During the visit of my son Simon from California we visited the Netanya City Museum. This is a small one-storey building located on a quiet side street off the beaten track. The exhibits are entirely in Hebrew, so it is not really suitable for tourists, but the Manager Hava Apel showed us around and gave us the short tour in English. One thing that makes Netanya unique in Israel is that it was a new settlement planned from the start as a resort town.
The originators of Netanya were not agricultural socialists like the founders of most other settlements and towns in the early days before and during the Mandate period. On the contrary they were motivated by capitalist ideas. In 1924 the Bnei Binyamin Agricultural organization was formed with the intention to seek ways to aid in the resettlement of the land by Jews. The Sharon region north of Tel Aviv was then relatively desolate. Oved Ben-Ami saw the wonderful beaches and the ravine through the cliffs that led down to the beach and was captivated. He immediately saw the potential for the development of a resort town there. Contrary to all other cities in Israel, Netanya was conceived as a beach resort.
Ben Ami with Itamar Ben Avi travelled to the USA in search of financial backing to establish the town. They approached Nathan Strauss, manufacturer of the famous Levi jeans, on his 80th birthday for a contribution in exchange for which they would name the town after him, hence the name Netanya (Nathan gave). He made a small donation, promising to give more later, but he died before he could. Nevertheless the name stuck.
Upon their return they met with Sheikh Hamdan, the Mukhtar of a small impoverished Arab village named Umm Khaled. He was very friendly and cooperative, believing that the land around was worthless due to swamps and little fresh water. In 1928 the Organization bought 350 acres from the village for the then princely sum of 5,600 Israeli pounds. The founders then established the Hanotea Corporation to develop industries in the town. They began selling plots to Jews abroad and dug a deep well to bring in fresh water. They began by growing oranges, but their purpose was not agricultural. They tried leather manufacturing, knitting and diamond cutting, but all eventually failed, except for the tourist industry. The town was planned to be near the beach and it fast became the main resort town of Israel.
In 1948 on the establishment of the State there were 10,000 inhabitants. In the 1950’s there were many immigrants who lived in large tent cities both north and south of the town. By the 1980’s there were 40,000 and it has now grown to 200,00 people. Netanya was probably the first planned city in Israel with a city plan first drafted in the 1920’s. At present Netanya is characterized by a huge building boom of high rises, about 150 or so, all along the coast and with plans for a new city center in what is now a deserted part of the city between the old town and the southern district of Poleg. Netanya is certainly worth a visit.