Department of Surveys Offices in Northern Israel

Hilik Horovitz, June-July 2007

There are two Survey of Israel regional offices in the northern part of Israel. One – the Haifa and Northern Region located in Haifa's government district, and the second – the Galilee Region, located in the Nazareth government district. The Haifa office controls all stages of registration plans, from the moment a file is opened until the final numbers are registered. The Nazareth office was responsible for land settlement and engineering surveys for urban development in the Galilee and southward towards Hadera. Both offices were established during the British Mandate as part of a system of regional offices that aimed to bring surveyors and land settlement officials closer to the field in order to shorten land settlement (cadastre) processing time. The Haifa office inspected plans for registration and conducted land settlement surveys. Two additional offices were also established during the British Mandate, in Tiberias and in Acre. The Acre office was transferred to Haifa five months after its establishment due to the local residents' hostility. Most of the regional offices closed before or during the War of Independence and reopened after the war. A surveyor was positioned in Safed until the early 1970s. The Tiberias and Acre offices closed down during the 1970s, leaving only the North and Galilee regional offices.
During the British Mandate period
When the cadastral survey reform began in 1927-1928 for Palestine land ownership registration, land transaction registration became mandatory. The Land Settlement Ordinance – Property Rights Settlement, published on January 26, 1928, acknowledged the map as a statutory tool according to the Torrens System, and that land registration and settlement is impossible without it. Two government offices were involved in land ownership registration: The Department of Surveys, whose employees surveyed and defined boundaries of land blocks and parcels, and the Lands Department, which employed land registration officials who referred to land registry books to investigate claims of ownership and determine actual ownership of different parcels. As of 1927, surveyors employed by the Department of Surveys were assigned to seven different regional land transition registration offices in order to closely supervise the Lands Department's work and meet their obligations. The Galilee's regional office was established in Nazareth in 1938 and a second one opened in Acre in May of that year. The Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 was in full force and the Acre office was relocated to Haifa in October 1938 out of concern for the employees' safety in Acre's hostile environment. In 1943, a decision was made to open eight regional survey offices that would report to the Department of Surveys. Surveyors from different land registration offices were assigned to these new offices. The Galilee's regional offices were established in Haifa and Tiberias. When the British Mandate came to an end, there were two regional offices in Haifa and Tiberias, as well as a land registration office in Nazareth. The Tiberias office was closed during the War of Independence. The Nazareth office may have been closed as the Mandate period drew to an end.
The regional survey offices' main responsibility during the Mandate was to check plans prepared by certified surveyors for land transaction registration. Their other responsibilities included: surveys related to transactions conducted by government offices; mapping for land registration; offering technical and professional advice to regional representatives and other government offices; supervising village development surveys (according to the 1940-1946 Department of Surveys summary reports).
The Haifa Regional Office was located on 28 Jaffa St., in downtown Haifa. During the Mandate, it was responsible for approving land registration plans and conducting surveys for government offices. Most of its activity was in Haifa and its vicinity. Yehuda Goldstein managed the office at the end of the mandate, most probably preceded by a man named Atlas. The British were not employed in the Haifa regional office, as it was considered less prestigious. Israel Yizraeli, later to become the Deputy District Surveyor of the Haifa region, and Shaul Zaid, who would survey the boundary with Syria after the establishment of the state, were surveyors in Haifa. Yizraeli and Shaul's son, Koby, told the story of the Haganah map theft from the Haifa office towards the end of the British Mandate which was carried out with Shaul Zaid's inside assistance.
The Tiberias Office was located in the police department building near the western entrance to the city. Other government offices were also located in the same building. The office was responsible for land settlement surveys. In the 1940s, Amiel Rosenstein (Elami) was appointed manager of the Tiberias office, followed by Reback who later directed the Tel Aviv regional office. The office was managed by Israel Segal, veteran of the British Army's Palestine Surveyor's Unit 524, when the mandate ended. Segal was instructed to transfer survey equipment and files to the Nazareth office as the British prepared to leave the country. Segal did not comply and the equipment served the Tiberias office after the state of Israel was established. Segal left the Tiberias office during the War of Independence, locking it with all of the equipment still inside.
The Nazareth Office was also involved in land settlement surveys. It was located in the Moskovia building. The Survey School also began operating in Nazareth in December 1944. The school was established in a tent encampment in an open field west of today's Kiryat Rabin (the government district). This school replaced the Survey School in Jenin which ran from early 1942 until March 1943 in tents as well. Two graduating class completed their studies in Nazareth. The school trained a total of 40 graduates – some of them surveyors and others survey assistants. Both schools – first in Jenin and later in Nazareth, were established in order to increase the number of surveying teams and hasten the land settlement survey pace. The Mandate regime's intention was to train core groups of surveyors and assign them to regions in which insufficient progress had been made. Most of the students in Nazareth were residents of Nazareth or its surrounding villages. The a-Reineh village produced a relatively large number of surveyors and survey assistants. The village was severely damaged during the 1927 earthquakes. Nearly 160 of the village's 200 houses were destroyed, and the village was rebuilt largely on territories that had not been previously developed. This new construction project and the surveys that it required undoubtedly encouraged the village residents to study the surveying profession. Once they completed their studies, Survey School graduates surveyed the Galilee for land settlement purposes, until the British Mandate ended in 1948.
In the State of Israel
After the establishment of the state of Israel, the Haifa office continued to operate as a regional office. A branch of the Department of Surveys was opened in Tiberias in the building that housed the city's police department. In 1952, the Department of Surveys branch in Nazareth resumed hiring local surveyors. The Acre branch was reopened as well. One surveyor was assigned to Safed at a certain point and resided in a local hotel.
During the first years of Israel's existence, there were only isolated cases of land settlement surveys conducted by the Department of Surveys. The emphasis of their work was shifted to land development surveys for building new settlements and neighborhoods and developing new infrastructure. Full-scale land settlement surveys did not resume until 1956. The number of survey teams per office grew as the workload required and the teams were reinforced by surveying teams sent from the Tel Aviv headquarters. Avraham Avivi, District Surveyor of the Haifa office as of 1967, said that a total of 17 survey teams operated in all northern Department of Surveys branches during the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
As mentioned, the regional offices main responsibility was land settlement mapping. During periods of accelerated construction in the State's early years and later on when Migdal Haemek, Upper Nazareth and Carmiel were built, they were also involved in land development surveys. The northern offices reported these activities to Zvi Padva of the Tel Aviv Fields Division. Surveyors reported plans for land registration activities to the District Surveyor of the Haifa regional office – first Yehuda Goldstein and later Shimon Shimoni and Avraham Avivi. The Tiberias and Acre offices were closed during the late 1970s and the Nazareth office became an independent region called the Galilee Region.
Haifa and the Northern Region
After the state was established, the Haifa regional office was responsible for all other offices in the Galilee region. Haifa employees continued to inspect plans for land registration. The other northern offices were involved in other projects, including surveys for settlement development. As of 1956, they were involved mainly in land settlement surveys. During periods of accelerated surveys, accelerated construction in Migdal Haemek, Upper Nazareth and later in Carmiel, or when Galilee land settlement survey pace began to increase in 1956, survey teams from Tel Aviv joined the surveyors from the northern offices.
District Surveyors of the Haifa region were: Goldstein, until (approx.) 1965, Shimon Shimoni, Goldstein's Deputy, who directed the regional office until 1967 and Avraham Avivi from late 1967 to 1978 and again until 1995. Since then, the Yoel Schwartz has been the District Surveyor.
Today, the Haifa and Northern region are responsible for land registration plans control, from the moment the file is opened until the final numbers are registered (the last stage), and proving this information to the surveyors. The regional offices' jurisdiction includes Hadera and northward, up to the Lebanon border.
The Galilee Region (Nazareth)
The Nazareth office, which apparently closed during the War of Independence, was reopened as a branch of the Department of Surveys in 1952. The branch employed local surveyors in land settlement survey projects. During the first stage, they focused on land blocks on which surveys had began during the mandate. Avivi noted that six survey teams, all local surveyors from Nazareth and nearby villages, were employed in Nazareth at the end of the 1960s. The A-Reineh village produced the largest number of surveyors and assistants even then. Zion Shitrug said that in 1954, he and surveyor Baichu Seahu worked together for several months on land settlement surveys in the Bi'ina and Majd al-Kurum villages.
When the Department of Surveys began extensive land settlement surveys in 1956, Deputy Manager of the Fields Division, Zvi Padva, was appointed head of settlement surveys in the eastern Galilee region. Padva supervised projects conducted by the Nazareth office from his own office in Tel Aviv. He would visit Nazareth weekly and assign survey jobs to the local teams. When Avivi moved from Tiberias to Haifa, he took responsibility for the Nazareth office. In 1978, when Avivi completed his first term as District Surveyor of the northern region, Moshe Kaplan replaced him in Nazareth. The Nazareth branch became an independent region – the Galilee Region, when Kaplan assumed the role of District Surveyor. Kaplan was the independent office's first director, until 1993. He was replaced by Natur Tahar, who continues to direct the division today.
All of the surveyors were local – from Nazareth and its vicinity, during Kaplan's term as well. There were two or three Jewish assistant surveyors from Tiberias. Natur Tahar, the current director, makes favorable mention of the positive atmosphere that existed between the employees of the two nationalities.
The Nazareth branch was involved in urban development surveys even before Kaplan was appointed director. Considering that most Galilee settlement surveys had been completed and the Nazareth surveyors' experience in development surveys, especially in Carmiel and Upper Nazareth, Survey Department Director, Dr. Ron Adler, decided that the Galilee region would be responsible for all development surveys from Hadera and northward to the Lebanon border. Nazareth surveyors conducted development surveys for Afula, Tiberias and Safed, as well as Carmiel and Upper Nazareth. Urban development in the Galilee was accelerated in the early 1990s, when the large immigration from the former Soviet Union began. Surveys were also done for rural villages in northern Israel, as small villages began to appear in the late 1970s. The increasing number of engineering projects for urban development enhanced cooperation with the Galilee branch of the Ministry of Construction and Housing. In order to handle the increasing workload, surveyors from the private sector were hired to survey construction sites that the Ministry of Construction and Housing was responsible for. All surveys for public housing projects were outsourced to private surveyors by tenders. A tender committee was established in the Survey of Israel (SOI) and the field work and billing approvals were supervised by the members of the Fields Division, specifically by the Director of the Galilee Region who was appointed moderator, supervisor and controller of all surveys performed by the private sector, who was also responsible for approving the monetary reports submitted by private contractors.
During the first decade of the 21st century, the regional office ceased its joint projects with the Ministry of Construction and Housing, as fewer and fewer engineering projects were required. They resumed land settlement surveys for the Arab sector in the Galilee, Sharon (Tayibe, Tira , Qalansawe, Baqa al-Gharbiyye and Jatt) and in Wadi Ara, including Umm el-Fahem. The office also performs land settlement surveys in places in northern Israel that have yet to be surveyed as well as inspecting land registration and public housing plans, and supervising and instructing surveyors involved in urban construction committees. The director also provides technical consultations for urban construction committees.
The Tiberias Branch
Segal left the Tiberias office during the War of Independence after locking it with all of the equipment still inside, and returned in June 1949. He directed the Tiberias branch until the end of 1952, when he began to direct the Beer Sheva and Southern region office. He was replaced by Avraham (Adolf) Bar. The Tiberias office closed for a short time when Bar left, until Avraham Avivi took the management position in 1957. Avivi managed the Tiberias branch until late 1967, when he became director of the Haifa and Northern region office. Moshe Strolovitch and Shlomi Eliaz (Elias Friedman), actually the managers of two surveying teams, replaced him in Tiberias.
The first project that Israel Segal managed with Amiel Rosenstein, Department of Surveys Fields Division Director at the time, was precise leveling surveys in the Galilee. This technique was used to measure heights along selected routes, where the height of a given point is determined by the height difference observed between that point and the height of a previously measured or computed point. Precision leveling surveys was the main project conducted by the Tiberias branch between 1949 and 1951. At least some of the surveys could be compared to the loop surveyed by the British in 1937 from Beit Shean to the Hula Valley. The results were usually compatible. Some of Segal's leveling surveys were used to place Israel's National Water Carrier. The section surveyed was the area is which the Jordan River was diverted to the Sea of Galilee, from Kfar Hanassi until Tabgha. From that point on, the water was supposed to flow into the Sea of Galilee and generate electricity from the energy created by the falling water. This stage, which began in 1953, was halted due to international objections. The land in the Beit Netofa Valley was found unsuitable for water accumulation, causing changes to the original plans. Avraham Avivi, the Tiberias director during 1957-1967, later continued precision leveling surveys in the southern sections of the water carrier. Avivi surveyed an area beginning in Tabgha and ending at the Eshkol reservoir in the western part of the Beit Netofa Valley.
The Tiberias branch performed land settlement surveys and topographic and engineering surveys for development in the urban settlements of the eastern Galilee. Surveys were performed to build housing projects for new immigrants and to encourage efforts to settle the Galilee region. Urban settlements between Kiryat Shemona in the north and Beit Shean in the south were surveyed, while Tiberias surveyors progressed as far as Upper Nazareth from the west. Israel Segal reported difficulties encountered while perform mapping projects for land settlement in Safed, due to the steep incline and the fact that several buildings are located beneath other buildings built above them.
The Tiberias branch also performed land settlement surveys to protect state lands, and this became its main focus as of the beginning in 1956, when great efforts were made to survey and map territories that had not yet been settled.
Another responsibility recounted by Avraham Avivi was to identify photogrammetric points for the Photogrammetry Division directed by Moshe Erez. The Tiberias branch identified the points to be used for aerial image mapping of the entire Galilee.
Directors of the Tiberias branch represented the Department of Surveys in commissions for cease fire agreements with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan between 1949 and 1967, but not during 1953-1957, when Shaul Zaid of the Haifa office represented the Department of Surveys in the commissions. Joint tours of the boundary were held as part of the Lebanon cease fire commission during 1949-1951. The tours, which were conducted with a positive atmosphere, inspected the location and condition of mandatory boundary monuments. Missing and badly-placed monuments were replaced and interim ones were placed on boundary sections between the original monuments. Surveys conducted with the Syrians were more complicated: the Syrians made the Department of Surveys surveyors' job difficult, refused to cooperate and even shot at them.
The surveyors' assignment was to identify Syrian entry into Israel's territories (military post invasion, entry of herds, etc.), to determine boundary points using the Dan Springs as a reference (during the "War over Water" in the 1960s, this issue was of upmost importance and disagreements over the boundary route near the springs caused many clashes between the two sides), ensure that infrastructure laid by the JNF, IDF or any other Israeli authority did not extend beyond the border or into demilitarized zones. The northern section of the Green Line, between Baqa al-Gharbiyye and the Bezeq stream was surveyed on the border with Jordan because of disagreements between the two sides. There was a risk of shooting incidents aimed at surveyors in the Jordanian zone as well.
Descriptions of the surveys on the borders were retold in interviews with Yisrael Segal, Koby Zaid (who told of his father, Shaul), Avraham Avivi and Zion Shitrug.
The Tiberias branch closed in the early 1970s and its responsibilities were transferred to the Nazareth-Galilee regional office.
The Acre Branch
The Acre branch reopened in the 1950s. In 1956, when land settlement surveys were renewed, Zvi Shapira, Director of the Jerusalem regional office, was transferred to Acre to manage surveys in the western Galilee region. Unlike the Nazareth surveyors who were all local, the surveyors employed in the western Galilee were Jews from central Israel. Most of them graduated from the Holon Survey School in 1955-1956. Two experienced surveyors led the surveys in the western Galilee: Felix Mizrahi and Rudy Goldenberg. A total of ten surveying teams were assigned to the region. They all resided in hotels or in rented apartments in Acre. They arrived without surveying assistants and hired local residents of the western Galilee villages as their assistants and laborers.
When Shapira left the Galilee several years later, he was replaced by Avraham Mordechai who supervised the surveyors in Acre. Padva, who was responsible for land settlement surveys in the eastern Galilee, took responsibly for Avraham Mordechai's region as well, thus becoming director of land settlements in the entire Galilee.
At the end of 1967, when Avivi was appointed director of the Haifa region, he took command of settlement surveys in the entire northern region, including Acre. Avivi closed the Acre branch in the late 1970s as the western Galilee settlement workload decreased.
The surveyor in Safed
Safed did not have an official survey office, but according to Avivi, surveyor Bijou Seahu was assigned to the city between 1960 and 1971, and possibly even longer. Baichu resided in a hotel with two assistants and a driver. Padva gave them land settlement assignments. No official jurisdiction was defined for the Safed surveyor, who conducted surveys as instructed.
Avivi recounted an incident that occurred while he surveyed the boundary at the site of the Al-Ureifiya (south of Kibbutz Gonen) near the Syrian border. While the surveys were in progress, he was asked to conduct an urgent photogrammetric identification survey near Safed. Since the northern command had also requested that the Al-Ureifiya project be completed as soon as possible, Avivi asked the Safed surveyor, Bijou Seahu to continue surveys in Al-Ureifiya. Baichu arrived the following day with his assistant, Greenstein. While working, Greenstein stepped on a land mine and was injured. His leg was amputated as a result of his injury.
As mentioned, Baichu remained in Safed until 1971, and possibly even several years later.

1. Mandatory Department of Surveys annual reports
2. Dov Gavish, Land and Map, published (in Hebrew) by Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1991.
3. Conversations and interviews with Zion Shitrug, Israel Segal, Avraham Avivi, Israel Yizraeli, Koby Zaid and Natur Tahar.