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.
The destruction of buildings and heritage sites became increasingly widespread and several years later, in the 1970s, conscientious citizens physically blocked the path of bulldozers about to demolish the remains of the Illegal Immigrants (Ma’apilim) Detention Camp in Atlit, symbol of the historic, heroic struggle of the illegal Aliya, the immigration that saved the last remaining refugees from Europe and Jews from Arab countries.
In response to the feeling of disconcertment and public criticism of the continuing destruction of historically valuable buildings, the Knesset plenum appointed the Education Committee to examine the issue in 1984. The committee decided on the establishment of a suitable organization that would act to prevent the destruction of historic buildings and sites and grant them the status they deserve as invaluable assets of our national consciousness.
Subsequent to 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 of directors, the Council has succeeded to date in preserving some 130 heritage sites of national importance all over the country. Some of them are administered by the Council and attract thousands of visitors annually, for example, Machon Ayalon in Rehovot, the Kinneret settlement and the Atlit Ma’apilim Camp, where a model of an immigrant ship inspires visitors with an enhanced sense and understanding of the moral strength of our struggle for the establishment of the State.
Above all, the Council has succeeded in inculcating the importance of conservation not only in the consciousness of the general public but also in government institutions, 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 lodestone for visitors and pilgrims, will attest to that, as will the inhabitants of Rosh Pina and Mazkeret Batya.
The Council deals, by definition and in practice, chiefly with the period of renewed settlement. It was a difficult period: the land was impoverished and neglected, and the inhabitants mostly enthusiastic but 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 [B1] 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 (what it is built of, construction materials, architecture). 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 Professor Sa’adia Mandel, chairman of the board of directors and to Omri Shalmon, Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel's general director.
Shlomo Hillel – President of the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel