Any of you who have ever been to Haifa will recall the chimneys towering over the industrial portion of the city. When you go up to Mt Carmel after dark, it’s hard to ignore the beautiful view that spreads before your eyes, a sea of lights, and in their midst, two great chimney stacks (nicknamed Leveniya by the locals); one illuminated in green, one in purple. These great structures became a symbol of the capital of northern Israel.
But on Friday morning, one of these great icons met its demise.
At 9:10 a.m., a message was received at the 102 emergency call center about smoke coming from the refineries. A great number of emergency and rescue forces quickly arrived on the scene, just in time to witness one of the towers collapse. The crash occurred during the planning and restoration of the chimneys, which have not been active for many years. The incident occurred without casualties and left behind no fear of hazardous materials in its wake.
The chimneys were previously used as water-cooling towers and have been out of commission since 2009. The erection of these iconic buildings goes back as far as the British mandate. But as much as they are a symbol of energy, labor and Israeli industry, many saw the collapse of the tower as a sign and reminder of greater problems the city is facing.
Modern Haifa was founded by the British as an industrial city, meaning a place where residents live alongside industrial plants, including transportation support (port, railroad, roads, airport) and energy support (power plant, refineries). With the success of the city and its development, new neighborhoods were established in and around the city, with the houses often being located closer to the factories.
Today, the factories, which are anchors of employment and livelihood, have become a source of contention, as Haifa suffers greatly from air pollution problems, water and soil contamination – both onshore and below sea level (sludge), as well as the consequences of high transportation congestion. (See: “Haifa Could Become the Venice of Israel”)
According to data from the Ministry of Environment (2014), the Haifa refineries (Bazan) located in the municipal area of Haifa are the most polluting plants in all of Israel.
Environment Minister Gila Gamaliel, referring to the fall of the refinery tower, tweeted:
“A significant symbol of the beginning of the end. This time the collapse happened by mistake, the next time it will be targeted. Haifa residents come to live in a healthy environment.”
The green organization “Megama Yeruka” also commented on the incident:
“The collapse of the ‘Leveniya’ today is the beginning of the end. The collapse of Bazan in the stock market during the Corona crisis and the collapse of the structure today is a wake-up call for the Israeli government. It is time for the government to make a swift and decisive decision to start a process of closing polluting factories. If we do not act quickly, the residents of Haifa Bay will find themselves left with contaminated land, thousands of unemployed and decaying factories.”
Others have rejected these attempts to link the collapse of a building that ceased operation long ago with the discussion on the future of industry in Haifa, believing that especially now, during the corona unemployment wave, it is important to keep the factories alive and the livelihood of the local residents strong.