A series of major archeological finds in Caesarea have heightened tensions in an ongoing dispute over the future of the city. The Association for Caesarea, a citizens' advocacy group, has alleged that the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which has jurisdiction over the finds, has been pressured by the Caesarea Development Company (CDC) to forfeit its control so that controversial development plans can continue.
Caesarea has historically been known as a rural residential development. It has a population of 3,500, only half of whom live there full-time. But a new master plan for the city proposed by the CDC envisions a large-scale expansion of Caesarea's residential, commercial, and industrial capacity.
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In the past weeks, excavation teams have uncovered portions of a Herodean wall, as well as a Byzantine mosaic and a necropolis, along an area of beachside property slated for development into luxury villas by the CDC. The Association for Caesarea would like to preserve the area, keeping it as a recreational and nature zone, and opposes the overall plans of the CDC to change the character of Caesarea. It has also enlisted the help of foreign archeologists in their dispute with the CDC. Kenneth G. Holum, a professor of history at the University of Maryland who has led excavations at Caesarea, wrote in an open letter to the Association for Caesarea that development within ancient settlement zones should be discouraged.
"Both Israel's natural beauty and its rich heritage of antiquities must be protected, according to the law, for future generations," he said.
But the Israeli Antiquities Authority denies being influenced by pressure from any one group. According to Osnat Goaz, the Authority's spokesperson, the decision on what to do with the site has yet to be made.
"I can tell you that both sides are trying to impact our decision, but it doesn't mean that we're under pressure," she said. "I do believe that the right decision will be a scientific one, not one made by pressure by either side." A decision is expected to come from the Authority in the next few days.
The CDC denies pressuring the Israeli Antiquities Authority, claiming that its rights to build and develop Caesarea date back to the 1960s.
"The CDC is working within the law to accept and respect any decision made by the Antiquities Authority," said Leah Schneider, the Company's spokesperson.
Caesarea is the only residential community in Israel to be governed by a private company rather than by a municipality, an innovation set up in 1952 by the Rothschild family. Revenues generated by the sale of land in Caesarea, as well as Company service fees paid by the residents, go toward a foundation that helps pay for educational, cultural, and welfare organizations in the State of Israel.