For a glimpse at how much the State of Israel and its surroundings have changed over the past 40 years, look no further than American satellite images.
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Of course, it’s hard to think of any country or region that hasn’t changed over a period of four decades, but in Israel there’s a distinct impression that any such change tells a story -- whether military, political-diplomatic or demographic-environmental in nature.
Changes that have taken place in the following 13 sites can be seen in two sets of satellite images, the first from June 1970 and the second taken by Google in early 2013.
The satellite photographs from 1970 were shot as part of a military program code-named Corona.
While the program lasted, from 1960 to 1972, about a million photographs were taken of vast parts of the world, with an emphasis on the Soviet Union and the Middle East.
(The Middle East map was uploaded to the Corona Atlas of the Middle East website, run by the University of Arkansas.)
The Dimona reactor
Satellite photographs from 1970 and 2013 offer a peek into one of the most secret and well-guarded areas in Israel, the Nuclear Research Center in the southern Israeli town of Dimona. The images only slight expansion of the area over the past decades -- but one element that stands out is a large pool south of the main buildings.
The Dead Sea
The main change here is the disappearance of part of the sea -- stemming from a significant decline in the amount of water that reaches it. The sea level drops by about a meter every year, exposing large areas affected by sinkholes. The concentration of hotels that has sprung up in the Ein Bokek region has also had an impact on the Dead Sea. Some of the surrounding landscape was affected by digging and quarrying by the Dead Sea Works. In 1970, the level of the Dead Sea was measured at 395 feet below sea level. In 2013, it was measured at 427 feet below sea level.
The photographs show that hotels and vacation villages continue to be built around Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). This is particularly prominent around Tiberias, on the western side of the sea. Several new communities have been built on the mountain ridge east of the Kinneret (on the Golan Heights), as well as a residential neighborhood on the upper ridge of Tiberias.
Ben-Gurion International Airport
In 1970, Ben-Gurion airport housed a single rectangular building that served as the main terminal, an old control tower and two runways. Near the airport were the buildings of Israel Aerospace Industries and an Israel Air Force base that has since moved to the Negev. The current satellite photo shows the old terminal, now known as Terminal 1, and west of it is a larger hexagon with three arms coming out of it. These arms are the new passenger terminal, known as Terminal 3, where 24 aircraft can connect to the concourse via air bridges.
New piers have been built at Haifa Port, and the Kishon Marina to the north of it has expanded. A great deal of land near the port has been used for the construction of commercial centers, warehouses and storage areas for containers docking at the port. What impact has this had on the environment? It’s reduced the natural coastline, including the areas leading to the Kishon Stream, some of which are of great ecological importance.
The Hula Valley region was an area of farmland that replaced the Hula Lake after it was dried and drained in the 1950s. Twenty years ago, some of the land was flooded once again and is now known as Hula Lake Park, one of Israel’s most important nature reserves and a popular destination for hikers.
Old City of Jerusalem
The winding alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City, which are not too different from the late Ottoman period, changed very little between 1970 and 2013. Still, there are some important differences between the two photographs. The Jewish Quarter, which was destroyed during the period of Jordanian rule (from 1948-1967), was still in ruins even three years after the Old City was overrun. The Western Wall Plaza, built when the Mugrabi neighborhood was destroyed in 1967, was not changed, but the ramp leading to the Temple Mount from the Mugrabi Gate was via an ancient path and not the wooden bridge that exists today. Perceptive observers will notice that tiled roofs have gradually replaced the traditional domed roofs of the Old City. Among the changes that can be seen on the Temple Mount is the construction in its southeast corner, where a new entrance to Solomon’s Stables -- considered by some an “archaeological disaster” caused by Waqf officials in 1999 -- was built. The trees on the Temple Mount have also grown between 1970 to 2013. The roads around the Old City were widened, and construction grew increasingly crowded.
In 1970, a large wadi went through west Jerusalem from the Katamonim to Beit Hakerem in the north. That wadi is now a four-lane highway known as the Begin Highway. Alongside it, the hills have filled up with new neighborhoods such as Ramat Beit Hakerem, Ramat Sharett and the new section of Malha. Older neighborhoods such as Kiryat Yovel and Bayit Vegan have expanded, becoming a single urban bloc. When Beit Hakerem (in the northern part of the photograph) was established in the 1920s, it was considered a suburb of Jerusalem. In the 1970 photograph, Kiryat Yovel is Jerusalem’s frontier. Beyond it are only wadis and ancient terraces. In the new photograph, that area has become one of the thriving parts of the city — the green quarter at the lower right-hand corner is Teddy Stadium, with the Malha Mall opposite, and the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo down the road. But Google’s photograph is not up to date either: A current photograph would show the massive construction extending the Begin Highway and construction of an enormous new arena.
This city, whose official name is Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut, was founded in 1996. Seventeen years later, it has a population of 85,000 (roughly half under 21). In 2003, Interior Ministry officials unified Modi’in with the nearby communities of Re’ut (in the south) and Maccabim (southeast, on the Green Line). The city, which was built in the Judean Hills, has a terrible housing shortage mainly because of rapid population growth, which according to the Central Bureau of Statistics grows by about 5 percent per year.
Surprisingly, there is not all that much difference between the photographs of Tel Aviv. The city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa was crowded in the early 1970s, with 7,300 people per square kilometer compared with 7,600 people today. Relatively speaking, the city’s population has not grown significantly over the past 40 years. It has grown from 360,000 in the early 1970s to 410,000 in 2013 — an increase of roughly 12 percent.
As Herzliya Pituah has expanded westward toward the Mediterranean Sea, residential neighborhoods have grown and a commercial-industrial zone has been built. The area now houses a marina as well. The coastal strip has shrunk, some of the sandstone cliffs have been damaged by construction and areas where seasonal pools appeared in the winter are gone. In the early 1970s, about 40,000 people lived here. That number has more than doubled, to almost 90,000.
Established in the early 1960s, Arad had only about 5,000 residents five years later, most of them new immigrants from Romania. The city is now home to 25,000 residents, with another few thousand Bedouin residents living in tent encampments on its outskirts. The main access road to the city, which bisects it from the east, is Route 31, constructed at the same time as the city. In the 40 years since 1970, the road has not been widened, and remains a two-lane highway, making it one of the most dangerous roads in Israel. Over the past three years, 30 people have been killed in accidents there. Work to widen the road, which began only in 2010, is expected to be completed next year.
Gaza City, one of the world’s most crowded, has roughly six times the population it had 40 years ago. In 1967, after the Six-Day War, tens of thousands of refugees streamed into the city and the nearby refugee camps, creating an area of urban contiguity where roughly 10,000 people live per square kilometer. In the early 1970s, when the city was under Israeli occupation, it had 34,000 inhabitants. Now, it has almost half a million. Jabalya, just north of Gaza, has roughly 80,000 inhabitants.
Zohar Blumenkrantz contributed to this article.