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Haifa and its Past


Early history


A small port city, Tell Abu Hawam, existed in the Haifa region in the Late Bronze Age (14th century BCE). The city moved to a new site south of what is now Bat Galim, in Hellenistic times, after the old port became blocked with sand.  The city is first mentioned in Talmudic literature around the 3rd century CE, as a small fishing village and the home of Rabbi Avdimos and other Jewish scholars.  Haifa was located north of the town of Shikmona, a center for making the traditional Tekhelet dye used in making the garments of the high priests in the Temple.  Mount Carmel and the Kishon River are also mentioned in the Bible.  A grotto where Mount Carmel meets the sea is known as the Cave of Elijah, traditionally linked to the Prophet Elijah and his apprentice, Elisha. Elijah's confrontation with the priests of Baal took place on Mount Carmel.
Early Haifa is believed to have been located in an area that extends from the present-day Rambam Hospital to the Jewish Cemetery on Yaffo Street.  The inhabitants engaged in fishing and agriculture.


Byzantine, Arab and Crusader Rule


Under Byzantine rule, Haifa continued to flourish, although it never assumed major importance. In the 7th century, the city was conquered by the Arabs.  Arab Islamic rule of Haifa brought about development of the city and in the 9th century it established sea trade with Egypt and boasted several shipyards. With its Arabs in control of government and civil administration and its Jews engaged in trade and shipping, Haifa prospered by the 11th century. Glass production and dye-making from marine snails were the city's most lucrative industries.


Prosperity ended in 1100, when Haifa was besieged and blockaded by the Crusaders and then conquered after a fierce battle with its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants.  Under the Crusaders, Haifa was reduced to a small fishing and agricultural village, and a part of the Principality of Galilee. In 1265, it was captured by the Mamluks.
The Carmelites established a church on Mount Carmel in the 12th century.  Under Arab rule, the building was turned into a mosque. Later it became a hospital.  In the 19th century it was restored as a Carmelite monastery, over a cave associated with Elijah the prophet.


Mamluk, Ottoman and Egyptian Rule


The city's Crusader fortress was destroyed in 1187 by Saladin. In 1265, the army of Baibars the Mamluk captured Haifa, destroying its fortifications, which had been rebuilt by King Louis of France, as well as the majority of the city's homes in order to deter European Crusaders from re-invading. The city was desolate for much of the Mamluk period of governance between the 13th and 16th centuries.


In 1761 Dhaher al-Omar, a Bedouin ruler of Acre and Galilee, destroyed and rebuilt Haifa in a new location, fortifying it with a wall. This event is marked as the beginning of the town's modern era.  After al-Omar's death in 1775, the town remained under Ottoman rule until 1918, except for two brief periods: in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Haifa as part of his unsuccessful campaign to conquer Palestine and Syria, but withdrew in the same year; and between 1831 and 1840, the Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali governed, after his son Ibrahim Pasha wrested control from the Ottomans.


In the years following the Egyptian occupation, Haifa grew in population and importance while Acre suffered a decline.  The arrival of the German Templers in 1868, who settled in what is now known as the German Colony of Haifa, was a turning point in Haifa's development.  The Templers built and operated a steam-based power station, opened factories and inaugurated carriage service to Acre, Nazareth and Tiberias, playing a key role in modernizing the city.


British Mandate Transition Period and the War of Independence


At the beginning of the 20th century, Haifa emerged as an industrial port city and a growing center of population. The Hejaz railway and the Technion were built at this time. The Haifa District was home to approximately 20,000 inhabitants, of which 82% were Muslim Arab, 14% Christian Arab, and 4% Jewish. The number of Jews steadily increased due to immigration, especially from Europe. By 1945 the population had shifted to 33% Muslim, 20% Christian and 47% Jewish.  In 1947 some 41,000 Muslims, 29,910 Christians and 74,230 Jews were living in Haifa. The Christian community was composed mostly of Greek Orthodox  (Arab Orthodox).


Haifa became central to the Baha'i Faith in 1909, when the remains of the Bab were moved to Acre and a shrine was built on Mount Carmel by `Abdu'l-Baha. Haifa remains an important site of worship, pilgrimage and administration for the members of the religion. The Baha'i  World Center (comprising the Shrine of the Bab, terraced gardens and administrative buildings) are all on Mount Carmel's northern slope. Haifa is important to the Baha'is because the founder of the religion, Baha'u'llah, was imprisoned there by the Ottomans. The Baha'i shrine and gardens have become one of Haifa's most visited tourist attractions, and were, in 2008, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The 1947 UN Partition Plan designated Haifa part of the proposed Jewish state.  When the Arab leadership rejected the plan, Haifa did not escape the violence that spread throughout the country. Control of Haifa was deemed a critical objective in the ensuing 1948 War, as it was the major industrial and oil refinery port in Palestine.  The British withdrew from Haifa on April 21, 1948. The city was captured on April 23, 1948 by the Carmeli Brigade of the Haganah commanded by Moshe Carmel after three months of unsuccessful attacks by Arab forces.


Establishment of the State of Israel
Following the 1948 War of Independence, the city played an important role as the gateway for Jewish immigration.  Many housing projects were hastily built to accommodate the newcomers in neighborhoods such as Qiryat Hayyim, Ramot Remez, Ramat Shaul, Qiryat Shprinzak, and Qiryat Eliezer. The Bnei Zion Hospital and the Central Synagogue date from this period. In 1953, a master plan was created for transportation and for the future architectural master plan.
By the early 1970s, Haifa's population reached 200,000. Mass immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union boosted the population by 35,000.