Port of Haifa
Review and History

The Port of Haifa lies on the shores of the Bay of Haifa on northern Israel’s coast on the Mediterranean Sea. On the slopes of Mount Carmel, the Port of Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel and the largest city in northern Israel. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Bahá’í World Center is located in Port of Haifa. Its population is a mix of Jews and Arabs, and in 2006, about 267 thousand people lived in the Port of Haifa.

The Port of Haifa is the country’s main port. First established by the British in 1933, Israel expanded the port substantially after independence. The major industries in today’s Port of Haifa include steel foundries, shipbuilding of smaller vessels, food processing, and the manufacture of chemicals, cement, and textiles. It is also home to oil refineries and a steam-driven power plant. The Port of Haifa also boasts Israel’s only subway.

Port History

During the 14th Century BC, a small port called Tell Abu Hawam was active in the region around the Port of Haifa. Greek explorer Scylax wrote about a city on Mount Carmel in the Persian era between the 6th and 4th Centuries BC. When the ancient port became silted, the port was moved to a new site to the south.

Tulmudic writings first mention the Port of Haifa in the 3rd Century AD when it was the home of some Jewish scholars and a small fishing village. At this time, Greeks were engaged in trade on the coast near the Port of Haifa. The Christian Bible also mentions the Kishon River and Mount Carmel.

At the top of Mount Carmel is the “Cave of Elijah,” a grotto associated with the prophet and Elisha, his apprentice. Mount Carmel’s highest peak is called Muhraka (place of burning) in Arabic, recalling the early Canaanite and Israelite times when burnt offerings were made on the hilltop. Early residents of the Port of Haifa made their living through fishing and agriculture.

Although it was never an important center, the Port of Haifa flourished under Byzantine rule. The Persians conquered the Port of Haifa in the 7th Century AD. When the Rashidun Caliphate dominated the Middle East after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the Port of Haifa saw new development and expansion. During the 9th Century, the Abbasid Caliphates and Umayyad established trade with ports in Egypt, and the city contained some shipyards.

Under the control of the Caliphate, Arabs and Jews lived and worked together in maritime commerce and trade. By the 11th Century, the Port of Haifa was a prosperous mercantile center. Its most important industries were glass- and dye-making.

In 1100 AD, European Crusaders blockaded the Port of Haifa and besieged the town. After a terrible battle with Muslims and Jews, the Crusaders conquered the Port of Haifa. They reduced it to a small agricultural and fishing village, bringing it into the Principality of Galilee in their Kingdom of Jerusalem. In the 12th Century, the Carmelites built a church on Mount Carmel.

In 1187, the great Sultan Saladin destroyed the Crusader’s fortress. The Mamluks retook the Port of Haifa in 1265 and turned the Mount Carmel church into a mosque and, later, a hospital. The Mamluks destroyed the Port of Haifa’s fortifications and most of its homes to prevent the Crusaders’ return. This left the city more or less desolate during their rule from the 13th to the 16th Centuries.

Bedouin ruler Dhaher al-Omar demolished the old city and rebuilt Haifa in a new location in 1761, protecting it with a city wall. This was the beginning of the modern Port of Haifa. After he died in 1775, the Ottomans continued to rule Haifa until the end of World War I except for two brief times. Napoleon Bonaparte took the Port of Haifa in 1799, also withdrawing that year. Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali governed in 1831 and 1840.

After 1840, the Port of Haifa grew in importance and size. By 1854, over 2000 people lived there. More than half of them were Muslim, and over forty percent were Christian. Only 32 Jews lived in the Port of Haifa at that time.

German Templars arrived in the Port of Haifa in 1868 to settle in today’s German Colony of Haifa. This was a turning point for the Port of Haifa. They built a steam-based power plant and factories, and they started a carriage service to nearby cities.

Jews from Romania first came to the Port of Haifa in the late 1800s, purchasing more than a thousand acres of land near the port. Unaccustomed to farming, they hired Arab peasants to cultivate the land. During the 19th Century, the former Muslim mosque on Mount Carmel was re-converted to a Carmelite monastery.

In 1909, the remains of Báb were moved to nearby Acre, and a shrine to him was build on Mount Carmel. Today, the Port of Haifa is still a place of worship and pilgrimage for the Bahá’í faith. The Shrine of the Báb, administrative offices, and terraced gardens make up the Bahá’í World Center on the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The religion’s founder, Bahá’u’lláh, was imprisoned in the Port of Haifa by the Ottomans, making it an important site for the faith. In 2008, the Bahá’í World Center was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

By the early 20th Century, the Port of Haifa was recognized as an important industrial port with a growing population of about 20 thousand people, over 80% of them Muslim Arabs and only 4% Jews. Jewish immigration from Europe during the first half of the 20th Century dramatically changed that balance. By 1945, the Port of Haifa was 47% Jewish, 33% Muslim, and 20% Christian.

In 1947, the UN Partition Plan proposal made the Port of Haifa part of the new Jewish state of Israel. Arab leaders rejected the plan, and Haifa fell victim to the violence that broke out all over the country. When members of the Jewish underground bombed a crowd of Palestinian Arabs, rioting led to the killing of 39 Jewish employees of the Haifa Oil Refinery. Retaliating for the massacre, Jewish forces attacked an Arab village the next day, killing 60 Arab men.

Because it contained an oil refinery port, the Port of Haifa was an important target in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1948 when the British withdrew from the Port of Haifa, a Haganah brigade captured the Port of Haifa, leading to a huge displacement of the Arab residents of The Port of Haifa. By the end of the year, a few thousand Arabs remained in the Port of Haifa after threats from Zionists, encouragement from Arab leaders, and shelling of Arab neighborhoods and villages.

After the 1948 war, the Port of Haifa became an important gateway for immigration. Thousands of Jewish immigrants were given homes that Arabs had abandoned, and new neighborhoods were built. A hospital and new synagogue were established. By 1953, the Port of Haifa had a master plan for transportation and layout.

Tel Aviv eclipsed the Port of Haifa as a regional center in the ensuing years, and the Port of Ashdod was opened, leading to a further decline in the Port of Haifa’s influence. Furthermore, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism focused on developing Tiberias, and the Port of Haifa lost tourist traffic as well.

By the 1970s, the population of the Port of Haifa was about 200 thousand, and immigration of about 35 thousand Jews from the former Soviet Union boosted that number. Over the years, many of the historic Ottoman buildings were destroyed under Israeli rule. In the 1990s, the Old City was demolished to build a new municipal center. In 2006, the conflict with Lebanon resulted in 93 rockets striking the Port of Haifa and killing 11 civilians and damaging the oil refinery.

The modern Port of Haifa is home to one of Israel’s two oil refineries. The refinery processes nine million tons of crude oil each year. The Port of Haifa is also home to the oldest and biggest business park in Israel, Matam containing contains manufacturing and research and development facilities for several high-tech companies including Intel, Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Yahoo, among others.

The Port of Haifa is still the leading passenger port in Israel. It is still an important cargo port, although it is challenged by the new Port of Ashdod in the south. The Port of Haifa contains many shopping malls and centers. The Port of Haifa has many hotels near its 17 kilometers of beaches. The Port of Haifa’s busiest tourist attraction is the Bahá’í World Center, and many tourists also visit the German Colony and Elijah’s Cave on Mount Carmel. The Port of Haifa is home to the Ein Hod artists’ colony and the Mount Carmel National Park containing caves where remains of Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens have been found.

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