Tel Aviv’s Black Tower


Where was the judge he’d never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached?
Franz Kafka, The Trial

Peres is Hebrew for Bearded Vulture Thrives on Corpses
Peres is Hebrew for Bearded Vulture
Thrives on Corpses

Deep in self-denial, most Israelis will refuse to accept that Israel looks like the scary, hollow-look of Shimon Peres, its president. Playing high in the political arena since the alleged foundation of the state, he is now its Head of State. Over the decades, Israeli organizations have begun to behave like him; nowadays, they resemble him to the extent that differentiating between the two is difficult. Following two despicable events during his 1981 Knesset elections, a comedian working for the Likud, Sefy (nickname for Yosef) Rivlin, was invited to run the Likud television campaign against Shimon Peres. He conducted a successful personal campaign; its motto was “Ken VeLo,” namely “Yes and No” in Hebrew. Peres was presented answering “yes and no” to everything he was asked (“Do you want sugar in your coffee?” “Yes and No! Yes and No!”). The combination of Peres’ shaky reputation with the funny voice used by Rivlin and his very disturbing eyes transformed Peres into a clown forever. Peres never won an open political campaign again (see Netanyahu Wags the Dog). In late May 2012, a Bauhaus Tower—a first ever—is about to be inaugurated within Tel Aviv’s White City UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage Site. Breaking regulations, Israel says to UNESCO: “Yes and no.”

Tel Aviv, the White City

Classical Bauhaus building with "thermometer" windows
Classical Bauhaus building with “thermometer” windows

The real Tel Aviv is quite different from the picture most international readers probably have in mind. Mostly, the city is confused with its metropolitan area, namely “Gush Dan,” “Dan’s Block” in Hebrew. The latter is comprised of seven towns, and is surrounded by several others. With a total population of roughly three million people, this is the largest urban area in the Holy Land. Tel Aviv is at the center–on a north to south axis–of the area and at its western edge, next to the sea. Formally, the city is a consolidation of Tel Aviv and Jaffa; by combining the two cities, the Israeli administration avoided having a Palestinian town at the center of its largest metropolis. Jaffa is an astonishing place; Andromeda—from Greek mythology—was attached to a prominent rock still in place. Prophet Jonah began his trip in Jaffa’s Port; the town is also mentioned in the New Testament. Its unlikely neighbor—Tel Aviv—was founded in 1909. Tel Aviv name means “Hill of Spring” and refers to a place in Babylon; strange choice for Zionists preaching “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” From 1933 onwards, German architects escaping the Nazi regime arrived at the young city and built its center in what is known as “Bauhaus Style.”

Hotel Cinema – Dizengoff Square
Hotel Cinema – Dizengoff Square

Over 4,000 buildings were built in this style, which is known also as “International Style.” It combines functionality, simplicity and elegant lines; its delicate, rounded balconies are one of its best known features. The style was adapted in Tel Aviv to the local heat. For example, note the “thermometer” windows along the staircase in the picture above. They allow air to cool the building down during hot summer days. Another characteristic is the whiteness of the buildings, so that their walls would reflect light and cool down the structure; as a result, the city is known as the “White City.” In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Tel Aviv’s White City a World Cultural Heritage Site. It defined it as “an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century.” UNESCO recognized the unique adaptation of modern international architectural trends to the cultural, climatic, and local traditions of the city. This means money, since the achievement attracts tourists. However, this also meant that the Israeli administration is committed to preservation efforts that will keep the spirit of the original design alive.

Feisty War Zone

Unexpectedly for a war-zone, tourism in Israel thrives. In 2010, roughly 3.5 million tourists visited the country, with the USA and Russia providing the bulk of them. In the first quarter of 2012, Israel enjoyed record numbers of tourists. Most travelers arrived through the Ben Gurion International Airport, which is minutes away from Tel Aviv’s downtown; thus, the city is a practically unavoidable attraction. The White City and the adjacent beaches are the town’s highlights.

In 2009, tourism contributed $3.3 billion to the Israeli economy. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that tourism in Israel is expected to average 5.0% per annum until 2020. Its expected contribution to Israel’s Gross Domestic Product will rise from 6.4% (US$12.0 billion) in 2010 to 7.2% ($22.1 billion) by 2020. Roughly 8% of Israelis are employed by this industry, which is ranked 51 in absolute size worldwide, of the 181 countries estimated by the WTTC. In other words, tourism is a massive part of Israel’s economy.

Tel Aviv’s Last Tower

Bauhaus “Black” Tower, Dizengoff corner Frishman, Tel Aviv

The White City is a low city. The pictures of highways and skyscrapers that are so identified with Tel Aviv belong to its fringes and to the adjacent towns. The tallest buildings in the metropolitan area are not in Tel Aviv. Thus the picture above, depicting the controversial tower about to be inaugurated may seem so surprising to outsiders. The White City shrunk over the last decades into three areas, roughly at the center of the city. Some parts of it have been utterly ruined, like the now elevated Dizengoff Square. The original Bauhaus buildings exist, but the new square spoils the original design. The new tower is designed as the first ever Bauhaus tower–note the stylized outer balconies and the rounded off corners–but it was built at the center of a White City enclave. The picture shows clearly how wrong it feels. The building is 28-stories high, while most structures in the White City barely reach 4-stories (above that an elevator was compulsory, thus in order to save costs, this was a self-imposed limit by architects). Yet, all the apartments in the new tower have been sold, the penthouse to an English investor for roughly twenty million dollars.

Breach of UNESCO Conditions

“Very interesting,” some readers may be thinking now, “but I don’t visit this website to learn about outdated German architecture in Tel Aviv!” That’s probably true, though I mentioned the topic a few times in the past. However, the tower importance reaches beyond its styling. It breaches the UNECO preservation conditions for Tel Aviv being awarded the White City UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage Site.

The Israeli real estate market greediness, may cost Israel dear. In panic-stricken tones, the Hebrew media is advertising that the new tower—“the Black Tower in the White City”—is legal because it was planned in the early 1990s, a decade before the White City Heritage Site status was awarded. Owners of the buildings opposed back then the plan proposed by the Kahtan brothers, the entrepreneurs attempting to develop the area, and the project was scrapped. Only after UNESCO recognized the White City, the Euro Sat Company bought the rights for the project and developed the Black Tower. Thus, the Israeli claims are dubious at their best; probably no court will accept them. The tower breaches the conditions imposed by UNESCO. “Yes and No” Israel says to UNESCO. “Preservation and Development, yes and no.” Trick or treat, Israel, you can’t have both!

In 2011, UNESCO was the first UN agency to recognize Palestine as a member state (see US Enters UN Alley), and continuously proves that its reputation for being the most open-minded UN agency is true. Israel is a problematic member of the UN, to the extent of having been defined as “terror inflicting” by the UN Human Rights Council. Now, it is clearly breaching the conditions imposed by UNESCO for one of its attractions defined as Heritage Site. This is done out of greed, so that both its real estate and tourism industries will profit. It is time for UNESCO to rise again the flag of international decency and honesty and de-list Tel Aviv as the White City; after all, the Black Tower is out there for all to see that the White City has been stained.