Almost every square foot of Israel has been populated since earliest ages, and Haifa is no exception. The prophet Elijah knew this territory well -- from the top of Mount Carmel he won a major victory over 450 priests of Baal during the reign of King Ahab and his notorious Phoenician wife, Jezebel. In late biblical times, the Phoenician port of Zalemona thrived here, with predominantly Greek settlers, and the Jewish agricultural village of Sycaminos (sometimes called Shikmona) clung to the northwestern peak of Mount Carmel (3rd-c. Talmudic literature mentions both towns).

The Crusaders called the area Caife, Cayphe, and sometimes Caiphas. Once a center of glass and cochineal-purple industries, Haifa was destroyed when the Arabs reconquered the area, and it virtually slept until the late 19th century, when Jewish immigration helped bring about a revival.

Haifa got its first shot in the arm in 1905, when the Haifa-Damascus Railway was built. The Balfour Declaration and British occupation boosted it some more, as did a 1919 railway link to Egypt. But the real kickoff came when the British built its modern harbor -- an arduous enterprise begun in 1929 and completed in 1934. Thereupon Haifa began its transformation into the vital trading and communications center it is today, taking on major importance as a shipping base, naval center, and terminal point for oil pipelines.

In 1898, when he visited Palestine and sailed past the spot that was to become modern Haifa, Theodor Herzl had a prophetic vision about the place: "Huge liners rode at anchor . . . at the top of the mountain there were thousands of white homes and the mountain itself was crowned with imposing villas. . . . A beautiful city had been built close to the deep blue sea." Herzl recorded this experience in his book Altneuland (Old New Land), and miraculously, Haifa developed precisely along the lines he predicted. Herzl's dream came alive for hundreds of thousands of homeless, scarred refugees who arrived here after the Nazi Holocaust. As they crowded the decks for their first glimpse of the Promised Land, the hills of Haifa must have seemed like a vision of heaven.

On April 21, 1948, Haifa became the first major city controlled by Jews after the end of the British Mandate and the UN Partition decision in 1947. Although Haifa's previous growth had already spurred development of residential areas such as Bat Galim, Hadar Ha-Carmel, and Neve-Shaanan, the new wave of immigration (more than 100,000) gave rise to others: Ramat Ramez, Kiryat Elizer, Neveh Yosef, and Kiryat Shprinzak. Haifa Bay, east of the port, became the backbone of the country's heavy industries, with oil refineries and associated industries, foundries, glass factories, fertilizer and chemical industries, cement works, textile manufacturing, and yards for shipbuilding and repair. Israelis are fond of saying that "Tel Aviv plays while Jerusalem prays. But Haifa works!" A visit here is filled with pleasures and new insights into what Israel is all about.

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