Meir Dizengoff was a Zionist leader and politician and the founder and first mayor of Tel Aviv. Dizengoff’s actions in Ottoman Palestine and the British Mandate for Palestine helped lead to the creation of the State of Israel. David Ben-Gurion declared Israeli independence in 1948 at Dizengoff’s residence in Tel Aviv. In Kishinev, Dizengoff met Theodor Herzl and became an ardent follower. However, Dizengoff strongly opposed the British Uganda Scheme promoted by Herzl at the Sixth Zionist Congress. Instead, Dizengoff favored the formation of Jewish communities in Palestine. Dizengoff became actively involved in land purchases and the establishment of Jewish communities, most notably Tel Aviv.
Dizengoff was widely regarded as a leader of the Jewish community prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Many notable world leaders who traveled to Ottoman Palestine and the British Mandate for Palestine met with Meir Dizengoff as a representative of the Jewish community.
Meir Dizengoff And Winston Churchill
So Winston Churchill visited Palestine in March 1921 and met with Dizengoff. During a ceremonial speech with Churchill, Dizengoff declared: “this small town of Tel-Aviv, which is hardly 12 years old, has been conquered by us on sand dunes, and we have built it with our work and our exertions.” Churchill was impressed with the motivation and determination of the pioneers, under the leadership of Dizengoff. In Palestine, Churchill told an anti-Zionist delegation:
“This country has been very much neglected in the past and starved and even mutilated by Turkish misgovernment […] you can see with your own eyes in many parts of this country the work which has already been done by Jewish colonies; how sandy wastes have been reclaimed and thriving farms and orangeries planted in their stead.” That same day he told a Jewish delegation he would inform London that the Zionists are “transforming waste into fertile […] planting trees and developing agriculture in desert lands.[…] making for an increase in wealth and cultivation” and further that the Arab population is “deriving great benefit, sharing in the general improvement and advancement.”
Meir Dizengoff: One of the Funders of Tel Aviv
So Dizengoff was one of the founders of the Ahuzat Bayit Company, organized to establish a modern Jewish quarter near the Arab city of Jaffa in 1909. On April 11, 1909, sixty-six families gathered on the sandy shoreline to divide up lots of what was to become Tel Aviv. Meir Dizengoff, the civic leader who would be the city’s first mayor; participated in the lottery. The moment was captured on film by Abraham Suskind. In the iconic image, members of the collective can be seen standing on sand dunes in the exact location where Rothschild Boulevard currently runs. According to legend, the man standing behind the group; on the slope of the sand dune, is a man who opposed the idea; allegedly telling the others that they are mad because there is no water at the location.
Meir Dizengoff: Mayor of Tel Aviv
Dizengoff and his wife were among the first sixty-six families who gathered on 11 April 1909 on a sand dune north of Jaffa to hold a lottery to distribute plots of land which established what eventually became the city of Tel Aviv. Dizengoff became head of the town planning in 1911, a position that he held until 1922. When Tel Aviv was recognized as a city, Dizengoff was elected mayor. He remained in office until shortly before his death, apart from a three-year hiatus in 1925–1928.
Dizengoff was consequently involved with the development of the city and encouraged its rapid expansion—carrying out daily inspections, and paying attention to details such as entertainment. He was always present at the head of the Adloyada, the annual Purim carnival. After his wife’s death, he donated his house to the city of Tel Aviv, for use as an art museum, and he influenced many important artists to donate their work to improve the museum.
In 1936, with the outbreak of the Arab revolt, the Arabs closed the port of Jaffa with the intention of halting the rapid expansion of Jewish settlements in Mandatory Palestine. Dizengoff pressured the government to give him permission to open a port in his new city of Tel Aviv, and before his death, he managed to dedicate the first pier of Tel Aviv’s new port. His dedication began with the words: “Ladies and gentlemen, I can still remember the day when Tel Aviv had no port”.
Dizengoff House: Independence Hall
In 1930, after the death of his wife, Dizengoff donated his house to his beloved city of Tel Aviv and requested that it be turned into a museum. The house underwent extensive renovations and became the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 1932. The museum moved to its current location in 1971. On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel at the Dizengoff residence. The building is now a history museum and known as Independence Hall.
There is a monument at Dizengoff House (Independence Hall) honoring both the 66 original families of Tel Aviv as well as a statue of Dizengoff riding his famous horse.