Negotiating Space Analyzing Jaffa Protest Form, Intention and Violence, October 27th 1933

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It is Friday morning in Jaffa, Palestine, 1933 (Figure 1). An image captures a young boy standing on a flat roof of a building, looking at the square below. The site is the Government Square in Jaffa, usually referred as the Clock Tower Square . The square was developed at the end of the 19th century outside the city walls, and included government buildings, the market, a mosque, and Jaffa's clock tower, built at the beginning of the 20th century to celebrate the silver jubilee of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abd al Hamid II. The plaza bordered on the al Mahmudiyya Mosque, Jaffa's most important mosque, and the Kishle (prison) inside the old city. On the other side of the plaza stood the monumental government palace, the New Saray, built in 1897 to replace the Old Saray that was located inside the city walls. In the lower portion of the picture, we can see a mass of men and women, some holding sticks. They are facing a line of horsemen and what seem to be soldiers a little further off. Other soldiers are positioned on the flat roofs on the west side of the square. The photograph captures a moment in time when the police are approaching the crowd and trying to push them back.

A substantive literature exits on protests and social mobilization. However, in this paper I draw mainly on the significance of the spatial attributes of protests by asking, what is the role of the space's design in relation to the socio-political gathering occurring there? I will use the events of Palestinian Arabs demonstrations in Jaffa in 1933, the largest city in Palestine, as a focus for my discussion. In particular this paper demonstrates how these cohesive relationships between space and protest - defined here as gatherings or events rather than organizations or movements - collided prior to the event itself in the bargaining process. As noted, protest is a bargaining process intended to provide "relatively powerless people"1 with access to resources. However, prior to the event itself, there is a bargaining process over the form of bargaining itself (i.e. the form of an action within a particular space), and its symbolic significance. Over the demonstration's long history, organizers frequently struck bargains in advance with authorities and police.2 Negotiations among organizers, demonstrators, authorities and police, both before and during the event, create limits on all parties and increase the predictability of encounters in the course of demonstrations.3 Violence that occurs is a result of failed bargaining or unanticipated encounters. One question is, how does place come into play in this process of bargaining?

The argument of this paper is twofold. First, the process of bargaining over the use of place and the form of the event play a crucial role in the action's meaning and representation, contributing to a construct of an imagined4 community. The contested bargaining over the spatial form of the Jaffa protest validates the tension between opposition and polity, and the way the latter relies on a prescribed pattern of action and people's political awareness and values. Second, protestors take a pragmatic approach in the process of planning the event, symbolism (i.e. site, or special date) has an added value, although it is often not the generator of the event's form. The generator is space, its availability, surveillance, scale, and so forth - crucial factors when trying to figure out the form of the contemporary protests and in mega international scale protests. Thus, although this protest took place in 1933 in Palestine, an analysis of the procession goes beyond the geographical and historical boundaries of the event itself, becoming one example out of many that reveals the interrelationship between citizens' civil participation and the space in which the events occur.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-106
JournalJerusalem Quarterly
Issue number35
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • History--History of the Near East


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