State Agency Razes Historic Buildings

Employees of the Israel Lands Administration tasked with removing asbestos from the historic Gadna paramilitary base at Be'er Ora destroy buildings slated for preservation.

Building preservation advocates claim that historic buildings in a community near Eilat were casualties of an asbestos removal project carried out this week by a state agency.

According to officials at the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, employees of the Israel Lands Administration tasked with removing asbestos from the historic Gadna paramilitary base at Be'er Ora also destroyed buildings that were slated for preservation.

Ben-Gurion - Mori Chen - 16092011
Mori Chen

The ILA said in response that it did not receive instructions from the Ayalot Regional Council, which has jurisdiction over Be'er Ora, not to raze specific structures.

A well drilled at Be'er Ora in 1949 was the first water source for Eilat. The Gadna base, built in 1950 near the well, was in operation until the early 1990s. The community of Be'er Ora was established in 2001 adjacent to the abandoned base.

A few weeks ago regional council head Udi Gat asked the ILA to remove asbestos panels from buildings on the base. According to Gat, in his request he noted that some of the buildings had historic value and should not be destroyed.

Gat says he and the agency agreed that the well itself, as well as the swimming pool, the bunker and two buildings that had housed residences, weapons storage, the dining hall and classrooms, would not be razed. The two multipurpose buildings were, in fact, destroyed by the ILA earlier this week.

"We were happy about the ILA's decision to remove the asbestos on the site, but we had an agreement with the southern district of the ILA, according to which they had to come to us in connection to anything else that needed to be destroyed," Gat said. "One day we arrived and discovered the ruined buildings. All they left was the bunker, the swimming pool and the well. We'll demand that they reconstruct the other two buildings," he said.

The head of the preservation society, Omri Shalmon, sent a letter to ILA head Ronen Cohen, complaining about the damage to the "supremely important heritage site."

The ILA said in response that employees of his agency toured Be'er Ora with the engineer of the Ayalot Regional Council before sending in the asbestos removal workers, "and in keeping with the agreement the regional council head shouldn't have been surprised. No one ever informed the ILA, either verbally or in writing, that they sought to preserve the buildings," the ILA said, adding that the buildings that were knocked down were not listed for preservation.