Tel Aviv

When the 66 founding families of Tel Aviv set out in 1909 to create a new community, they purchased sand dunes in the bare wilderness where they promised to build – as one of the founders put it – “The New York of the Middle East.”

That is the text of Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai, when he presents his city. How is it possible that even Huldai, who is a history graduate of the Tel Aviv University doesn’t know the history of the city that is so dear to him and which he manages since 1998.
So what is the truth, what really happened in 1909 and which info and documents are there to back up the story of Jacobus Kann.

In 1905 David Levontin, director of the Anglo Palestine Bank comes to The Hague. Together with Kann they visit Dutch notary Louis Eikendal who makes a power of attorney to mandate Levontin to buy land near Yaffo in name of Kann. The public notary also made the documents the sell smaller parcels on a later date, the date of sale to Meir Dizengoff, currently 16 Rothschild Boulevard aka Bet Dizengoff or Independence Hall, was June 25, 1913. Dizengoff was head of town planning at that time and became the first mayor after Tel Aviv was recognized as a city.

When the land, known as Kerem Jabali, was bought in 1906 Kann had not visited Palestine yet. His first visit was in 1907, arriving in Yaffo on a steamship from Port Said. He had to be dragged out of the ship because of sea sickness, as he wrote ” my legs failed me”.

The weird thing is that the permission to sell smaller plots of land to the individual member of the housing association Ahuzat Bait was given in 1905 while the land was not even bought yet. Any way the plots were sold to the different families after construction started in 1909. The Ottomans at that time did not allow Jewish citizens of their Empire to own land.

When the Ottomans realized that Jews started to build a new neighborhood outside Yaffo they checked documentation. At first it looked kosher, since it was registered on the name of a Dutch citizen, but they fumed when they realized he was Jewish and that this fact was omitted on the purchase document. They complained to the Dutch consul in Constantinople. Because the Dutch did not discriminate on religion the heat moved back to Palestine where Dutch diplomatic matters were taken care of by the Italian consul. He advised the Dutch government to send a warship to Yaffo to be able to protect Kann’s property.