the Jaffa port. In 1994 the architectural plan for building 270 housing units obtained official approval, and work on-site began soon after. Prices start at well over $300,000 for a fifty-square-meter studio apartment and go up to $4 million for the most luxurious penthouse. The complex offers a fitness club, massage services, a big swimming pool, and a vegetarian cafeteria; 30 percent of the tenants are foreign residents (mainly businesspeople and diplomats), and 70 percent are wealthy Israelis (including a Parliament member, judges, poets, and architects). The project is the product of an institutional and conceptual collaboration among the Canadian entrepreneur, Israeli investors, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the local government, and Israeli architects. This “circumstantial coalition” used the project as a golden opportunity for real estate profit and as a means to promote the gentrification policy, which calls for the “reinforcement” of the local population. As we shall see, the attempt by the Israeli architects to combine the Canadian entrepreneur’s concept and cultural taste with their “local” knowledge and capital gave birth to Andromeda Hill as it stands today. The circumstances of its construction, its unprecedented magnitude, and the urban implications led the project to become a mobilizing bone of contention, in which capital flows, colonial imaginaries, and political struggles overshadowed place and identity. In the course of the analysis, Andromeda Hill will evolve from an incidental example of gentrification to a project that radically embodies the ethnoclass contradictions of urban dynamics in Jaffa and beyond.

The following critically interrogates the reconfiguration of class, real estate capital flows, and neo-orientalist architectural images (foreign residents and investment, aesthetic signs, standards of building, and planning ideologies) in a binational urban relational field. On its broadest level, my argument indicates a tight coupling between the practices of global consumerism and the local neoliberal logic of gentrification, energized by the planning authorities and producing a new landscape of distinction. Based on a view of the city as a “difference machine” that engenders urban citizenship as alterity ( Isin 2002), the analysis delineates the ways in which gentrification operates to produce and reproduce ethnic differentiation and class distinction through space. More specifically, I investigate the Andromeda Hill project’s modus operandi while moving between two intersecting levels of analysis. The first focuses on the paradoxical discourse of justification of a “gated community,” which functions as a radical marker of “ethnogentrification” at large. Thus to resolve the contradiction between the project’s exclusionary desire and the impoverished Arab community in which the project is embedded, a dual architectural language has been devised — one that makes virtue out of reality and mobilizes its contradictions for marketing purposes. Hence it is precisely the orientalist reification of the Jaffa space that has enabled the project to orient itself outward, beyond Jaffa — to Tel Aviv, to the Mediterranean mythological space, and to Canada — thereby constituting Andromeda as “the New-Old Jaffa.” This level of analysis examines the role of gentrification as a central force that produces Jaffa as a heteronomous space ( Kemp 1999; Monterescu 2007). Turning place inside out, it reconfigures opposite and parallel spatial logics of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion. The second level examines ethnographically how gentrification puts neoliberal principles into action. Promoting an urban “renewal” project by outsourcing public services and recruiting foreign capital, it results in the privatization and “enclaving” of lived space. This hegemonic logic of action gave rise to a fragile yet effective circumstantial coalition between private and public, Israeli and foreign, Jewish and Christian actors, which united forces and interests at the expense of the local Palestinian community. These two levels of analysis dissect “gentrification in action” not merely as the major consequence of urban neoliberal regimes but also as a politically driven vector of cultural intentionality oriented toward a fabricated realm of global cosmopolitanism as a means of circumventing the local by recruiting capital, people, and images outside Jaffa and Israel. The coupling of these two levels of inquiry sharpens the social implications of the Andromeda Hill project and other gated communities. In their present form, they disable sustainable development in Jaffa as they ignore the dire needs of the local Palestinian population, which in turn is rendered a transparent yet necessary element in the neo-orientalist construction of urban space ( LeVine 2005).

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Notes

I am indebted to John Comaroff and Ronen Shamir for encouraging me to open up gates wide shut. I am also grateful to Kaylin Goldstein, Haim Hazan, and Ariana Hernandez-Reguant for their critical reading. This essay has greatly benefited from presentations at the University of Chicago’s globalization workshop, at Café Yafa, and at a conference on states of exception in Israel/ Palestine. In Jaffa, special thanks are due to Hicham Chabaita, Roy Fabian, Susan Loewenthal Lourenço, Aurélie Monterescu, and Louis Williams for their friendship and assistance. An earlier version of the essay, coauthored by Roy Fabian, was published in Hebrew in Theory and Criticism 23 (2003). This research was generously funded by the National Science Foundation, the United States Institute of Peace, the Palestinian American Research Center, the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Josephine de Kármán Foundation, and a Dan David Prize.

  1. This title playfully paraphrases a famous ultranationalist slogan, “Hebron — ever since and forever.”
  2. See www.andromeda.co.il.
  3. For Jean Baudrillard (1988: 167), the simulacrum reflects a negation of realist relations of representation: “It is no more a question of imitation or duplication, not even of parody. It is a sign system that replaces the real itself.” In the Andromeda Hill project I identify a similar semiotic modus operandi in the guise of architectural and marketing trickery, attempting to create an “authentic” environment by fictive means. This Janus-faced project creates a postmodern pastiche between authentic and modern. The concept of the simulacrum — like the concept of heteronomy to be developed later — illustrates how the neoliberal logic of gentrification constructs the experience of space in the gated community.
  4. “Abroad,” a key trope in Israeli popular culture, defines by negation to “the country” (ha’aretz) an imagined space of unlimited opportunities.

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