Haifa Honors First Mayor's Legacy of Coexistence

Fadi Eyadat
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Fadi Eyadat

At almost every ceremony in which Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav participates, he speaks about how the city's Arab and Jewish residents intermingle.

"Only in Haifa is city hall on Hasan Shukri Street, while the largest Catholic church in the city is on Tzionut ('Zionism') Street," he likes to say.

At a ceremony in Haifa's city hall last night, Yahav commemorated the 70th anniversary of the death of Hasan Bey Shukri, the first mayor of modern Haifa, by explaining that he was the one who laid the groundwork for coexistence in the northern coastal city.

Shukri was born in 1876 in Jerusalem to a family in the highest levels of Ottoman officialdom. His family moved to Haifa when he was young, and the Turks appointed him mayor in 1914. Throughout his tenure as mayor, Shukri displayed a positive and conciliatory attitude toward the Jewish community in the city, and gave them senior posts in the municipality.

One of Shukri's first decisions after Jews began taking part in local politics was to add Hebrew to the Arabic of the city's documents, which he began doing in 1927. In 1933 he opened up city tenders to Jewish contractors as well as Arab ones.

'The mayor of everyone'

For all the tensions between Jews and Arabs, "Shukri's loyalties were always to his job as mayor of Haifa - the mayor of everyone," said historian Tamir Goren.

But Shukri's acceptance of the Jews infuriated Arab nationalist forces in Haifa, who called for his dismissal. He survived two assassination attempts, in 1936 and 1937.

He died in 1940, while still in office, and Jewish businessmen closed down the city to attend his funeral.

Shukri founded the Haifa we know today, said Zeharia Freilich, who worked for Shukri as an errand boy.

"He established the commercial center in the lower part of city and built [the neighborhood] Hadar Hacarmel," Freilich said.

But it wasn't just the commercial center; Shukri built the first sidewalk, the electrical grid, and the sewage and water systems, said Goren.

Even today, Haifa continues to maintain its legacy of coexistence: The city's present treasurer is an Arab. Yahav said he hopes yesterday's ceremony will serve as a a basis to honor those Palestinian leaders who left their stamp on the city.



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