Architecture, Espionage and an Impossible Friendship

September 8th, 2011


Thomas Friedman's highly acclaimed book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, begins with a Middle East chronology, marking the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict as far back as 1882. Fleeing persecution in Russia and Romania, large numbers of Jews moved to Palestine, where they were again met an unfriendly welcome. By 1891, Arab  notables in Jerusalem had sent a petition to the Ottoman government demanding an official prohibition of immigration to Palestine. By the time Mohammad Ahmed Abdel Rahim, an Arab businessman who made his vast wealth from orange fields and flour mills, met Ukrainian-born Jewish Architect Yitzhak Rapoport in 1934, their acquaintance was more than a little taboo. Abdel Rahim approached Rapoport, hiring him to design a large modernist house in the Bauhaus style, but one that conformed to the strict religious and cultural rules of the Muslim tradition. Such a style for a Muslim home was already culturally unacceptable, but Abdel Rahim took a greater risk in hiring a Jewish architect. In order to complete the project, Rapoport needed to be chauffeured into the neighborhood, disguise in Arab clothing, and would stay on site for a night and two days at a time. Rapoport's disguise and low profile was essential for both men's livelihood and safety. Through the process, the two men from opposing worlds grew to respect each other, despite each man's high ranking role in oppositional paramilitary groups.


Rapoport was a senior officer in the Jewish paramilitary group Haganah. While being safely watched over at the house of Abdel Rahim, alerted the Haganah of any attacks planned against the Jewish immigrants of Palestine. It seems odd that a friendship could grow in such a tense situation, with each keeping tabs on each other, according to Michael Z. Wise, the men were fiercely protective of each other. When Abdel Rahim's family was forced to flee during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, Abdel Rahim transferred ownership of the home to Rapoport. It seems Abdel Rahim trusted Rapoport more than anyone else. The whole story can be found in the article, Two-Family Home, by Michael Z. Wise.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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