Les quartiers de Haifa en images
Haifa districts in pictures
By Amir Zohar from Haaretz June 12th 2008
The balconies are colorful, the railings are wrought iron, the arches are spectacular, the lintels are sculpted,
but in the heart of Haifa hundreds of stone buildings from the British Mandate period, as well as
contemporary glass structures, stand empty and abandoned. In what is called the "lower city," gaping holes
that once were windows are now portals for flocks of birds that swoop in from the nearby Dagon Silos,
making an ear-splitting racket, to spend the night. Other vacant spaces have been sealed in order to prevent
squatting or a demand for tax payment.
"There is a million square meters of empty built-up space in the city," Mayor Yona Yahav confirmed in
response to a question from a city council member. That was in January 2005, at the start of an economic
boom in Israel that passed over Haifa, and a year and a half before the Second Lebanon War. Since then the
situation has only deteriorated: The local real estate market has plunged by tens of percentage points, and
entrepreneurs are keeping their distance from the city.
Herzl Street in the Hadar Hacarmel section, the city's prestigious main street for decades, has long since lost
its luster. This year part of the street was converted into a pedestrian mall in a desperate attempt to imbue it
with character; the rest of the street continues to be a huge bazaar of clothing stores and fast-food eateries.
Above Herzl Street, the MadaTech - the Israel National Museum of Science in the old Technion Institute of
Technology building failed to become an urban attraction. Below, on Hehalutz Street, dozens of institutions
and shops have shut their doors - from the Histadrut federation to bank branches to some unforgettable
Along the slope leading from Hadar to the lower city and bay area, Haifa City Hall stands, a fossilized
historic monument, whose employees cling to it fiercely even after the courts, the state prosecution and the
local branch of the Interior Ministry all left the area and moved to the new government compound in the
eastern corner of the lower city. The stagnation continues along the main streets of the lower city -
Ha'atzma'ut, Jaffa, Allenby - and in the multitude of colorful alleys that branch off of them. Almost every
building has "For Sale" or "For Rent" signs, but there are no takers.
How did Israel's third-largest city find itself in a "liquidation sale," in the words of deputy mayor Shmuel
In the 1980s, the municipality, under mayor Aryeh Gurel, began to rezone industrial areas near the Check
Post, at the eastern entrance to the city, for commercial use. This caused a large-scale migration of
businesses from the port area to alternative sites in the bay. The harbor underwent a change.
"Ships used to anchor here for a week to offload cargo," Yossi Pincus recalls nostalgically. A colorful figure
attired in a sports jacket, a tie and a beret, puffing on a pipe beneath a graying mustache, Pincus, 80 years
old, is the founder of a well-known pub in the port and its owner since 1942. "Sailors from all over the world
wandered the sidewalks. They brought in huge quantities of whiskey and they drank huge quantities, and
there were girls, you know, and bureaucrats from all over the country. But now?"
The advent of cargo containers meant that ships spent only hours in the port, on average. The gates of the
port closed, the famous bars died lingering deaths, and the hangouts of the sailors started to sell merchandise
from South Tel Aviv. Most crucially, all the big economic corporations left, usually to relocate to the center
of the country.
The situation grew even worse in the 1990s, under mayor Amram Mitzna. Mitzna developed the
southwestern section, an open area at the foot of Mount Carmel, where the Center for Science Industries
(CSI) was established and drew high-tech giants such as Intel, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo. The Haifa
Mall, the Congress Center and the Electric Company tower were also built there. The new municipal
stadium is now under construction in the same area, alongside a ramified network of roads that will connect
the coastal highway to the Carmel tunnel, which at present looks like a gaping coal mine.
Mitzna also pinned his hopes on a local entrepreneur, Gad Zeevi. He helped Zeevi build the Grand Kanyon
(kanyon is the Hebrew word for shopping mall) high on Mount Carmel and also to purchase from the state
most of the abandoned buildings in Wadi Salib, a former Arab neighborhood where in 1959 the new
lower-class residents, most of them Moroccan immigrants, clashed with the police. Mitzna declared that
Zeevi would build an artists' quarter there. The sign to that effect still stands in the heart of the
neighborhood, amid a jungle of weeds and dozens of sealed buildings.
"Can I help it if Mitzna gave Wadi Salib to Zeevi and then his businesses got into trouble?" Yahav says
today, even though he was deputy mayor at the time and chairman of the Haifa Economic Corporation.
"Zeevi came to us with all kinds of ideas that go nowhere, and we are stuck with him to this day, like a thorn
in the side."
In 2002, when Mitzna resigned as mayor to become the chairman of the Labor Party, the CSI was a roaring
success and the Grand Kanyon was crowned Israel's largest mall. The fancy stores of Hadar moved to
Zeevi's mall. Since then, Hadar has become a Levantine bazaar. A similar scenario played out in the lower
city: The companies and offices that did not move to the Check Post relocated to the modern CSI compound
and branches of government ministries left in favor of the "missile" building in the government compound.
Comers and goers
The local crisis is also putting to the test the vaunted Jewish-Arab coexistence in which Haifa takes great
pride. The empty buildings show that the city is losing residents. But in a mixed city there are some who
make a demographic calculation. One example is attorney Walid Khamis, a member of the municipal
council for the Balad party, who has announced his candidacy for mayor. He claims that every year
thousands of young Jews leave Haifa and thousands of young Arabs move in.
"What this means," he says, "is that in another 15 years there will be a chance to elect an Arab mayor."
The municipality's statistical research unit confirms this assessment. Since 2000, the city's population has
decreased by 4,500, to 266,000, of whom about 10 percent are Arabs. The number of Jews fell by 7,200, the
number of Arabs rose by 2,700. About 75 percent of those leaving are children and adults up to the age of 44.
One of Khamis' sisters is a lawyer, and she and her engineer husband live in Switzerland. Another sister has
a master's degree in occupational therapy and runs a private center for child development in the Arab town
of Shfaram. Khamis himself is married and has a daughter. His family lived in Wadi Nisnas, the city's Arab
section, and his grandfather, Yosef Khamis, was a Knesset member in the Jewish left-wing Mapam party.
Khamis' father is a surgical nurse in the city's Bnei Zion Hospital; his mother a teacher in an Arab school in
Halisa. His mother's brother is Saliba Khamis, formerly a leader of the Israeli Communist Party, and the
father of actor Juliano Mer Khamis.
In short, Walid Khamis is a salient representative of the Arab urban middle class. But he says he is an
anomaly. "The Arab middle class in Haifa was not generated by economic mobility, but arrived from
outside, from the established strata in Galilee," Khamis explains. These affluent residents did not make the
move from the village to the city in order to settle in rundown Arab areas. "Since 1948 not one new Arab
neighborhood has been built," he continues. "Because of this, the most an Arab can do is to move to streets
that the Jews are tired of, in Kiryat Eliezer and in the German Colony, on Hatzionut Road, on the French
Carmel, in upper Hadar, in Yafe Nof and on Wingate Street, which is where I live."
When an Arab moves to a Jewish street, Khamis says, "The first barrier is the encounter with the Jew who is
selling, which is a type of job interview. In every negotiation an Arab feels the conflict of the Jewish seller -
the desire not to sell, along with the lure of the money, a situation which of course drives up the price."
Apropos of prices, according to a survey conducted last month by TheMarker, the Haaretz financial
supplement, a three-room apartment in the poorer neighborhoods can be had for between NIS 150,000 and
NIS 300,000 (yes, shekels, not dollars), and in better neighborhoods, such as Neve Sha'anan and Romema,
for NIS 400,000 to NIS 600,000. In the well-established areas the average price is NIS 9,000 per square
meter, so a 120-square-meter apartment will sell for about NIS 1 million. In light of the sparse demand,
architectural finds can be had in the Carmel Center area for half that amount.
Another 'State of Tel Aviv'
"We are suffering the aftershock of the last war," Mayor Yahav says, offering a patriotic explanation for the
city's economic debacle. He does not add that "thanks to" the war, the government pumped vast amounts of
money into Haifa for rehabilitation. The funds were spent on an unprecedented upgrading of infrastructures,
but because of the steep decline in the demand for housing, there is very little residential construction.
The infrastructure projects entailed obstruction of streets and sidewalks for lengthy periods, deterring the few
remaining potential buyers.
"The arnona [property tax] in the Grand Kanyon is only NIS 158 per meter, but in the lower city it is NIS
252 per meter," the owners of the empty structures cry out.
Gili Pincus, son of the pub owner, is a member of the merchants' committee in the lower city. "The
municipality has no appreciation for the small businessmen who helped create the city," he says. "During
the war and the renovation period they demanded full property tax payments in the highest category, as
though we were still in prosperous times."
Yahav has a ready-made answer to the so-called State of Tel Aviv: a campus at the port. "During the election
campaign," he relates, "I was invited to visit the Hurva Club, which was located in an abandoned building at
the edge of the harbor. We arrived at midnight and stood on the roof balcony. The place was packed with
revelers, the music was strong and the view was incredible: on one side the port and its quiet waters, cranes
and ships, and on the other side the lights of Mount Carmel. I understood immediately that this is the place
to create the answer to the State of Tel Aviv. We have a plan to turn the streets of Ha'atzma'ut and the port
into a center of education with student dorms, which will liven up the whole place."
After the elections, Yahav announced that he intended to make the lower city a residential center for young
people. The local weeklies were skeptical. But there were also some who took him at his word. "Immediately
after the elections, Yahav held a meeting with business people in the train station terminal in the lower city,"
says attorney Itai Hoefler. In the 1970s, Hoefler's grandfather, Reuven, rented an office for his law firm on
Ha'atzma'ut Street, and his father, Meir, bought the whole building. "He [Yahav] said he was going to focus
big-time on the lower city, and soon he was talking about the plan for a campus. In the three years since
then, my father has bought entire office buildings, mostly from the municipality."
Attorney Meir Hoefler, a member of the Likud central committee and a social activist, records in
handwriting all the details of the buildings and apartments he bought for $200 a square meter, and smiles
with pleasure when his opportunism is likened to that of the wheeler-dealer Israeli lawyer Shraga Biran.
"Yahav likes to say that 'Hoefler followed my vision,' but let's say that I am following in parallel to his
vision," Meir Hoefler says. "We understood long ago that there is no more need for office space in the city,
that what's needed is to convert properties into residences for young people. So 15 years ago I already bought
from the municipality, for $180,000, the building in which we had leasing rights, and I invested another $1
million to add three stories. In my mind's eye I saw examples from all over the world of how neglected city
centers were transformed into thriving Sohos."
Do the buildings belong to the municipality?
Hoefler: "In 1932, the British dried up parts of the port area and built a wharf, offices and storage depots.
They invited businessmen and companies, such as Hamashbir Hamerkazi [a wholesale cooperative] and
Hachsharat Hayishuv [Palestine Land Development Corporation], and leased them buildings on the adjacent
streets with contracts until the year 2025. When the British left the country, in 1948, they turned over the
area they had dried up to the Haifa Municipality, which also assumed ownership of dozens of buildings,
including the long structures on Ha'atzma'ut Street.
"Over the years," he continues, "there were some lessees who purchased the ownership of the property from
the municipality. Others remained as lessees only, and the rest of the buildings were leased to government
ministries. When the decline started, many private owners found themselves in economic trouble, including
huge debts owed to the municipality. Many offices were shut down and neglected, and some of the lessees,
particularly on the upper levels, simply abandoned the sites. Three years ago, when Yahav talked about his
campus plan, I located lessees of apartments and buildings with all kinds of problems and bought the leasing
rights from them, and from the municipality I bought the ownership rights to three buildings."
The government offices also left the area. Aryeh Grinbaum, whose private company offers consulting on
expropriations, was hired by the municipality to spearhead the project of locating, restoring and
rehabilitating the buildings. "With great difficulty we finally managed to identify eight buildings belonging to
the municipality," Grinbaum says, "but most of them were leased to government ministries until 2025."
'Quick on the uptake'
Those buildings were managed by the Israel Lands Administration, at the request of the Finance Ministry.
Grinbaum went directly to the ministry's accountant general, who was then Dr. Yaron Zelekha, explained
the plan to rehabilitate the lower city, and asked for the abandoned buildings to be transferred to the
municipality. Zelekha decided that there was no point in renovating the empty structures, only to return them
to the municipality when the leases expired. He issued a directive for their immediate return, with no quid
And it was just at this stage that Hoefler purchased buildings that the municipality located?
Grinbaum: "Hoefler is a local entrepreneur who is quick on the uptake. He bought dozens of apartments and
three buildings, not necessarily the ones we located. He bought at $200 a square meter, and is now offering
them at $1,000 a square meter."
So once again you sold everything to one person, and cheaply?
Yahav: "Hoefler was the only one who followed in my wake and bought three buildings. By the way, he is
now being offered $1.5 million for a building, but is not selling."
Why was a public tender not issued for the sale of the buildings that Hoefler bought?
Municipal spokesman Roni Grossman: "There is an exemption from a tender, which allows for the sale of a
property to a lessee who has been in possession of the property in practice for more than 10 years."
How many buildings were sold to lessees in this category?
After checking again with the municipality's legal unit, the spokesman said: "Since the decision was made to
establish the campus at the port three years ago, the municipality sold its rights in just one building."
Apparently, the legal unit and the spokesman are not coordinated with the mayor, who, like Grinbaum and
Hoefler, says that Hoefler bought three buildings from the municipality in the past few years.
People who encounter Grinbaum in the harbor area nod in greeting or shake his hand. Wannabe
entrepreneurs exploit the chance meeting to huddle with him briefly. "Suddenly everyone is being nice to
me," he says. "It wasn't like that at the start. Merchants and property owners looked at me with incredulity,
disdain or indifference. Naturally, people also gossiped that I was seizing control of buildings and selling
them to friends cheap, and that I had even arranged for my son to get an abandoned property. It is important
for me to say that I personally am not involved in any real estate deal, and my son is in fact a student in
Grinbaum, formerly the director of the Economic Corporation of Nesher, a Haifa suburb, is managing the
project alone. He acts as though he wears two hats: "As a representative of the municipality I am persuading
the property owners to become part of the plan; and I am persuading the municipality to invest, through
municipal companies, as though I were a private entrepreneur. The project covers a narrow rectangle of 100
dunams [25 acres], from the Customs House to the train station, and from the fence around the port to
Ha'atzma'ut Street. The initial goal was to populate Ha'atzma'ut and Hanamal Streets with brand names. I
argued that only if we solved the acute problem of the hundreds of abandoned properties on the upper levels
would something good develop on the street. The idea was to attract young people, but this always involved
night clubs. Then the idea was born to bring in educational institutions and build student dorms."
A survey conducted among students in Haifa by Chemansky Ben Shahar Consulting Co. found that an
overwhelming majority of the respondents objected to living in the lower city. They cited crime, poverty,
neglect, pollution and noise as their reasons. Only 10 percent described the area as distinctive and
developing. When asked a second time, 45 percent replied, after further thought, that they would be ready to
consider living in the area.
The municipality is presently converting into student dorms 30 four-room apartments in two buildings in that
vicinity, with a spectacular view to the sea and Mount Carmel. The idea to offer venues in the area for some
of the activities of the University of Haifa and the Technion was opposed by those institutions. They cited the
long travel time (an hour) from the libraries and laboratories, scheduling difficulties and other problems.
"After Yahav pressured them, they asked us to renovate a building for them," Grinbaum says. University of
Haifa vice president Baruch Marzan relates that next year, master's programs in business administration,
management of educational institutions and training of judges will be offered in the port area. As the
students will likely not be the types who will move to the lower city, the university suggested that students
who cannot find lodgings on the Mount Carmel campus be housed in the dorms being renovated by the
municipality. The Technion has also acceded to the courting efforts, and its faculty of medicine, whose
teaching hospital is Rambam Medical Center, will direct 40 students who so desire to the new dorms.
Grinbaum: "The Tiltan College of Design [affiliated with the University of Haifa] has 700 students in an
amazing building on [this new] campus. Twenty students have already rented apartments from Hoefler in a
building that he converted into residential units. Carmel College, a new adult education institution, has
purchased a building and a lot on Hanamal Street. I invite colleges and schools of every stripe to come. We
have fabulous spaces that are earmarked for this purpose, at laughable prices of $4 and $5 per square meter
a month, and with minimal property tax."
Two more steps
Does Grinbaum's list of purchases and sales reflect signs that the private market has begun to react to new
developments in Haifa? The local planning committee authorized a request by the giant Shikun Ovdim
construction company to build a 10-story residential building, with 50-square-meter lofts on Hanamal Street.
The Fishman Group, which has a huge building with thousands of square meters of empty space along the
port perimeter, commissioned a feasibility study on whether to convert the building into an educational
institution and luxury apartments.
Gelbhart, the deputy mayor, who is a member of the Greens faction and an architect by profession, declared
10 years ago that the lower city was in need of rehabilitation, but he was considered a pest and was ignored.
In 2003, the municipal elections were won by a joint list of the Greens and Shinui under Yahav, who in
mid-term joined the Kadima party founded by Ariel Sharon (and now led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert).
Gelbhart: "Another two steps are required to complete the turnaround: the breaching of the wall to the port
and a change in the route of the rail line, which separates the city from the port. The moment the facade of
the port will be opened up we will have a completely different city, a downtown of culture, leisure and
In September 2007, the National Council for Planning and Building authorized the establishment of a navy
base on the area originally dried up by the British. In return, the navy will evacuate its two present bases
along the water, and the sites will revert to the municipality, which will be able to build new residential
neighborhoods there. The evacuation of the western part of the port was also authorized, and will be opened
to the public from Bat Galim to the Customs House.
The CEO of Israel Ports Development and Assets Company, Shlomo Breiman, confirms that "at the end of
2010 the construction of the eastern port will be completed, and transportation to and from it will be via the
Carmel tunnel at the Check Post and via Highway 6. At the beginning of 2011, the western part of Haifa port
will become a 'white port,' as in Barcelona. The city will extend to the waterline, with cafes and shopping
centers, and anchorage for passenger ships only. I would expect the Haifa Municipality to be quick about
completing the infrastructures for the eastern port. We hope they will also be ready on time in the lower city,
especially as regards the rail line - a train goes by there every five minutes."
The cost of digging a tunnel for the train, either along the present route or parallel to the Carmel tunnel, will
be between $2 billion and $3 billion, says the director of Israel Railways' coordination and control unit,
Yaron Dvir. "And I do not see the budget sources for that," he adds.
The alternative preferred by Israel Railways is the conversion of the line to an electricity-powered train, with
the possibility of embedding that line in the lower city. Dvir: "That is less expensive, friendlier to the
environment and less noisy, and it can also serve as an internal mass-transport route." The municipality and
the green organizations are opposed to the idea, however, because of the electricity grid - poles and cables -
that will have to be erected along the route.
Hanamal Street, which for decades was the shabby backyard of the lower city, is also getting a facelift to
bring it up to par with the campus plan. The street has been paved with bricks and is closed to vehicular
traffic, and a small square with palm trees has been built nearby, next to a green hill. At the end of the street
is a large building painted in black, the location until recently of the Hurva Club, the icon of alternative
music in the north of the country. Haifa-born film director Amos Gitai is conducting negotiations to buy the
building and convert it into a film school which he will head.
"Film students need an urban environment," Gitai explains. "This building is very special, and it has
already been used for cinematic projects. For example I shot part of my film 'Promised Land' there. True,
there are difficulties in the negotiations, but the plan will not succeed or fail because of one building. There
are dozens of interesting buildings in the lower city."
The gallery of contemporary art at the University of Haifa conducted negotiations to move to a private
building on the street. But the university and the municipality could not agree on who would pay for the
renovation, which will cost $500,000.
"I keep hearing about plans for the port campus and it is very frustrating," the gallery's curator, Ruti
Direktor, wrote to the mayor. "The location is wonderful and is just waiting for contemporary cultural
initiatives ... I shelved the ideas for the opening event in May. Is there reason to hope that the idea will, after
all, be realized?"
Marzan makes it clear that the university will not underwrite the renovation. Yahav wrote in reply, "There is
no problem. I will be going abroad soon, and the first sum I will raise will be $500,000 for this gallery."
In the meantime, architect Michal Kucik has bought for $670,000 a building adjacent to the one Direktor is
dreaming of; it has an area of 600 square meters for renovation and comes with a permit allowing
construction of three additional stories. Opposite, an old warehouse that architect Nathan Feibish purchased
years ago as a studio has now been converted into a gourmet restaurant, Hanamal 24, at an investment of $1
million. Haaretz restaurant critic Daniel Rogov described it as "charming and exciting" and added, "It can
easily compete with the best restaurants in Tel Aviv."
Just down the street, architects Merav Eitan and Gaston Zahr have founded O*GE Interactive Gallery for
architecture and design, which is housed in an old two-story building leased from Hoefler. The gallery invites
local residents, companies, schools, artists and designers to exhibit works on themes chosen by the gallery.
The theme for the first year is environment and the green economy, for which the whole building was
painted a glowing green which brightened up the faded area surrounding it.
"We rented the place as a ruin, and the transaction included our part in the renovation according to our
design," says Zahr, who is from Berlin and lives in the town of Kiryat Tivon, near Haifa. "We are architects
who believe that design changes the world, slowly but surely."
And the audience?
Zahr: "Haifa is a pretty 'dry' city, and it's a shame, because it has tremendous potential."
"It is a city of a great many young people who are not really young," says Nama Altschuler, the founder of
the locally famous Cafe Netto on Mount Carmel. "Here, everyone dreams of living on the Carmel. Only if
that approach changes will it be possible to transform the city into the Soho everyone is talking about.
Because, you know, the students who are studying architecture in Haifa today say that their dream is to
design the restaurants of Tel Aviv tomorrow."W
On the sites
Haifa Tourism Office
you will find detailed descriptions of Haifa districts
Please send me more pictures. I would like to walk and take
pictures around all day but I have to work sometimes!