Haifa

SUMMARY

Haifa’s location – beside the Bay of Haifa, and between the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Carmel – made it a strategic prize for numerous conquerors throughout history, with its port being destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. This in turn gave the city a varied history that saw many diverse groups settling in and influencing the development of the city.

During four hundred years of Ottoman rule, religious tolerance was practiced in Haifa with non-Muslims allowed to settle in the region. By the 1860s, Haifa had re-emerged as a centre for commerce, with advanced transportation and a thriving business community. During Ottoman reign, a major railway and modernised dock was built, setting the stage for Haifa to emerge as a technological and industrial centre in the 20th century.

Under British rule following the Ottoman’s defeat after World War One, Haifa’s economy flourished as the port was expanded and oil refineries were built, encouraging mass migration of both Palestinians and Jews to the city. Prior to World War I, the city’s population was predominately Muslim and Christian Arabs, with only 15% being Jewish. By 1944, as World War II drew to a close, the Jewish population had steadily increased to 52% of a population that now numbered 128,000. Over the years, relations between Jews and Palestinians deteriorated and segregation increased. With this segregation, acts of violence escalated and eventually turned into outright warfare between Palestinians and Jews.

After the partition of Palestine in 1947, the Jewish Haganah defeated Arab forces and took control of Haifa in April 1948. When the fighting was over, only 5,000 of the 75,000 Palestinians who lived in the city prior to the war were left in Haifa. The rest had become refugees, fleeing the area (according to the Israeli version) or being deported (according to the Palestinian version). Much of Haifa’s Arab-owned land was redistributed by the new Jewish state to an influx of new Jewish immigrants.

Today, Haifa is the most cohesive city in Israel. While most residential neighbourhoods are segregated between Arabs and Jews, some apartment buildings are shared between the two groups. Arab businesses are patronised by Israeli Jews, and social interaction between the two groups appears to be improving. For instance, in December, the city hosts the “Festival of Festivals”, which celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas, and Ramadan.

In spite of this foundation of good will, numerous issues remain. Jewish and Arab schools in Haifa are largely segregated, and Christians have a separate private school system with higher educational achievement levels than Arab public schools. In general, Palestinians live in poorer neighbourhoods and have limited access to upward mobility. Few own their own land, and although the city’s diverse economy has provided ample jobs, the cost of living is high and makes prosperity an illusive dream for the vast majority of the Arab population.

 

PROFILE

Located in north-western Israel along the Bay of Haifa, the city of Haifa is situated between the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Carmel. It is 95 kilometres from Tel Aviv and 126 kilometres from Beirut, Lebanon. Haifa is the third largest city in Israel and is the country’s main port. Although Judaism is by far the majority religion in Haifa (80 percent), the city’s population of 267,000 is also made up of Palestinian Muslims (approximately 4 percent), Palestinian Christians (approximately 6 percent), with other faiths including Druze and Baha’i and with individuals who categorize themselves as nonreligious making up the other 10 percent of the population.

Haifa’s history dates back to pre-Greek and pre-Roman times, with archaeological evidence indicating that a thriving port city existed in the area perhaps as early as the 6th century BCE. Biblical and Talmudic references are made to the site. Because of its strategic importance as a port city, the city was subjected to a series of conquests by the Byzantine Empire, Arab-Muslims, European Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks, and Mandate-era British. Haifa’s development depended on the strategic goals imposed by these successive rulers. The 7th century Arab-Muslim conquest of the Byzantines brought a wave of development to Haifa. The 9th century saw the expansion of the shipyards and the establishment of sea trade with Egypt. By the 10th and 11th centuries, the area experienced both economic and cultural growth. At this time, both Arab Muslims and Jews contributed to the growing prosperity, with Jews involved in trade, commercial enterprises, and running the shipyards and Muslims managing the government and administration of the city.

This era of prosperity and co-existence ended in 1100 when the Crusades brought destruction to Palestine. The city’s inhabitants fought the invaders, but the shipyards were destroyed, and the citizens massacred. The Crusades returned Haifa to its earlier status as a tiny fishing and farming village. Although Crusaders eventually allowed Haifa to re-establish itself as a secondary port to Acre, in 1265, the Mamluks conquered Haifa and destroyed the port city to protect against future Crusader conquest. It was not until 1516, when the Ottomans defeated the Mamluks that Haifa began to re-emerge as the centre of shipping in the region.

During the four hundred years of Ottoman rule, religious tolerance was practiced in Haifa. A Christian group known as the Carmelites built a monastery, possibly during the 12th century, on Mount Carmel. Their influence was great, particularly in the area of medicine and education. Bedouins and Egyptians as well as Napoleon had, at various times, political influence over Haifa during the Ottoman Era, and all allowed non-Muslim to settle in the region. By the 1860s, Haifa had re-emerged as a centre for commerce, and the German Templars immigrated to Haifa and established a colony at the base of Mount Carmel. Like the Carmelites, the Templars had a large impact on the port city. They advanced transportation and encouraged a thriving business community. Additionally, the influence of the Baha’i helped forge modern Haifa. The Baha’i religion emphasizes tolerance and peace. Today, Haifa remains the centre of the Baha’i faith. The last major contribution of the Ottoman era was the building of a major railway and modernized dock. This set the stage for Haifa to emerge as a technological and industrial centre in the 20th century. Ottoman rule ended with the defeat of the empire by allied forces in World War One, at which time the British Mandate period began.

Under the British, Haifa’s economy flourished as the port was expanded and oil refineries were built. The existence of the new port encouraged mass migration of both Palestinians and Jews to the city. Prior to World War I, the city’s population was predominately Muslim and Christian Arabs, with only 15 percent being Jewish. By 1944, as World War II drew to a close, the Jewish population had steadily increased to 52 percent of a population that now numbered 128,000. Initially, Haifa’s economic interests had an insulating effect, protecting the city from the growing tensions taking place throughout the rest of Palestine This effect did not last, however, as Haifa’s Jewish population became increasingly politically active. Residential neighbourhoods became more segregated, with the Arabs being crowded into the poorer areas of the city. With this segregation, acts of violence escalated and eventually turned into outright warfare between Palestinians and Jews.

The United Nations passed the Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, and in the war that erupted following this decision, the Jewish Haganah defeated the Arab forces and took control of Haifa in April 1948. When the fighting was over, only 5,000 of the 75,000 Palestinians who lived in the city prior to the war were left in Haifa. The rest had become refugees, fleeing the area (according to the formal Israeli version) or being deported (according to the Palestinian version). Haifa’s old city was destroyed in an effort to prevent the return of its Arab residents, and most of the Palestinian properties were confiscated by the state. In the aftermath of the war, the State of Israel was born, and much of Haifa’s land that was owned by the Arabs who had fled or been deported was redistributed by the state to an influx of new Jewish immigrants.

Of the five mixed cities in Israel today, Haifa is the most cohesive. While most residential neighbourhoods are segregated between Arabs and Jews, some apartment buildings are shared between the two groups. Arab businesses are patronised by Israeli Jews, and social interaction between the two groups appears to be improving. For instance, in December, the city hosts the “Festival of Festivals”, which celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas, and Ramadan. During this festival, thousands of people travel to Haifa to participate in the celebration and walk along the “Co-existence Walk”, which passes through the city’s old neighbourhoods.

In spite of this foundation of good will, numerous issues remain today. Jewish and Arab schools in Haifa are largely segregated, and Christians have a separate private school system with higher educational achievement levels than Arab public schools. Because of this, Jews and Christians have higher student populations at the university level. Where the Palestinian Christian population has been able to achieve a broad representation in the middle class, Palestinian Muslims are mostly limited to the working class. In general, Palestinians live in poorer neighbourhoods and have limited access to upward mobility.

Although Haifa enjoys greater internal stability than other mixed cities, it falls short of providing equality amongst the factions that call the city their home. Palestinians are socially and economically disadvantaged in comparison to their Jewish counterparts. Few own their own land, and although the city’s diverse economy has provided ample jobs, the cost of living is high and makes prosperity an illusive dream for the vast majority of the Arab population.