By Ido Vock
Israel’s third-largest city, and one of its most religiously and ethnically diverse, offers cheap and cultured coastal living.
Haifa has long nurtured a reputation as Israel’s most tolerant city, having been considered a “mixed city” since the 1930s, when Jews and Arabs began to live side by side in greater numbers. Ayman Odeh, Israel’s foremost Arab politician, lives in the city, which is 90 per cent Jewish.
Though religious segregation remains, Hebrew, Arabic and Russian are spoken throughout Haifa. That mix of languages heard on the streets makes the city the most “normal” in the country, according to Jafar Farah, who runs the Mossawa Center, an organisation that promotes equality for Arab citizens of Israel.
Modern economy and low-cost living
In addition to its traditional port industry, Haifa is home to several colleges and universities, including the science and technology-focused Technion, one of Israel’s best higher-education institutions, according to the QS World University Rankings.
The city is part of Israel’s so-called “Silicon Wadi”. High-tech companies are clustered mostly around the Matam technology park, where Google, Apple and IBM have offices.
Haifa’s well-paid tech workforce enjoys lower living costs than other cities in Israel: consumer prices database Numbeo gives the typical monthly rent on a three-bedroom apartment as Shk3,700 ($1,060), which is 55 per cent less than in Tel Aviv, the country’s main commercial hub.
Haifa has plenty of green space. The manicured Bahá’í Gardens cascading down the slopes of Mount Carmel are the city’s most recognisable landmark. Tel Shikmona, an archaeological site beyond the main beach promenade, offers splendid views of the Mediterranean amid 3,500-year-old ruins. Mount Carmel National Park, Israel’s largest, is 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre.
Traditionally regarded by Israelis as a hardworking, blue-collar port with little time for frivolity, Haifa has recently gained a reputation as a foodie destination. Hip bars and restaurants have replaced shipping warehouses in the Lower City, the area closest to the port.
Hanamal 24’s Italian and French classics are emblematic of the new generation of restaurants popping up around the port, while the falafel (fried chickpea balls) at Falafel Mishel are a local favourite.
Under the British Mandate during the 1930s and 1940s, Haifa was host to a lively Arab cultural scene, including some of the only literary and political clubs in what was then Mandatory Palestine.
Today, the city once again has a flourishing liberal Arab culture. The Khashabi Theatre provides a space for Palestinian artists to challenge social and political taboos.
Mainstream culture is thriving too: Haifa Film Festival, the first of its kind in Israel and now in its 35th year, attracts film-makers from around the world every autumn.
Photographs: Dreamstime; Ran Dembo; Khashabi Theatre