The demolition of the Herzliya Gymnasium High School in Tel Aviv at the beginning of the 1960s raised public awareness of preservation issues. The fact that the Herzliya Gymnasium was an especially impressive building, located in the first Jewish city, many of whose students and graduates were among the founders of the State of Israel, was to no avail.
As time went by, the destruction of buildings and heritage sites became increasingly widespread; however, in the 1970s, something extraordinary occurred. A group of conscientious citizens physically blocked the path of bulldozers about to demolish the remains of the Atlit Detention Camp, used to detain “Maapilim” (clandestine immigrants) during the British Mandate. The camp is a symbol of the historic and heroic struggle of the clandestine Aliya, the immigration that saved the last remaining Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab countries.
In response to the feeling of disconcertment and public criticism of the continuous destruction of historically valuable buildings, the Knesset appointed the Education Committee to examine the issue in 1984. The committee decided on the establishment of an organization that would act to prevent the destruction of historic buildings and sites and granted these places the status they deserve as invaluable assets to our national consciousness.
Following the Knesset decision, the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel was founded (initially as part of the Society for the Protection of Nature), with no tools at its disposal and with virtually no budget. Nevertheless, thanks to the enthusiasm, dedication and perseverance of its active supporters, led by General Director Yossi Feldman and the late Yehuda Dekel, Chairman of the Board, the Council has succeeded preserve more than 180 heritage sites of national importance all over the country. Some of these sites are operated directly by the Council itself and attract thousands of visitors annually. Such sites include: The Ayalon Institute- Bullet Factory in Rehovot, the Kinneret Courtyard and the Atlit Detention Camp, where a model immigrant ship inspires visitors with the heroic story of the clandestine immigrants that made the perilous journey to the Eretz Israel and helped establish the State of Israel.
Above all, the Council has succeeded in instilling the importance of conservation not only in the consciousness of the general public but also in government institutions, such as the Knesset, the government and local councils. Often, conservation has proved to be of economic value too. Residents of Zichron Ya’akov, where the municipal approach to conservation transformed the town into a cultural hub for Israelis and tourists alike, can attest to the cultural and economic richness that preservation and conservation has brought to the town. The same can be said for the residents of Rosh Pina and Mazkeret Batya.
The Council, by definition and in practice, deals with the period of the establishment of the State of Israel. It was a difficult period: the land was impoverished and neglected and the inhabitants, though enthusiastic, were either penniless idealists or refugees from all over the world. For this reason, in the 18th and 19th centuries and the first half of the 20th century, no splendid palaces adorned with works of art and sparkling chandeliers were built here. However, we have been blessed with an invaluable inheritance of buildings and sites that, though unimpressive from the outside, are rich in history and are of incomparable national and universal importance, for example, the mudhouse in Yavne’el, Shuni in Binyamina and Ben Tzvi’s wooden hut in Beit Keshet.
Site conservation means studying, documenting and preserving any building worthy of conservation. Above all, it preserves the past for future generations, perpetuating the life stories and deeds of previous generations, their values and the moral power of their life’s work.
We have a long way to go, and many tasks await us. The Council continues to further the cause of conservation with a sense of responsibility and professionalism. Many thanks are due to the members of the Council and supporters of conservation in Israel, to our employees, to the volunteer members of the board of directors and especially to Major General (Res) Ori Orr, Chairman of the Board, and to Omri Shalmon, CEO of the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel.
Shlomo Hillel – President of the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel