CONFERENCES CONCERNING THE FUTURE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN COAST OF ISRAEL


The following is a brief summary of a selection of conferences concerning the Israeli Mediterranean coast, held throughout Israel in 1997-8. Recent years have seen a significant increase in public awareness of maritime and cultural issues, with 1997 being a very active year in the lead-up to 1998 - the international year of the sea.

The Forum for Mediterranean Cultures of the Van-Leer Institute, together with Mishkenot Sha'ananim, held a meeting of architects in Jerusalem, regarding preservation and development of ancient port-cities. Participants were guided through the old port cities of Jaffa, Caesarea and Acre. A debate was held on the character of the Mediterranean port-city and efficient preservation and development methods.

The Haifa Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, held a meeting on the subject of Preservation and Development of the Carmel Coast. Several plans were suggested for the treatment of various rural, coastal stretches, from Neve-Yam through Habonim, Dor and Ma'agan Mikhael. The regional council and Carmelim society were confronted by 'green' organizations, opposing further scattered development. Previously, the Technion hosted a meeting that centered on development plans for metropolitan Haifa. These involve extensive land reclamation and the construction of a huge marina at the foot of the historic Carmel promontory at Stella Maris.

Three important gatherings debated the future of the Mediterranean coast of Israel:
The Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR) of Haifa in its 1997 conference, organized by Yossi Mart of the CMS together with Bella Galil of the IOLR, dedicated a full session to innovative development ideas such as artificial islands and land reclamation. Topics of sedimentation and sand-management, endemic marine flora and fauna and the archaeological treasures of the Carmel coast were expounded, followed by a discussion of the effects of development in these areas. These topics were further elaborated upon in the 1998 meeting, and new projects were presented.

The 1997 meeting of the Israel Society for Ecology and Environmental Quality Sciences, organized by Ehud Spanier of the CMS, Chairman of the Society, dealt in many of its sessions with the coastal and marine environment. The paleo-ecology of the coastal plain, including sea-level and climatic changes, studies in marine and riverine pollution, educational projects in marine ecology, sedimentation problems, coastal nature reserves, and master planning of coastal development, were among the topics covered. The 1998 meeting took place at the Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. The international year of the sea was recognized in a number of sessions dedicated to the marine environment.

The annual Exhibition of Construction and Building hosted a meeting entitled Sea and Coast towards 2000. Development projects for the existing ports of Haifa and Ashkelon, as well as Gaza and the marinas planned along the coast, were discussed. The National Committee for Planning and Construction was represented, as was the Marine Branch of the Ministry for the Environment. Avner Raban of the CMS expressed his belief in functional archaeological sites, such as the underwater park in the old harbor of Caesarea.

The Association of Architects and Engineers held a public discussion entitled, The Architect as Seismograph: Sea and Coast, Profile and Cross-sections. Sarah Arenson stressed the responsibilities inherent in the preservation of the unique maritime heritage of the Holy Land. Urban and rural coastal development plans were discussed, including the problems of national policy versus regional, local and private initiatives, and the ban on building within the 100 m line. A subsequent debate was held on the subject of Artificial Islands and Land Reclamation along Israel's Mediterranean Coast. The vision of a 'blue boulevard' was presented, and the pertinent problems of geological groundwork and fill-material were discussed, mainly from the engineering point of view. Coal fly-ash, a by-product of electrical energy production, was assessed as a possible fill-material, and tectonic implications for man-made marine structures were addressed. Participants were informed of a Dutch-Israeli intergovernmental project in artificial island construction.

Several environmental organizations conducted a series of conferences on City, Nature and Environment in Metropolitan Tel Aviv. Development projects were counterposed with the struggle against pollution along the Israeli coast and in the entire Mediterranean region.

The University of Haifa held a pioneering conference on Jews and Seafaring, organized by Nadav Kashtan of the CMS. The history of Jewish maritime activity was followed from First Temple times to the foundation of the State of Israel. The conference closed with a round-table discussion of the future of Jewish maritime involvement.

The Van-Leer Institute and Mishkenot Sha'ananim held a conference entitled Mediterranean Landscapes - Representation, Design and Identity. The focus was on Mediterranean landscaping, its history, characteristics and shaping, with artistic aspects playing an important role in the discussions.

All of the conferences, including many others not mentioned above, reflect the wide gamut of topics that pertain to a mere 188 km stretch of coast:
· Aquaculture, mariculture and other marine resources
· Naval bases and facilities
· Locations required for airports, refuse disposal, energy plants and other industries
· Needs of ports and smaller anchorages (marinas etc.)
· Pressure to increase coastal development for tourism
· High costs of coastal property, resulting inter alia from the demand for private housing projects
· Prevention of riverine, marine and coastal pollution
· Preservation of the natural coastal and marine environment
· Cultivation of the coastal and maritime historical legacy
· The sea as a source of artistic inspiration

The current intensive, almost obsessive, involvement with these subjects reflects the awakening of public awareness to the drastic changes planned for the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Damage already caused by the marinas of Herzliya and Ashkelon has come to public attention. A wave of building and marketing of controversial coastal residential projects such as the 'Carmel Beach Towers' and the 'Sea Village' at Givat Olga has finally passed the threshold of public and governmental apathy. The subsequent call for action has generated numerous discussions, many of which revolve around the sincere efforts of the Ministry of the Interior to establish long-range plans for further national development. The ministry has issued a bid for the preparation of a plan of policy for integrated coastal zone management (ICZM), which will collect all available data, assess conflicting environmental usage and suggest an order of priorities.

Most of the speakers in the above discussions recommend additional studies (bathymetric, biological, archaeological, etc.), efficient sharing of databases and a higher level of collaboration between the various bodies engaged in coastal and marine research and management. There seems to be a general consensus regarding the danger of adopting ready-made solutions from abroad, such as the Japanese and Dutch methods of artificial island construction and land reclamation. We should, however, be able to critically assess what has been achieved worldwide. Pleas have been made to establish a legally empowered body such as a coastal authority, with a mandate to supervise preservation and development projects. It was also suggested that a new research institute be created to represent all academic marine organizations.

It is not quite clear whether new organizations will increase or decrease the present level of havoc, but it is heartening to see that the issues are receiving recognition. Public education is being encouraged and this can only lead to a further increase in awareness.

Within this context, it is the duty of the CMS and the Department of Maritime Civilizations to stand fast for the maritime cultural heritage of Israel. This is a unique legacy of over 4,000 years of seafaring and coastal activity. If presented with some inspiration, this legacy may prove to be an economic asset not to be underestimated. The conferences reviewed above raise some hope as to the responsible management of these resources.

Sarah Arenson
Man & Sea Society




Close Window