Path to peace
Tel Aviv-Jaffa has made great strides in creating scenic walking routes. By Mordechai Beck
Prominent promenade: sea and sand are just steps away
The Tel Aviv promenade is probably the best known beach front in Israel. Facing the Mediterranean Sea, it's a year-round tourist attraction. Israelis, for reasons known only to themselves, assume that come October the sea is "closed" and are loth to bathe there (unless they're Russian immigrants, of course, but that's another story). The Chich Promenade – named after one of the city's most popular mayors - Shlomo "Chich" Lahat, (you'd have to ask his army buddies where he picked up that sobriquet) - follows the contours of the seafront with a wide swathe of sandy beaches to one side and numerous cafés, bars, ice cream parlours and hotels on the other. Visitors can spend long hours here, swimming, sunbathing, fressing and walking, all within a space of a few kilometres.
Now, at the southern end, starting from the Andromeda Rock (a name probably adopted from a Greek legend transmitted by passing sailors), a new promenade starts at the edge of Jaffa's ancient port and suddenly becomes something else entirely. In place of the former dumping ground for the city's rubbish, the municipality transformed tons of refuse into landfill and thence into a green covered landscape of rolling hills and pathways that snake their way between the brooding sea and the lines of houses fronting the Aj'ami Quarter. Many of these houses are either new or refurbished in harmony with the panoramic view.
This past summer, Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv's energetic mayor, organised an official opening of the project that had taken years to realise. It was a singular moment in the life of the country's largest urban area. Jews and Arabs came together in a celebration of a shared space, singing, dancing and playing music for each other. Huldai was among the speakers who stressed how the new promenade symbolised not only human ingenuity - in turning this rubbish dump into pastoral beauty - but also as a tangible proof that Jews and Arabs could live, work and play together.
A final touch that characterised this remarkable event were the kites that everyone was offered as they entered the celebration's precincts. These fragile toys seemed to suggest that if people could only transcend their differences, then everyone could literally fly free as a kite.
As it is, the new section of the promenade - which is still something of an unknown site even for locals - contains tracks for bicyclists, places to fish, as well as an ideal place to stroll over the green and pleasant hills.
Fresh angle:fishing from the new Jaffa promenade
At the northern end of the Chich promenade, past the newly renovated Tel Aviv port, is a very different sort of terrain. Starting from the Reading Power Station (which Israelis invariably pronounced "reeding", not aware of the Marquis of Reading who gave this structure its name) the new walk takes you across a resuscitated, long bridge that looks over a marina for kayaks.
Another small bridge takes you around the imposing Power Station (now turned into an occasional avant-garde art gallery). From then on, a smooth double-track path - one for pedestrians and the other for cyclists – follows the sea front northwards. Like the southern extension, this end of the promenade is also totally man-made. However, instead of rolling hills, here the main feature is a level strip of what eventually will be a tree-lined garden. Presently this section is exposed to the elements, and best avoided during the height of summer days. But young tree shoots and the beginning of a colourful display of flowers and rockery plants are already apparent. The more adventurous or romantic can forsake the path to splash in the sea itself, since for most of the extent of the promenade, it is just a few yards away.
Right now, this section takes you a few kilometres to the beach at Tel Baruch (where there is a delightful café-in- the-round). Eventually the walk will link up with the coastal resort of Herzliya, which is ironic since this was meant to be the original name for Tel Aviv - but was dropped because of worries about provoking the Ottoman Turks.