The Affair of the Hassuna Oil Factory Initiative in Lod

Alon Shavit, C.E.O. Israeli Institute of Archaeology
ISSN 2788-5151
Open Access Journal

Abstract

العربية
עברית
English

For the past 18 months, the staff of the Israeli Institute of Archeology, in cooperation with the Council for the Preservation of Heritage Sites, has been working to obtain a 20-year concession to manage the Hassuna Oil Factory in Lod. The factory is an ancient and unique stone structure, in which most of the traditional industrial complexes used to produce olive oil, grind sesame seeds and to make soap have been preserved. The building has been abandoned since the late 1940s and is decaying. Although the Israeli Institute of Archeology has raised a significant budget for the development of the building as a visitor center and the Council for the Preservation of Heritage Sites has pledged to raise additional monies for the quality execution of the project, the initiative has not materialized due to a range of legal and property issues. This affair can be an important lesson for those involved in preserving heritage. It turns out that this field encompasses very many obstacles and the road to realizing important and valuable initiatives is long and tedious.

במשך שנה וחצי עוסק צוות מכון ישראלי לארכיאולוגיה, בשיתוף המועצה לשימור אתרי מורשת, במהלכים שיאפשרו לקבל זיכיון ל-20 שנה לניהול מפעל השמנים של חסונה בלוד. מדובר במבנה אבן עתיק ויחיד במינו אשר בתוכו השתמרו מרבית מכלולי התעשייה המסורתית ששימשו לייצור שמן זית, לטחינת שומשום ולייצור סבון. המבנה עומד שומם מאז שלהי שנות ה-40 של המאה ה-20 והוא הולך ונהרס. אף שמכון ישראלי לארכיאולוגיה גייס תקציב משמעותי לפיתוח המבנה כמרכז מבקרים והמועצה לשימור אתרי מורשת התחייבה להירתם לגיוס תקציבים נוספים לצורך ביצוע איכותי של המיזם, היוזמה לא יוצאת לפועל בגלל מכלול בעיות משפטיות ונכסיות. פרשה זו יכולה להוות שיעור חשוב לעוסקים במעשה שימור המורשת. מתברר שתחום זה חובק בתוכו כל כך הרבה מכשולים והדרך למימוש יוזמות חשובות וערכיות ארוכה ומייגעת.

ملخص

خلال عام ونصف، عمل طاقم المعهد الإسرائيلي للآثار، بالتعاون مع المجلس الإسرائيلي للحفاظ على المواقع التراثية، على خطوات تتيح الحصول على امتياز لمدة 20 عامًا لإدارة معصرة آل‎ حسونة في للد. المعصرة هي عبارة عن مبنى حجر قديم وفريد ​​من نوعه تم الحفاظ فيه على معظم المجمعات الصناعية التقليدية التي كانت تستخدم لإنتاج زيت الزيتون وطحن بذور السمسم وصناعة الصابون. أصبح المبنى مهجوراً منذ أواخر الأربعينيات من القرن العشرين وهو آيل للسقوط والخراب. على الرغم من أن المعهد الإسرائيلي للآثار قد جمع ميزانية كبيرة لتطوير المبنى كمركز للزوار وتعهد المجلس الإسرائيلي للحفاظ على المواقع التراثية بجمع ميزانيات إضافية من أجل التنفيذ الجيد للمشروع ، إلا أن المبادرة لم تتحقق بسبب لمجموعة من القضايا القانونية والملكية. يمكن أن تكون هذه القضية درسًا مهمًا لأولئك الذين يشاركون في الحفاظ على التراث. اتضح أن هذا المجال يشتمل على العديد من المعوّقات وأن الطريق لتحقيق المبادرات المهمة والقيمية طويلة وشاقة.

كلمات مفتاحية: معصرة آل‎ حسونة،  ترميم، إعادة بناية ، البلد القديمة في اللد، معصرة، مطحنة سمسم، مصبنة تقليدية

Key Words

Ancient LodHassuna Oil FactoryOlive Oil PressPreservationRestorationSesame GrinderTraditional Soap Factory
The article

The episode described below may sound tedious to some readers. It does not enlighten us about Lod’s glorious past and the city’s multicultural heritage. However, it does demonstrate how difficult and tedious the task of preserving heritage is.

For generations we have been told that goodwill abounds, and the only problem with conservation efforts is the lack of resources. Here we wish to present a story about an initiative to restore a site of national importance, which was backed by enormous budgetary resources, and yet the initiative did not materialize.

The Hassuna Oil Factory is located on the southeastern border of the Old City of Lod (now on General Leclerc Street).

Illustration 1. Location map of Hassuna Oil Factory in the city of Lod

The factory was described in great detail as part of a comprehensive publication dealing with the building, its history and the operation of its industrial complexes (Ayalon 2020); in the publication of a conservation survey conducted of the building (Solar 2020); in the publication of an engineering survey of the structure (Etgar 2020), and a historical overview of the place of the oil factory in the Arab industrial system of pre-1948 Palestine (Shehadeh 2020).

Due to the uniqueness of the building and its rare state of preservation, the team of the community archaeological project in the city of Lod found it appropriate to promote the development of the building. On March 28, 2007, the Israeli Institute of Archaeology (hereinafter referred to as IIA) submitted to representatives of the Hassuna family a draft agreement that was formed after discussions with representatives of the family, headed by the late Muhammad Abu-Rajab Hassuna.

The principles of the agreement were based on IIA’s commitment to develop the building and operate it as a unique visitor center that would illustrate traditional industry in Palestine in the first half of the 20th century and showcase the unique heritage of the Hassuna family. The agreement stated that IIA would receive a concession to manage the building for 20 years, including the years in which the development work would be carried out. IIA would raise all the resources necessary for the work of restoring of the building and making it accessible to the public. At the end of the 20 years of the concession, it would hand over the building to the family’s management.

The Hassuna family is very large. The brothers ‘Abd al-Hamid Hassuna and Mabruk Hassuna had owned the oil factory, and the court ruled that each of them previously owned 32 of the 64 parts of the property.[1]

In 1948, many members of the family found themselves outside the borders of the State of Israel, and their property was declared absentee assets. In these circumstances, many of the heirs of the Hassuna brothers were also declared absentees and 37.7 / 64 parts of the building (59%) were transferred to state ownership and managed by the Custodian of Absentee Properties Department in the Israeli Ministry of Finance. The 26.3 remaining shares (41%), which remained in the hands of the heirs of the Hassuna brothers, were divided according to a court ruling[2] as follows: 9 parts for the heirs of Mabruk Hassuna, 10 parts for the heirs of Musa Hassuna and 7.3 parts for the heirs of Ya‘qub Hassuna.[3] The legal heirs of the family number in the dozens, and in 2007 it was difficult to reach agreements among them, hence it was not possible to sign the agreement. Thus, the oil factory, which stood desolate and in ruin for about 60 years, had to remain in that state for many more years.

In November 2019, the IIA management discussed a number of projects that the association was interested in promoting with a special budget at its disposal, in order to advance its goals. One of the first and main goals proposed was the development of the Hassuna Oil Factory. A meeting was held with a representative of the family, who informed us that there was significant progress in the care of the building, and in contrast to the situation in the early 2000s, there was now an attorney representing most of the owners who were family members. If we could succeed in getting his consent, then the way to signing an agreement would be clear.

On January 6, 2020, a meeting was held at the office of attorney R., who represented most of the property owners on behalf of the Hassuna family.[4] We gathered in a magnificent office, on a top floor of a Tel Aviv office tower, overlooking half of the Dan Region, and presented our project to the lawyer. In response, we were told that our venture would be welcome inasmuch as it was possible to justify it not only as a valiant move to preserve the heritage of the Hassuna family, but also as one that would enhance the property and allow family members to enjoy the fruits of improvement after our site management concession ended.

Attorney R. asked us to send him a document clarifying our intentions and our commitment to invest at least 3.5 million shekels in the building, an amount that we intended to allocate to the project. The next day we sent him the following letter:

Subject: Initiative for the preservation, restoration, development, and operation of the Hassuna family’s oil press in Lod as a visitor center

Greetings,

Following the meeting we had yesterday, we would like to clarify:

  1. The management of the Israeli Institute of Archaeology seeks to restore and operate the property and the courtyards adjacent to it as a visitor center open to the general public. For this purpose, we intend to renovate the structure, to restore and activate the traditional industrial complexes that operated in it, as far as possible, and to adapt the building as a one-of-a-kind visitor center for the reconstruction of traditional industries in Israel, while at the same time serving as a center that tells the unique story of the Hassuna family.
  2. At present, a professional team is preparing on our behalf a documentation file and conservation survey of the building, which will deal with the architectural, engineering, technological and historical documentation of the building. Immediately after completing this documentation file, we will prepare a program for the building’s development and start the detailed planning of the visitor center. We intend to present the prepared documentation file and the program at the sixth Lod conference, which will be held in cooperation with the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel on May 21, 2020.
  3. On the basis of an initial evaluation, we estimate that a budget of approximately 7 million shekels will be required to carry out this project. It should be emphasized that this is an initial estimate, which can be updated upon completion of the detailed planning, and even at this stage, unexpected expenses must be considered.
  4. The Israeli Institute of Archaeology undertakes to provide 3.5 million shekels for the development of the building. This amount will certainly make it possible to prepare the structure for visitors in terms of accessibility and safety. The IIA will raise the remaining budget required from donors and sponsors. The funds will be raised only after the preparation of the documentation file and the program is completed. We believe it will be easier to raise funds when donors realize that this is not just a conceptual vision, but that we have a detailed plan and work is in progress.
  5. If we reach an agreement, we intend to immediately start the initial conservation work, such as making engineering reinforcements to the structure, exposing and removing debris, fencing the building and treating doors and windows in a way that allows full control of entry and stays in the building. It should be emphasized that conservation work does not require a building permit and therefore it is possible to start conducting these works simultaneously with the planning process.
  6. Simultaneously, we will immediately begin the detailed planning. The planning task may take more than a year and includes both conservation and restoration planning, building additions required for the operation of the site and environmental development planning and electricity, water, sewage, communication and network plans. In addition to all this, we will arrange curatorship and an operating plan for the visitor center.
  7. During the second year, after the signing of the agreement, we intend to invest the budget we have committed to and, by the end of that year, to bring the building to a state worthy of receiving the public, even if we have not yet completed the planned development of the structure and the visitor center’s display. We will do all we can to complete the development work within three years and focus most of our attention on marketing the center and developing plans for activities in its field.
  8. In order to ensure a return on the investment that the IIA intends to place at the disposal of the building, we request an operating concession for 20 years, which also includes an exclusive right to business entrepreneurship directly related to the center’s activities, such as sale of food and beverages, of souvenirs, and of products related to the reconstructed industry at the center; showing exhibitions; and other cultural activities.
  9. During our meeting, it was made clear to us that you have historical documents related to the Hassuna family and its assets. Since a conservationist on our behalf, the architect Amir Shehadeh, is dealing with the historical documentation of the building and the Hassuna family, we hereby ask you to remove the documents’ confidentiality and allow us to access the information on behalf of the conservation survey.
  10. The Hassuna Oil Factory is a building that has stood desolate and neglected for over 70 years. This is a unique structure of this kind in the country. The story of the Hassuna family is fascinating and deserves to be presented to the general public. We are convinced that if the parties concerned show vision and imagination and cooperate with our venture, we will be able to set up a magnificent visitor center that will attract many tourists, including students, older Israelis, and tourists from abroad. After the years of concession requested by us, the heirs of the property owners will be able to enjoy the profits of the business ventures that we will develop around this building.

On February 24, 2020, we met again with attorney R. in his office. At this meeting we were asked to prepare documents for the court that would testify to the seriousness of our intentions regarding the property. We clarified that we are currently working on preparing a conservation survey of the structure, an engineering survey for the building and a conceptual plan for its development, and it was agreed that these documents would serve that purpose, if presented to the court. The attorney informed us that if the court approved our plan, then the Custodian of Absentee Properties would approve the allotment of the state’s share in the property without delay.

An extensive team worked on the conceptual plan[5] for months. We visited a number of sites where traditional production processes, similar to those that operated at the Hassuna Oil Factory in Lod, can be viewed. We met with the site managers and thoroughly examined various models for managing similar ones. We went down to level of the smallest details in examining the management needs of the site. For example, we learned that similar sites are based on school visits, and if a site does not have enough restrooms, especially women’s, it causes delays as tours can begin only after all students have visited the restroom.

Illustration 2. The Logo of the Hassuna Oil Factory

In order to prepare the program, we interviewed many experts, including a selected team formed around the late Ran Hedvati[6], a member of Kibbutz Ein Shemer and one of the pillars of the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel. Hedvati’s team specializes in the dismantling, restoration, and operation of diesel engines about 100 years old; and of ancient machines, including oil presses, flour or sesame grinders, water pumps, cranes and more.

       Our staff worked in the building for about a month and cleaned it of debris and sewage, so that the experts could thoroughly examine the state of preservation of the industrial complexes, and be able to define, in light of their condition, the restoration needs of the machinery in the building. On this occasion we learned that heavy diesel engines, the like of which is also found in Hassuna Oil Factory, can be restored and operated, but they cause severe noise, air pollution and repeatedly malfunction. Therefore, we accepted the recommendation to convert the machine to electricity, without harming its appearance, so that we can operate the production complexes in a quiet and clean environment.

Illustration 3. The diesel motor at the Hassuna Oil Factory

The cleaning operations helped the conservation engineer prepare the structure’s engineering survey. We found out that there was significant conservation potential for the structure. However, parts of this structure were in a state of severe neglect, and each winter that passed without the intervention of conservationists, increased the damage, which would result in higher restoration costs.

For the purpose of the program, we thoroughly analyzed the restoration costs of the building and also performed a detailed examination of its operating costs alongside the expected revenues from the operation. In the program document we presented ways to access the building as well as a flow chart of the visitors inside the building. We extensively analyzed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) of the venture. We performed the analysis according to Weichrich’s approach (1982), which examines the interactions between all four abovementioned components. The program was printed and bound in an elegant format.

Table 1. Analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats relating to the Hassuna Oil Factory venture

 

On March 4, 2020, we sent lawyer R a hefty book, which included three detailed documents on which the planning team, which included Dr. Eitan Alon, architect Giora Solar, architect Amir Shehadeh, economist David Mingelgrin and the author of these lines [Alon Shavit], had worked. We attached the following letter:

Subject: Program and documentation file for the preservation, restoration and operation of Hassuna Oil Factory in Lod

Greetings,

You are hereby presented with a program for the development of the oil factory, a conservation documentation file and an engineering documentation file. We would ask you to submit the attached material to the court in order to clarify how serious our intentions are regarding the development and operation of the structure.

The documents submitted here were prepared by the most senior professionals in the country. We intend to carry out the venture to the highest standards if we reach an agreement with the property owners. As we have clarified, we are already committed at this stage to providing 3.5 million shekels, which are at our disposal, for the benefit of the project. As a leading association in its field in Israel and as recognized charity, we are convinced that we will be able to raise further significant funds in order to complete the work in full.

We will be happy to provide property owners and all interested parties with any information about our plans.

As we have clarified, a significant portion of the budget we allocate to the venture was given to us by a donor. But the donor made it clear that if we did not reach an agreement regarding the receipt of a concession for the restoration and operation of the building, he would require us to redirect the donation to another, feasible project.

Thank you for assisting in expediting the procedures for signing an agreement.

Several months passed and we did not hear anything about the progress of the procedure. On June 5, 2020, we contacted attorney R. after repeated unanswered inquiries. The lawyer explained that the process had been halted first because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and then because of the death of Fatma, Ya‘qub Hassuna’s widow. Advocate R. recommended that we prepare an agreement with the family’s representatives and send him a draft for approval. He made it clear that he would not be able to get the signatures of the faction he represented until the status of Fatma Hassuna’s inheritance was settled. However, he undertook to send us by e-mail a confirmation in principle of the agreement’s wording, on the basis of which we would invite the faction of Musa Hassuna’s heirs to sign. We spoke with representatives of Musa Hassuna’s heirs several times. They expressed support for our venture, after receiving the details from us and making it clear that any legal wording accepted by advocate R., would also be approved by them.

Immediately upon receipt of the clarification, IIA’s legal adviser approached R. with a request to receive from him the property’s documentation, on the basis of which it would be possible to draft an agreement. Almost a month passed, and on July 1, 2020, R. sent the property documents to the legal adviser of the IIA. Two hours after the documents were received, our legal adviser contacted us and clarified that following Special Residential Plan No. 1064, which had been published and come into force, the building was no longer owned by the Hassuna family and was intended for expropriation by the municipality. For almost a year we had negotiated with the Hassuna family on the development of the building, and they were not even aware that during this very period the municipality was acting to promote a plan confiscating the building from them.

After consulting, we realized that the relevant address was the Lod Municipality, or more precisely – the Lod Economic Company, which had promoted the Special Residential Plan and that handles the municipality’s assets in the Old City area. In August 2020 we contacted the Economic Company. We briefly introduced the venture and asked if they could promote this initiative. They answered positively, and after several delays, the meeting was scheduled for the end of October.

At the same time as we applied to the Lod Municipality, we contacted the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, which for years has been our partner in the running of the annual conference we hold in the city of Lod and in the publication of the journal in which this review is published. As the Council deals with preserving heritage sites of the pre-modern era, it was clear to us that working with it would significantly increase the chances of our enterprise’s success.

On October 19, 2020, a meeting was held with the general director of the Council and the acting director of the central district of the Council. At the meeting, after we presented the project in detail, the Council agreed to become a partner in our initiative. On October 28, 2020, a meeting was held at the Economic Company. We presented the venture to the company’s CEO and VP, placing the program on their desks. The CEO of the Economic Company made it clear that he was very happy with the initiative and was convinced that we could maintain it to the highest standards.

At the meeting we clarified that one of the significant principles for us was to obtain a concession to operate the visitor center for 20 years. We justified the need for such a long period for the following reasons:

  1. The duration of the development of such a site, including design, restoration of the building and industrial complexes within it, and the construction of the exhibits, is expected to be at least three years.
  2. Even after these three years, it takes several years to market the venture and reach a balanced operating budget.
  3. Our chance to persuade donors to support the enterprise financially is based on the assumption that at least in the second decade of the concession of the site, we will be able to maximize operating profits and recoup some of the investment in site development.

The CEO of the Economic Company completely approved the concession application for 20 years. He stressed that in a future agreement to be signed, the municipality would require threshold conditions, according to which we are committed to making the building accessible to the general public, conducting training, and maintaining it to proper standards throughout the concession period. Expressing his personal position, he stated that such an institution should be open on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, since there is almost no Jewish population in its vicinity and there is no harm to the public in its operation.

We made it clear that we do not expect the municipality to subsidize the building, but we do expect to take care of the building’s envelope in everything related to the urban development of access roads, parking, beautification and physical rehabilitation of nearby houses, which are in a very bad condition. The CEO clarified that the municipality is committed to this and has resources for carrying out these tasks from the development budgets for residential units in the National Outline Plan. In addition, he made it clear that the Company would assist us with bureaucratic procedures as needed (for example, obtaining permits). So far things sounded great, but in our experience it is impossible for everything to be perfect. Where is the problem?

The CEO of the Economic Company explained that there is an ongoing legal dispute between the Hassuna family and the municipality. To his understanding, the correct way to transfer the structure to our disposal would be through allocation,[7] but as long as the issue of the expropriation of the structure remains unresolved, it is not possible to convene the allocation committee. Any commitment by the municipality for future allocation would constitute a de facto breach of the committee’s authority.

It was agreed by the parties that there was a common interest that we begin the work of developing the structure as soon as possible. On the other hand, we made it clear that we intended to invest a budget of hundreds of thousands of shekels in the structure already during the first months of work and we would not do so without a solid commitment that anchored our rights over time.

The CEO of the Economic Company suggested that the Company’s legal advisers try to formulate a legal wording, which would overcome the obstacles described above and allow us to ensure tenure of the structure and start work. It was agreed that they formulate a draft and present it to the legal advisers of the Council for the Conservation of Heritage Sites and the IIA.

 These things are written at the end of September 2021, almost a year since the meeting took place. So far, no legal formula has been found that would allow us to take over the structure and begin its restoration.

 

Bibliography

Ayalon, E. 2020. “The Hassuna Oil Factory in Lod.” In Lod: Diospolis, City of God. Collected Papers on the History and Archaeology of Lod, VI, edited by A. Shavit, 77-94. Lod. [in Hebrew]

Etgar, Y. 2020. “Engineering survey.” In The Hassuna Oil Factory: Program, engineering survey and conservation survey. Israeli Institute for Archaeology.

Weichrich, H. 1982. “The TOWS Matrix – A Tool for Situational Analysis.” Long Range Planning 15(2): 52–64.

Solar, G. 2020 “Conservation survey—the Hassuna Oil Factory in Lod.” In Lod: Diospolis, City of God. Collected Papers on the History and Archaeology of Lod, VI, edited by A. Shavit, 95-171. Lod. [in Hebrew]

Shehadeh, A. 2020. “The historical and economic background to the operation of the Hassuna Oil Factory in Lod.” In Lod: Diospolis, City of God. Collected Papers on the History and Archaeology of Lod, VI, edited by A. Shavit, 173-192. Lod. [in Hebrew]

 

[1] The division of the property into 64 parts was intended to facilitate its division among the various heirs, who held small parts of the property.

[2] In 2007, the court ruled on the composition of ownership of the property on the basis of lengthy conversations between the owners’ representatives, including the State.

[3] The late Musa and Ya‘qub were the sons of ‘Abd al-Hamid Hassuna, and their heirs own the latter’s share of the property.

[4] This review is not intended to deal with people but with processes, so we have chosen not to specify the details of most of the individuals involved.

[5] For an updated edition of the program from August 2020, see https:// www.ancientlod.com/press.

[6] Ran Hedvati passed away in May 2021 and unfortunately he will not get to see Hassuna Oil Factory after its restoration.

[7] The municipality is required to transfer public assets managed by it through a tender, or after discussion and approval by the Allocations Committee. The committee must ensure that the use of the structure serves the needs of the public.