It was a Wednesday in February 2021, around noon, a sunny winter’s day. The third coronavirus lockdown was in place, and the streets were bare. Wearing a mask, I left Ali Yatim’s home and walked down Yefet Street.
Ali told me about his father’s old house in the village of Salama. He had been a cattle trader and had good relations with a Jew from the nearby Hatikvah neighborhood in Tel Aviv. This friend saved him once when a group of fighters from the Haganah pre-state underground army attacked him.
Seventy-three years ago, when most of the Palestinian residents of Salama were uprooted because of the Zionists’ bullets, Ali’s father remained shut in his house with his wife and nine children. When he realized that his Jewish friend would not be coming to save him, he ordered a horse-drawn carriage, loaded his family and a small portion of their belongings on it, and moved to Yafa. He randomly chose one of the hundreds of empty houses the Palestinians who were expelled from the city had left behind.
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Ali was born there, and lives there to this day. When he was 17, he went with his father to visit their home in Salama, which was populated with Jewish immigrant families from Yemen. “Go 30 to 40 meters to the south of the mosque,” he says. “There was once a newsstand there. Keep going a little bit more from there and the house was on the right,” Ali tells me, and noting sadly that the land was expropriated and that the house seems to have been demolished.
I wanted to visit Salama, now known as the Kfar Shalem neighborhood in Tel Aviv, and see the place Ali’s family was forced to leave. I went to the bus stop at Jaffa’s Clock Tower Square. Two days earlier, in a video conversation with Faisal Salah, whose parents were also expelled from Salama, I shared my computer screen and we examined the map of historical routes of the bus company that operated in Salama until 1948. Faisal’s father was one of the company’s owners and members of its managing committee. Back then, a direct, quick line connected Clock Tower Square and the village of Salama. Anyone wanting to could have continued on the same bus to the airport in Lydda and all the way to Ramallah.
Today, there is no direct bus line from Jaffa to the ruins of Salama. When I searched on Google for the fastest route from Clock Tower Square to Kfar Shalem, I found I would be forced to change buses in further north in Tel Aviv. The trip would take 48 minutes.
Ali says Salama had an important connection to Yafa, where residents would go to for shopping, the theater, errands and entertainment. The bus lines constituted a physical infrastructure that created a social and political reality. In Arabic, the phrase meaning infrastructure is “bunayah tahtiyah,” an “underground structure.” The bus network is an underlying structure, the foundation on which society is built, one that defines center and outskirts, that connects between individuals and communities. The bus company in Salama, which was a cooperative in which many of the village’s families owned shares, was the underlying structure that connected Jaffa and its environs, and the seashore to the mountains. In 1948, the village of Salama was depopulated, and with it, the underlying structure was uprooted, too.
The new infrastructure laid by the Zionists located Yafa/Jaffa and Salama/Kfar Shalem at the outskirts of the Hebrew city. A direct trip on Shalma/Salama Road, from east of the Clock Tower Square, would have brought me from the city to the former village in exactly 10 minutes. But the bus lines only connect reach the outskirts via the center of the city, so I took the number 18 bus north. Google instructed me to ride for six stops and get off at the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street.
The bus was almost totally empty, sliding quickly past Charles Clore Park, whose lawns and trees are nourished by the ruins of the Manshiya neighborhood. I glance at the Etzel Museum, located in what was once a Palestinian house, and the bus has already stopped at the stop on Hamered Street, named after Menachem Begin’s book about his time as commander of the pre-state Etzel underground. In April 1948, the Etzel completed its ethnic cleansing of Manshiya, accompanied by radio broadcasts in Arabic that promised the residents of the neighborhood a fate similar to that of the residents of Deir Yassin, who were massacred a few days earlier. At the end of the conquest, the Etzel fighters threw dozens of bodies of Palestinians into a field near the shore (described in “The Capture of Jaffa” by Haim Lazar, published in 1981).
After a short wait next to the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street, I got on the number 16 bus so it could take me to Salama. The bus flowed quickly through the empty streets of the center of town. On the old map of the village, which outlines the family plots, it is called Wadi Salama. From Hahagana Road we turned on Etzel Street, crossed through the Hatikvah neighborhood and turned left on Lehi Road. A woman named Rahel, about 70, who sat down behind me with a shopping basket for the market next to her, asked me why I was taking pictures. I told her that I was writing about the road to Kfar Shalem. When I asked where she was going, she told me to the “kfar” – the village. I asked if that’s what everyone called the neighborhood, and she said: “Once it was a village, after that they called it Kfar Shalem, and it's still a village.” She moved there 42 years ago, right after she married one of the residents there, a Jewish immigrant from Aleppo, in Syria.
I think about the essay by Noam Leshem and Ayala Ronel on the spaces’ resistance to the colonialist erasure conducted through the changing of names. Even after the name of the river was changed from Salama to Ayalon, and the name of the road from Salama to Shalma, and the name of the village from Salama to Kfar Shalem, the erasure is not perfect. “It’s still a village,” as Rahel said. And if you ask a passerby where Shalma Road is, it’s likely that you won’t find your destination. As Haim Levanon, who was the mayor of Tel Aviv, said: “It’s hard to uproot all at once the name of the neighborhoods in Jaffa and the abandoned villages that were annexed to Tel Aviv’s municipal area – names that put down roots over many years.” After his death, Levanon received after a street of his own on the ground of Sheikh Munis in northern Tel Aviv.
My bus stopped next to a playground for the children of Kfar Shalem. The rubber mat meant to protect the children while playing is on top of a few layers of asphalt that was paved over Salama’s cemetery. Across from there still stands a two-story building in which Khalil Abu Asba’s café, where the defenders of the village met, before the war.
Today, a sign has been put on the building with the name “Major Asa Kadmoni Street, a native of Tel Aviv, fighter and commander in the Paratroopers’ Brigade.” The Hebraized name Kadmoni and the reference to his origin in Tel Aviv protest the ancient, native building to which the sign is affixed.
I crossed the square in the direction of the mosque, and continued on another 40 meters to the south, as I was instructed. I passed the newsstand with the sign “Lev Hakfar” (the heart of the village) and walked between the handful of houses surrounded by high fences, which were mostly replaced in the area by high-rises. Could Ali’s father’s house be hidden behind the fences? Or sunk into the foundations of nearby buildings? I called Ali. He didn’t know. A long time has passed since his father last visited the village, and it's like searching for the house is distressing for him. Faisal Salah felt the same way. His only visit to the village in 1968 was cut short very quickly: “My parents were there for only five minutes, they simply couldn’t stay there. They had to leave. They were flooded with emotion and we never went back there.”
I returned to the mosque and the street of synagogues to the west. Next to one of the synagogues, which was being renovated, I met a man named Nissim. I asked him about the synagogue and he told me that in the beginning it was a café and then a butcher shop before being turned into a synagogue. Nissim is 80 and has lived in the village since 1948.
In 1944, Nissim’s family left Aleppo in Syria for the Land of Israel, via Damascus and Beirut. The Haganah smuggled them through Rosh Hanikra, and after spending a month on a kibbutz to evade the British authorities, the family moved into Manshiya. His father worked in a café in the neighborhood, but when the fighting began they were evacuated as refugees to tents in the depopulated village of Al-Mas’udiyya. When Nissim’s father heard there were empty houses in Salama, he took the family and randomly chose one of the empty houses left by those who had fled. “There was still furniture, cupboards, tables and food that the Arabs left,” said Nissim.
Guy Shalev is an anthropologist in the Martin Buber Society of Fellows program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a member of the Zochrot nonprofit organization. Decolonizing TLV project. This article will appear as a chapter in a booklet on Salama/Kfar Shalem that the nonprofit will publish for Nakba Day.