Sea Change

Amir Zohar
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Amir Zohar

In April 2006, an architectural firm headed by Dr. Gil Har Gil and Dafna Grinstein was informed that it was being awarded the Azrieli Prize for Urban Planning, for the restoration of Ben-Gurion Avenue in the German Colony of Haifa. Barely two months later, a challenging new commission, accompanied by the offer of a high fee, arrived in the office of the landscape architects high on Mount Carmel: planning the Israel Navy's new port in Haifa's Bat Galim area. The project bore an impressive name from the realm of mathematics: a polynomial.

"When the plans were presented to us, we blanched at the spatial implications," Grinstein recalls. "We discovered a very large structure, narrow, long and high, and around it buildings on dried sea areas. They wanted us to plan the whole complex opposite Ben-Gurion Avenue. When we found out the purpose of the central structure, which is a bit secret, we realized that our design considerations, as architects of the German Colony and as concerned Haifans, were not the only considerations. We tried to bring about a substantive change of location, but found that we had no chance of exerting any influence, so we dropped the project. Landscape architecture is a profession of principles, and it is important for us to maintain red lines: our decision about whether to accept a commission is based on values, not just on the financial aspect."

Armed with the information about the new navy port, Har Gil and Grinstein - whose exhibition on 60 years of landscape architecture in Israel has just opened at the Zezeze Architecture Gallery in Tel Aviv - hurried to the office of the Haifa city engineer, Ariel Waterman. Waterman was not surprised at the plans to expand the military port, as the municipality was then in the midst of negotiations with the navy and the Interior Ministry about the establishment of a military anchorage west of the existing base. But he was appalled by the scale of the planned central structure - the navy had not given him that information.

Waterman briefed the mayor, Yona Yahav, and asked the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for clarifications. The navy quickly overcame its embarrassment and presented new sketches. These now contained several structures not in the previous plan, but they were blurred. Furious, Waterman demanded more precision and more detail. Only then were the vast dimensions of the polynomial revealed, though most of the plans remained shrouded in mystery.

Naval algebra

"Polynomial" is a term from algebra. According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, it refers to "a mathematical expression of one or more algebraic terms each of which consists of a constant multiplied by one or more variables raised to a nonnegative integral power." The borrowing of the algebraic term is suggestive of the complexity of the project. Maybe that is why the navy and the Haifa Municipality have put out a variety of descriptions concerning its planned exterior, all of which, nevertheless, have one element in common: north of the present naval base, a new breakwater will be built and 520 dunams (130 acres) of the sea will be dried out. The nearby training base, with all its buildings and facilities, will be moved to the new site; warships will anchor at the new dock; and close by, other buildings will be erected for the crews of navy vessels, for the shipyard and the administrative staff. The polynomial will be built in the inner harbor - a structure 150 meters long, 25 meters high and with a roof area of about 12 dunams (three acres). It will be a sophisticated facility for the maintenance of naval craft, including advanced submarines and other vessels that are being built for the navy abroad.

"The polynomial is an anchorage for future vessels that the navy will receive," a senior naval officer explains. "The large central structure, namely the polynomial, is intended to provide cover for operational activity of surface vessels and submarines, which require an additional infrastructure for their maintenance. Following the criticism of its size, it was lowered and is now only 21 meters high. It was also moved 85 meters to the west, so it will not affect the view from the German Colony."

This conversation, in which three navy representatives participated, took place last week in Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. It was intended to provide a first public response ahead of the public discussion of the project. The navy officers also sought to rebut what they say are exaggerated simulations of the project that have been posted on the Internet, as well as to respond to renderings prepared for the Haifa Municipality by Prof. Yigal Tzamir from the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning in the Technion, which are here being made public for the first time. According to the navy sources, "Tzamir's renderings may be correctly marketed, in terms of the flecked colors and the black buildings, but they are not accurate."

But a perusal of the renderings shown to Haaretz by the navy, which are being made public here for the first time, shows that the differences are not great. In fact, the military renderings continue the obfuscation trend. Beyond the question of whether the view to the north from the German Colony will be degraded, the new base is going to change the shoreline where Mount Carmel meets the sea. The new structures, to be built on a large area of what is presently the sea, will be highly visible from all the city neighborhoods that have a sea view.

"This story will cast a giant shadow over the shoreline that has been imprinted in our minds all our lives," says the rector of the University of Haifa, Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi, from the Department of Land of Israel Studies.

Underlying the architectural ambiguity is operational secrecy having to do with the new craft that the navy will acquire. In the second half of the 1990s, the navy received three Dolphin-class submarines that were built in Germany. In June 2002, Haaretz quoted a Washington Post report stating that "Israel has acquired three diesel submarines that it is arming with newly designed cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads." According to a book published at the time by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Israel could "have a deployment at sea of one nuclear-armed submarine at all times." (Source: www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0615-03.htm)

Since then, contacts with Germany continued for the purchase of two more submarines, and last July, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorized their acquisition, at a price of $400 million each. In April of this year, The Boston Globe noted that a fleet of five submarines will ensure Israel's ability to deploy submarines in the Persian Gulf area, though Egypt's refusal to allow the passage of Israeli subs through the Suez Canal will force the vessels to sail around Africa. The result will be more frequent need for maintenance, thus apparently accounting for the huge size of the polynomial: to enable a number of vessels to be handled simultaneously, without the enemy having information about the number of submarines and other vessels that are at sea or in port at any given time.

The IDF spokesman stated in response: "In the seventh decade of its existence, Israel continues to cope with a complex security reality and is deploying to provide a response to the challenges. The navy received authorization to expand the military base for additional vessels that will be received in the coming decade."

Military

misrepresentation

The national goals of the polynomial and the historic connection between Haifa and the navy have sown much confusion among the residents of Haifa, who voted into power a joint list of the Greens and Shinui (now Kadima). "In every normal country, the army adapts itself to the citizens,and not the other way around," protests MK Moshe Kahlon (Likud), who until recently was the Greens' candidate for mayor. "This is another aspect of the disparaging treatment of Haifa. I try to imagine the reactions if there were plans to build a similar facility on the beaches of Tel Aviv or Herzliya. There they build marinas, but here they build facilities for submarines."

Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, mourns the dream that the port of Haifa will one day be a purely civilian site. "Experts worked here for years to develop an open port for peacetime, but apparently no one intends to make peace here. All we know how to do is criticize organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, which operate from civilian areas."

Prof. Ben Artzi: "By means of a clandestine security committee, all the hopes of restoring to the city what the English took from it - the opening of the harbor and the creation of a sea front - are being dashed." The mysterious security committee referred to by Ben Artzi has a name: the Security Installations Committee [SIC] of the Interior Ministry. In March 2007, Dr. Yossi Dalal, from the office of the Haifa Municipality's legal adviser, filed an administrative petition against the authorization of the SIC plan. In addition to a range of complaints relating to the plan's environmental aspects, the municipality claimed that the navy had misled it for two years and had extracted its consent by misrepresenting the plan as being intended solely for an anchorage, without any mention of the polynomial.

The IDF Spokesman denies this: "The promotion of the plan took three years and was characterized by full transparency and the involvement of all the civilian planning bodies."

The court proceedings regarding the petition were conducted behind close doors. In the end, the IDF agreed to allow the Haifa Municipality to put its case to the National Appeals Commission of SIC. The local media and the green organizations knew nothing of the new reality until September 2007, when the gag order on the case was lifted and it was announced that the appeals commission had rejected the municipality's appeal, citing urgency in the military timetable.

So far the wave of public protest has been blocked by the municipality itself, which believes it can solve the problem with its own resources. In October 2007, the municipality appealed the decision of the appeals commission, this time in the Administrative Affairs Court in Jerusalem. At the same time, the municipality is holding contacts with the Defense Ministry on the possibility of moving the project to the eastern port, which will soon be built, or on changes to the original plan.

Black globe

A week ago, the green umbrella organization Life and Environment gave its Black Globe award to the SIC for its poor environmental record. The award was presented to the committee - in absentia - at an event in which Green Globe awards were presented to environmentally conscious groups. SIC was condemned for a series of secret decisions to establish security installations in cases where secret discussions were not called for. The polynomial was described in the ceremony as "a vast security structure that is going to be built on the Haifa shoreline and was approved in a short, closed procedure, without public participation and contrary to the National Master Plan" as it relates to the Haifa coast.

The SIC bodies of the Interior Ministry operate in conjunction with the District Planning and Building Commissions. They consist of representatives of the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration, and each of them is chaired by the district planner of the Interior Ministry. Several High Court of Justice decisions in recent years have involved SIC. One example is a petition by the Galilee community of Hoshaya against the Defense Ministry. Residents were stunned one day to see bulldozers leveling the ground at the edge of their community. It turned out that the IDF planned to move the depots of the huge Kurdani base near Haifa to the new site. The petition was accompanied by an opinion of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED), stating that there was no need to use SIC to approve every military facility.

"Since the army makes use of this instrument to establish every last logistics base, we proposed creating a filtering mechanism to limit that usage to two criteria," says Eli Ben Ari, the IUED legal adviser. "One, in the case of a secret installation, only in the sense that it is not visible to the eye. The second, in the case of an urgent security need, if there is not enough time to go through regular planning processes." The High Court of Justice ruled that since the work had already begun and money was already spent, the Hoshaya project could continue, but took careful note of the two criteria proposed by IUED: urgency and secrecy.

What are the implications for the Haifa project?

Ben Ari: "In terms of the principles of secrecy and urgency, this is a plan that probably should have gone through a regular planning procedure. Therefore, in the last analysis, the question is how the procedure will be handled henceforth."

Hold that protest

In the past few weeks, work has begun to dry the project area and build the breakwater. Photographs published last week in a local Haifa weekly by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel did not rattle the Haifa public or prompt the municipality to take any unusual steps.

What accounts for the fact that a project of this scale is proceeding so quietly in environmentally-conscious Haifa?

"Already two years ago, when everything was still secret, I urged Mayor Yahav to form a coalition of all the relevant bodies," Prof. Ben Artzi says. "He said we should wait until the mediation and court processes concluded. Now the work has begun and patience is running out. The municipality has to wage the struggle with the active backing of the public. I do not know of any proposal to stop the work that is on the agenda, and if there is one, that is a grave matter, because it means that again, they are not bringing in the public."

In fact, so poorly informed is the public that two Haifa writers and public activists, A.B. Yehoshua and Sami Michael, had never heard of the polynomial plan. "In February 2007, there was this hush-hush talk at City Hall about how there was going to be a terrible natural disaster on the stretch of beach that is most burned into world consciousness in regard to Haifa," says Shlomo Gilboa, a member of the municipal council in a one-person faction. "Everyone panicked, including the mayor and his deputy, Shmuel Gelbhart, both of whom, it later turned out, had known about the plan long before. Everyone who knew anyone in the government rushed to Jerusalem, and I remember at least one trip with Yahav and the municipality director general for meetings with cabinet ministers."

According to Gilboa, after the appeal was denied, the senior officials in the municipality were divided in their reactions, with Gelbhart, from the Greens, accepting the decision to approve the project in return for the development of the harbor front for the public. After the failure in the appeals commission," Gelbhart says, "the mayor decided to drop the whole polynomial thing . All I can do now is write a letter to the State Comptroller's Office. It looks as though we will not find out the implications of all this until the state comptroller's report three years from now."

On October 2007, Gilboa launched a private campaign against the polynomial project under the slogan, "Get the monster out of the landscape." During the Haifa Film Festival he and his associates got 6,280 people to sign a petition against the project, and another 12,000 people have signed via the Internet, he says. "No one wants to help me with the financing," Gilboa says. "Yahav only declared his support, helped me formulate the posters and allowed me to set up stands for people to sign in the streets. On the day the film festival ended I got a phone call from him at 7 A.M. He told me excitedly that the director general of the Defense Ministry had called him at 2 A.M. and said, 'Stop that, but we will help you.' Yahav asked me to stop the protest activities immediately, because 'we are going to set up a joint committee with the army and change the plan. You won, you did your thing, and from now on it's only me.'" Gilboa hesitated for a moment, but agreed, "because it's the mayor who is asking, and this whole thing also cost me a great deal of money."

Shai Cohen, director of the Haifa branch of the Nature Protection Society, was lambasted by Yahav for expressing a lukewarm position. "Yahav called me one day in the car and shouted over the phone," he relates. "He was angry because I had dared to tell the press that the decision of the appeals commission was regrettable, though it also contained positive elements. I told myself that if this is the attitude, then I too would move to all-out opposition. Since then I have coordinated with them, but the message I got was 'Quiet, we're talking.' As part of the preparations for the Green Globe event, I went to photograph the area and saw that an area of 70 meters had been dried out. It's true that the appeals commission said the work could go ahead, but where is Yahav?"

In the two years since it learned of the plan, the municipality has not taken the measures required in strategic struggles of this kind. There has been no public campaign, no lobbyists hired to talk to the defense establishment or to interior and finance ministries, no PR people to get the national press involved.

"Integrated forces and a public tailwind are perfectly fine, but not at this stage," says the municipality director general, Shmuel Gants. "With all due respect to those who are involved from academe and politics, they are not well enough informed about the security details, and populist election-eve-style headlines will not change the decision."

That is exactly the complaint against Yahav - that the municipality's protest campaign against the polynomial is waiting for his election campaign, and in the meantime you lost precious time and will not be able to restore the status quo ante.

"We are ready for every possibility of reducing the damage, but I believe we will reach a settlement. We understand that the defense establishment has to acquire new vessels under timetable and other constraints, whereas the defense establishment understands the municipality's concern about the blow to urban development."

Have you abandoned the alternative of the eastern port?

"I suggest to Haaretz Magazine, too, to publish the story at a later time, because there will soon be new agreements. And no, the eastern alternative has not been abandoned."

The eastern option

Public activists are not the only ones who have been burnt by Yahav's style. The negotiating teams of the IDF and the Defense Ministry were also deeply offended by him at the personal level. (Yahav chose not to respond.) "I was disappointed to hear Yahav inform us that he will not take into account compromises that will not be suitable for him," the senior navy officer said this week. From his point of view, Yahav is the bad guy who is leading opposition to the plan. "We proposed to the municipality to be a partner in the external design of the structure, in form and in color, and we even proposed an architectural competition. After all, after the new port is built, it will be opened to the public on Independence Day and will integrate into the life of the city. Yahav wants only one thing: to kick the navy into the eastern port."

He no longer trusts you. For two years you sold him a story about an innocent anchorage and hid the series of structures and the polynomial. Then you sent blurred sketches. "We reject those allegations. As early as September 2004 we invited Yahav to a meeting on the roof of the Haifa base and showed him the plans for the dried-out area and the breakwater. He was enthusiastic, and from his point of view, it was clear that this would advance the plan to open the seafront. There were many more meetings, and even Gelbhart, from the Greens, understood that the plan would make possible the opening of the harborfront and preserve territorial continuity as far as Carmel Beach."

Since the SIC decision, there have been many planning modifications in the area. The master plan for the eastern port was approved in principle by the National Council for Planning and Building. The municipality accepted the proposal of the Transportation Ministry to forgo an airport in return for shifting the entire port eastward, into the Kishon Creek area. But the navy rejects outright the proposal to establish the new compound in the northern section of the eastern port and receive vast tracts of land that will become available upon the dismantlement of the container farm and the airport.

"It looks as though navy engineers and planners have simply fallen in love with their plan and are locked into it," says architect Har Gil.

"These are changes and plans on ice," navy sources say. "It took them 10 years to plan and build Carmel Port I, so are they going to finish the eastern port in 16 months, as the municipality has declared? They will not manage to bring even the material to dry the area in that time. We have to complete the work by the end of 2011, but apart from the timetable, the eastern port is unsuitable for the military needs of the new vessels that are on the way. Another difficulty is to channel by land military equipment in an area that is saturated with hazardous materials adjacent to the petrochemical plants and the oil refineries."

The chairman of SIC and the Haifa District Planner, Adam Kulman, consistently expressed a position different from that of the defense establishment, taking note of the probable environmental harm. In the discussions by the appeals commission, he recommended moving the project to the eastern port.

"So what if he is the district planner and chairman of the committee," the director general of the Interior Ministry, Aryeh Bar, says in response. "I am the chairman of the National Planning and Building Council and a geographer by profession, with 50 years of experience in planning in the Housing and Transportation Ministries and on the Ayalon Freeway. The polynomial is definitely not an eyesore, and Israel's security considerations take precedence over every other consideration. With all due respect to the environmental protection document, we have a country to run here. Can't a country build itself military installations? Where will we build them, in Turkey?"W

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott