Article - Landscapes
LANDSCAPES OF ISRAEL 1
Sedeh Boker, a kibbutz situated in the harsh, arid plains of the Negev, 40 kilometers south of Beersheba and 18 kilometers south-west of Yeroham, has seen many changes since May 1952, when 20 enterprising men and women, having finished their military service, decided to establish an agricultural and sheep-rearing settlement in this deserted spot. With high hopes and a prophetic look into the future, these dedicated youngsters went ahead with their ambitious plans. No pasture and practically no water was available, but they were determined to succeed. Adopting the principles of ancient Nabatean farming, by the autumn of the same year the settlers managed to grow sufficient hay to tide their herds over the winter.
Isolation and the barren, rocky land spelt hardship and danger from Arab marauders. However, constant work and the indomitable spirit shown by the pioneering group brought its reward; for, in addition to its famous new members - former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula, who joined the kibbutz in 1953 - in the spring of 1955 sixty energetic young Israelis came to share in the experience of making the desert bloom.
Since that time, Sedeh Boker has forged ahead. Although still based on sheep farming and agriculture, its members have branched out into industry and tourism. The kibbutz develops the minerals found in the surroundings while attending to the partially reconstructed Nabatean town of Avdat nearby and providing facilities for its tens of thousands of visitors.
With the foundation of the Institute for the Study and Research of the Negev, close to Sedeh Boker, in 1964, the kibbutz has taken on a new importance. The Institute incorporates the district high school, a teachers' seminary, a field school, a library and a small museum. It is a favored center for special study courses and for youth groups from abroad.
Like almost every other place in Israel, just below the surface of Sedeh Boker are indications of far earlier settlements. Investigations in the immediate vicinity have revealed the remains of several Israelite villages and fortresses. Rock paintings depicting hunting scenes, some of which are thought to date back some 2,000 years, have been observed, while mounds of prehistoric flint implements - knives, borers and scrapers - have been discovered on an adjoining hill.
Kinneret is the oldest of the Jewish colonies around the Sea of Galilee. Situated a few kilometers south of Tiberias, in the lush vegetation surrounding Israel's largest freshwater lake, Kinneret consists of two separate entities - the moshava, or agricultural village, and the kvutza, a type of communal settlement.
Both based on a combination of farming and fruit-growing, they lie serene among their carefully-tended orchards and fields. However, life was not always so tranquil in this part of Israel; for when the first resolute settlers arrived in June, 1906, there were no roads or other amenities, and roving bands of robbers were a menace to travellers and isolated homesteads. Two years later, in 1908, the kvutza, was founded.
In 1909, the moshava was set up some 2 kilometers away, on the south-western edge of the Sea of Galilee. Life was not easy for the original settlers, but the financial help contributed by Baron Edmond de Rothschild enabled them to overcome the initial difficulties. Today the inhabitants, of the village work an area of some 5,000 dunams, have fishing rights in the Lake, and live in comfortable houses, each with its own flower garden and fruit trees.
Moshava Kinneret was built on the site of ancient Sennabris ,mentioned by Josephus Flavius. Throughout the Talmudic era - the second and third centuries CE - Sennabris was an important town with a large Jewish population. Kvutzat Kinneret, too, has its far-off past. Excavations within the grounds have revealed Bronze Age graves with pottery, jewellery, ceremonial objects and small gold ornaments dating back over 4,000 years. Archaeologists believe that this was part of the cemetery of Beit Yerah - the "House of the Moon" - a famous Canaanite town whose impressive ruins adjoin the moshava on the sea shore.
Yafo (Jaffa) - ancient "Joppa" - is one of Israel's most colorful towns. Situated directly south of modern Tel Aviv, for thousands of years it was a separate entity, but since 1948 it has become an integral part of the metropolis of Tel Aviv-Yafo.
Despite the administrative combination of the two cities, Yafo has retained its unique character, emphasized by the tall clock tower in the main square, the winding lanes and lively markets. Yafo's origin is shrouded in mystery. Jewish legends claim that it was built by Japhet, Noah's son, but Greek folklore attributes its foundation to Queen Jopeia (Cassiopeia), whose daughter Andromeda was chained to the wave-swept rocks as a sacrifice to a sea monster.
Documents show that 4,000 years ago Yafo was already a busy port on the coastal road between Egypt and the northern empires. Captured by the Egyptians in the fifteenth century BCE, it was then a prosperous, walled Canaanite city which, 200 years later, was allocated by Joshua to the tribe of Dan. Remains of the ancient town were recently excavated on the hill, not far from the site of the Yafo Historical Museum. About 1000 BCE, under David and Solomon, it became the gateway from the sea to Jerusalem, through which materials were imported for Solomon's temple. In II Chronicles 2, 16, Hiram king of Tyre agrees to "cut wood out of Lebanon ... and bring it in floats by sea to Joppa".
Other biblical references tell how the prophet Jonah, sent by divine command to the wicked city of Nineveh, embarked from Joppa, and how Cyrus king of Persia gave Joppa as a free port to the Jews returning from exile. Under Hasmonean rule it had its own fleet - a fleet which in later years harassed the Roman merchant and transport ships.
The historian Josephus Flavius tells that under Roman rule Yafo was razed to the ground by Vespasian in an act of revenge against the Jewish pirates who intercepted the passage of the ships carrying wheat from the granaries of Egypt to Rome. However, it was soon resettled by Jews, and during Talmudic times was the home of sages and scholars. In the Byzantine era - from about the third to the sixth centuries CE - Yafo's star waned, but with the Crusader conquest it rose again until 1267, when the Mameluke ruler, Beybars, razed it as he did most of the coastal strongholds.
Four centuries of stagnation passed over Yafo, until in the late 1600s it began to re-awaken, and by 1799 was important enough for Napoleon to subjugate. With the start of Jewish immigration in the nineteenth century, settlement began anew and, using Yafo's primitive landing facilities, boatloads of intrepid pioneers reached the uninviting shores of the Promised Land. In the early nineteenth century the town had numbered a population of only 4,000. By 1909 its population had risen to 40,000, of whom some 8,000 were Jews.
Yafo quickly developed, and at the outbreak of World War I it was inhabited by 11,000 Jews and 23,000 Arabs. When Britain took over from the Turks in 1918, Jews continued to stream in, but the riots of 1921, 1929, 1936 and onwards forced them out to the comparatively new suburb of Ahuzat Bayit, soon to be affluent Tel Aviv.
After the War of Independence of 1948, Yafo was partially abandoned. Gradually, Jews returned to the old town; damage caused by heavy fighting was cleared away; roads were surfaced; buildings repaired, and the area around the quaint harbor was re-modeled as an artists' and tourist center, creating an attractive focus for visitors from Israel and abroad.
For more information on Yafo see Air Mail 1960; YafoAIR_MAIL_1960.
One of Israel's favorite coastal resorts, Netanyah lies in the Sharon plain. Cliffs border its golden, sandy beaches, adding shade and shelter from the sun and wind, while carefully tended public gardens, with an impressive white stone amphitheatre, form a pleasant promenade parallel to the shore. Within the town, fountains in the main square, broad avenues, and open spaces with green lawns and flowering bushes, create a cheerful holiday atmosphere.
Founded in 1929 as a citrus-growing moshava - or agricultural settlement - named for the American philanthropist Nathan Strauss, Netanyah is now the capital of the Sharon, with a population of over 150,000. The urban and marketing center for the entire region, it has a tremendous tourist trade, attracting both local and foreign visitors.
Netanyah's geographical position - half-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa - is ideal for a developing country town. It has good road and rail connections with the rest of Israel, an excellent climate, level terrain for easy construction, and a fertile hinterland providing fruit, vegetables and dairy supplies.
Another important factor in Netanyah's swift development was that within a few years of its modest beginning came the flight of Jews from Nazi Germany. Landing facilities were made available for "illegal" ships, and as the flood of refugees increased, and housing and employment became pressing problems, the town was quickly adapted to these new needs. The War of Independence of 1948 gave yet another impetus to Netanyah's economic progress, particularly to its light industries, of which diamond cutting and polishing is of special significance.
Today Netanyah is thriving. Busy streets are filled with shoppers and vacationers; gay tables on the sidewalks offer cold drinks, ice-cream and chilled melon; hotels with guests from Israel and abroad line the seafront, and building is going on apace.
Green and fruitful, En-Gedi is a welcome oasis in the Judean Desert. Located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, in wild and barren surroundings, En-Gedi - the "Spring of the Kid" - with its bubbling streams, has, from time immemorial, been a place of refuge and of human habitation.
Fed by rich springs, waterfalls cascade down the cave-pitted rocks overgrown with vines and creepers into clear rock-pools. Palms flourish in the hot, dry air, and rare plants, found nowhere else in the country, grow in this veritable Garden of Eden.
A Chalcolithic altar, at least 5,000 years old, stands on the highest point of the hill above the waterfalls. Nobody knows what this lovely spot was then called, but it is mentioned in Genesis 14, 7, as Hazezon-Tamar, or the "Pruning of the Date Palm", and already as Engedi in the book of Joshua, where it was allotted to the tribe of Judah. David took refuge there from Saul, and the Song of Solomon recalls with longing "the camphire and the vineyards of Engedi".
Excavations have revealed a settlement from about 500 BCE, with the Return to Zion under Ezra and Nehemiah, and in Second Temple times En-Gedi had a thriving industry producing balsam and luscious fruits. It was from here that the priests brought grapes for use in Temple rites.
During the Herodian and Roman eras, En-Gedi's fertile land was terraced and planted by the strange Jewish monastic sect known as the Essenes, whose headquarters were at nearby Qumran. Later it became an important center for Simon bar Kokhba's revolt against the Romans, and in the caves of neighboring Wadi Hever were found touching documents and letters written by the rebel leader to his lieutenants.
En-Gedi was re-settled soon after the crushing of the revolt in 135 CE, and contemporary writings indicate the existence of a prosperous Jewish community for centuries after. Remains of large buildings and of a fine synagogue that have been discovered confirmed that this was so.
Taken by an audacious beach landing from the Dead Sea in the War of Independence of 1948, the new En-Gedi was established in 1953, becoming a kibbutz in 1956. Its members cultivate the traditional vines and date palms, and harvest two or three crops a year of strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes and out-of-season vegetables for the winter market at home and abroad.
The opening of the coast road from Jericho, the decision to make the area a national park, and the fact that it includes youth hostels and field schools have transformed En-Gedi into a bustling, active center.
However, in the still hours of dawn and twilight, En-Gedi seems the same isolated spot where David hid from Saul, where Bar Kokhba's men rallied their dwindling forces, and where untold generations of farmers tilled the soil, producing the grapes, dates, myrrh, balsam and spices for which En-Gedi was famed.
Akko, or biblical Accho, is situated in Western Galilee, on the Mediterranean coast 15 kilometers south of Rosh ha-Nikra and about 10 kilometers north of Haifa. Akko's population of over 45,000 includes a significant minority of Moslems, Christians, Druze and Bahai, who live amicably together in this thriving modern town, where tree-lined streets and green, shady parks soften the noise of heavy traffic and factories.
One of the oldest cities known, Akko was first mentioned in documents of the nineteenth century BCE. Akko retained its importance for hundreds of years, and Assyrian testimonies of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE witness its position as a center of trade, industry and culture. In 333 BCE, Akko's people opened the gates of the city to Alexander of Macedon's army and, submitting without a fight, were rewarded by comparative independence. Following Alexander's bloodless victory, Akko was re-named Ptolemais after its Greek rulers, the Ptolemies - a name which clung to it for nearly a thousand years.
The Roman emperor, Vespasian, and Titus, his infamous son, brought their forces in through the harbor of Ptolemais in 66 CE, and from there attacked the Galilean strongholds of the Jews, slaying thousands during the campaign. In the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods Akko was a busy port, with a sizable Jewish community.
The Moslem conquest in 636 brought Akko's original name back into use, but the city itself dwindled. However, under the Crusaders, the town rose once again, and from 1104 until the Crusaders' final downfall in 1291 Akko was a great center, with a population of 50,000, and was the main link with the European countries. Some of the grandest structures revealed by excavations date from that era.
Akko's vicious defeat at the hands of Mameluke sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf left the town in ruins, and it remained small and insignificant until the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Druze chieftain, Fakir e-Din began its restoration. Less than a hundred years later, Daher el-Omar rebuilt the city walls, and the Albanian, Ahmed el-Jazzar, added the elaborate baths (now the Municipal Museum); the enormous mosque and courtyard, adorned by columns from the ruins of Ashkelon and Caesarea; and the Khan of the Pillars.
One sidelight on Akko's history is Napoleon's siege of 1799, which lasted two months and ended with Napoleon's withdrawal. Akko, like the rest of the country, remained under Turkish rule until captured by the British in 1918. Another 30 years saw it taken by the Israel Defence Army during the War of Independence, and from then, Akko has never looked back.
The Judean Hills, part of Israel's rocky spine, run north and south, parallel to and between the coastal plain and the Jordan valley.
These highlands form the watershed separating the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, and the two aspects of the Judean Hills - the west and the east - present very different pictures. On the west, gentle slopes and fertile valleys descend to the chalky foothills bordering the coastal plain, while on the east is the Judean Desert, with steep inclines scarred by deep ravines. In winter, these carry torrential flood waters which sweep away the surface soil and loose stones, leaving behind them only barren rock.
The resultant saddle-shaped depression greatly influenced Jerusalem's destiny, for it created a pass through the mountains to the lands beyond the Jordan. Already on the "Way of the Fathers" - the hilltop highway from the Northern Empires through Samaria and Beersheba to Egypt - Jerusalem became a junction linking East and West, and a center of trade, commerce, and learning.
Differences between the two sides of the Judean Hills were not confined to landscape, climate and rock formation but extended to human geography. On the west, through the ages, there have been established settlements. Here the elements were favorable, for the hill slopes were sufficiently shallow to permit terracing; there were numerous springs, and the winter rain fell steadily, not in fierce, swirling streams that could wash away the good earth.
Conversely, on the arid eastern side lived the nomads - the shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats; not laying roots, but ever wandering from one of the few springs to the other, in search of pasture. The trackless desert with its caves became a place of refuge for those fleeing from persecution, like David who escaped from Saul and "dwelt in the strongholds of Engedi" (I Samuel 23,29).
Others sought the peace and tranquillity of the desert in order to meditate undisturbed or to commune with God in solitude. Best known were the first century BCE Essenes, who lived in Qumran and left a heritage of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.
Gan ha-Sheloshah - the "Garden of the Three" - lies at the foot of Mount Gilboa, in the Beth-Shean valley. Named for Aharon Atkin, David Mossensohn and Haim Sturman, members of the Haganah (the Jewish defense force in Palestine until 1948), who were killed by a mine laid in the vicinity during the Arab riots of 1938, the place has become one of the most beautiful national parks in the country.
Landscaped around the Sakhne Pool, now called Breichat Amal, its smooth green lawns, dotted with flowering shrubs, stretch over a wide area sloping down to the water's edge. Tall, leafy trees offer shelter from the glare of the sun, while picnickers and bathers, resting after their exertions, welcome the opportunity of relaxing under the shady boughs.
Many a pleasant hour may be spent in Gan ha-Sheloshah, for in addition to its natural charm, the lower reaches of the stream pass ancient structures - agricultural. installations, water mills, conduits, stores and dwellings. Nir David, the adjoining kibbutz which cares for the tourist services of the park, has a small museum of archaeological finds made in the area.
Ideal for good swimmers, the deep, transparent and comfortably warm waters of the Sakhne Pool are constantly renewed by a fresh-water spring flowing from an underwater cave.
A dam, recently rebuilt and extended, keeps the water level stable, its overflow creating a waterfall. Gentle in summer, but full and turbulent after the winter rains, the waterfall splashes into a shallow pool and continues as a meandering brook, eventually joining the Harod river.
Deep in the heart of the Negev, in the Zin Desert, is Ein Avedat. Its green, gushing fountains, miraculously emerging from the solid rock in the heat of the bleak southern desert, are one of Israel's most amazing sights.
The ancient Nabateans brought water to the town of Avedat by sinking a vertical shaft through the ground to the spring's water level. The well-shaft can still be seen at the foot of the mound, near the bath-house.
For a closer view of Ein Avedat and its immediate surroundings - now a national park - an approach road leads from Kibbutz Sedeh Boker to the broad section of the wadi. Through wild and lovely terrain, the floor of the creek winds between brilliantly-white, sheer scarps to a crystal-clear, oblong pond. Beyond it, the canyon seems to narrow and become deeper and deeper until a second, rounder pool is reached.
The track goes no further, and the upper pool of Ein Avedat, with its rich spring, is almost inaccessible. Its abundant overflow, however, spills along the wadi, giving the area of Ein Avedat an extraordinary beauty.
Snow-capped Mount Hermon rises to almost 3,000 meters above sea level. Known by the Arabs as Jebel esh Sheikh - the "Mountain of the Elder", from its white, hoary head - this great rock mass stretches northwards from the north-eastern tip of Israel, where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.
Although only the southern slopes of this gigantic massif come under Israel's jurisdiction, Mount Hermon's presence strongly influences Israel's climate and water supply. Its almost permanent glacial covering brings with it cold atmospheric conditions which cool down the oppressive heat of the fertile Huleh valley, creating ideal surroundings for agriculture. Its heavy rainfall - 1,500 millimeters, or 60 inches - annually provides the Jordan river with most of its water, and helps to fill Israel's springs, rivulets and underground storage lakes. Israel's area of Mount Hermon, called the Hermon Shoulder, or Katef, includes a 2,200-meter-high snow-clad peak, where skiing is possible for part of the year. Facilities for this popular sport have been developed. A highway reaches the nearby Druze village of Majdal Shams, where would-be skiers can rest and refresh themselves and, if they wish, take the ski-lift cable car to the summit, 1,000 meters above.
This spectacular region also boasts ruined Crusader castles, like the impressive Nimrod Castle at the approaches to the heights; tumbling mountain streams; picturesque Druze villages and isolated Israeli settlements.
The Bible first refers to Mount Hermon in Deuteronomy 3:8-9, where it tells of "Mount Hermon; which Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion; and the Amorites call it Shenir". Mentioned frequently in the book of Joshua, one story relates how the famous warrior took "all the land of Goshen ... even unto Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon under Mount Hermon" Joshua 11:17.
Yet another reference is found in I Chronicles 5:23, describing how "the half tribe of Manasseh dwelt in the land: they increased from Bashan unto Baal-hermon and Shenir, and unto Mount Hermon". The recurring use of the word Baal, signifying a pagan god, as in Baal-gad and Baal-hermon, serves to emphasize in what reverence this mighty mountain was held by the Canaanite tribes, who were not driven out by Joshua's forces but "dwell among the Israelites until this day" Joshua 13:13.
"The Fjord" is located 20 kilometers south of Eilat, on the western bank of the Gulf of Eilat. Known by the Arabs as Mersah Murah - the "Bay of the Flowing Water" - and often called by Israelis Ha-Mifratz Ha-ne'elam - the "Hidden Bay" - the inlet penetrates for over 600 meters into the land mass.
Its tranquil summer beauty is enhanced by the blue water gently lapping the broad beach, which is covered by coarse-grained sand and small stones of many attractive colors. Wintertime, however, presents a different outlook, for sometimes waves up to 10 meters or more wash over the shore of the Fjord and sweep onto the coastal road running from Eilat along the eastern edge of the Sinai peninsula to Sharm esh Sheikh.
Coral Island, with its tiny harbor and impressive ruined castles, is strategically placed in the Gulf of Eilat, opening onto the Red Sea. Often known as Jezirat Faroun - "Pharaoh's Island" - reflecting age-old ties with Egypt, Israel's southern neighbor, it was also called Ile de Graye by the Crusaders, from a mispronunciation of the island's Arabic name of el-Quiriye - the "Little Town".
A granite mass, 300 meters long from north to south, and 150 meters across at its widest point, Coral Island lies some 14 kilometers south-west of Eilat. Easily reached by a short boat ride, the great defence ramparts are already visible from the landing stage, as is a small lagoon with adjacent storehouses and a narrow inlet, navigable only at high tide. There are square towers on either side of the inlet, and at intervals along the encircling walls.
Most of the building was concentrated on the hillocks on both ends of the islet, particularly on the higher northern one which rises 30 meters above sea level. On this northern hillock, the castle's shell still stands several meters high, and among the later additions, a well built, vaulted bath-house and a mosque can be seen. Numerous water cisterns supplied the needs of the inhabitants, for there are no natural springs on the island, while a quarry provided stones for construction.
The history of Coral Island delves deep into the past. Whoever held this important spot controlled the harbor town of Eilat - biblical Ezion-geber - and the caravan trails linking Egypt and Arabia with Phoenicia and the empires of the north. Three thousand years ago, King David realized its value and seized it from the Edomites, while "Solomon made a navy of ships in Ezion-geber, which is beside Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea" (I Kings 9:26). It remained in Jewish hands for over two centuries until "Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath to Aram, and drove the Jews from Elath" (II Kings 16:6).
With the Byzantines, trade and commerce was again developed, reinforced by the thousands of pilgrims journeying to the Holy Shrines. Their interests were menaced by the Persians, who fought bitterly to hold on to the ancient commercial routes and to open new ones.
Remnants of these two periods are found upon the island, although the bulk of the building still to be seen is Crusader with Mameluke additions. In 1115 the Crusaders, under King Baldwin I, fortified the Ile de Graye to safeguard their territories and the stations on the Pilgrims' Road. Barely 55 years passed before it was conquered by Saladin, rebuilt and fortified anew, but was soon abandoned. Now it is only an historic site, visited by excursionists; occasionally by fishermen, and by clouds of wheeling seagulls, whose mournful, penetrating cries echo through the crumbling walls.
Haifa, Israel’s main seaport, is situated between Haifa Bay and Mount Carmel. Tranquil blue waters fill the capacious bay where liners, tankers and cargo boats ride at anchor, waiting to load or discharge their various shipments. Almost adjoining the port, the Carmel range rises in three well-marked levels - the low foothills, the medium, gently-curving heights, and the high mountains still bearing some of their natural growth of stone-pine, thorny yellow gorse, and sweet-scented, gray-green shrubs.
Before the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, this part of the coast was settled by Phoenicians, who lived in small villages, two of which were Shikmonah, on the shore immediately south of present-day Haifa, and Salmona, now covered by Bat Galim, one of the city's suburbs.
When, in the third century CE - the Talmudic, or late Roman period - Haifa became known as such, it was overwhelmingly Jewish, and famed for its sailors, craftsmen and scholars. A focus of Jewish learning until the Moslem invasion of 636 and even afterwards, it was the home of many rabbis and sages.
The year 1100 CE saw Jews and Arabs fighting side by side, bravely but unsuccessfully resisting an attack on Haifa by Crusader forces, who swept in and slaughtered the entire Jewish community. Re-fortified and re-named "Cayphas" it was a Crusader stronghold until taken by the Mameluke sultan, Beybars, in 1265.
For 500 years, Haifa remained an insignificant hamlet, until rebuilt by the governor of Galilee, bedouin sheikh Daher el- Omar in the mid-1700s.
Surviving Napoleon's abortive attack of 1799 and the 1831 to 1840 occupation by Egyptian Ibrahim Pasha, Haifa began its modern history. By 1854 it had a growing population of over 2,000, and its inclusion in the railway network in 1905 spelt further progress, for here was a seaport offering transport by both rail and road to all parts of the country and beyond. The transfer of power from the Turkish to the British government at the close of World War I, when Haifa's citizens numbered 20,000,with 15% Jews, gave extra impetus to Haifa's progress, and so did the 1948 War of Independence.
Haifa today is the third largest city in Israel, with about 255,000 inhabitants including over 10,000 Moslems, Druze, Christians and members of the Bahai sect, whose world center is on the Carmel. Although heavily industrialized, it retains the charm and homely atmosphere of a far smaller town.
Around the harbor area are concentrated all facilities for the handling of passenger and heavy cargo, as well as the oil refineries, factories, huge silos for grain, and the workshops and stores needed for the smooth running of this enormous complex. Inland, on the Carmel's lower slopes, are shops, light industries and residential districts. Higher up is the golden-domed Bahai temple, set in elaborate formal gardens, while luxurious villas, hotels and restaurants climb to the crest of the hills, where the buildings of the Technion and of Haifa University stand.
Luxuriant, semi-tropical undergrowth and thick foliage in the midst of bubbling rivulets characterize the nature reserve of Tel Dan. Situated north of the Huleh valley, close to the former Syrian border, this lovely spot is now freely accessible and has become a popular focus for excursionists and holidaymakers from Israel and abroad.
On one edge of the reserve is the archaeological mound of ancient Dan which, during the time of the biblical Judges, was established by the tribe of Dan. Excavations on the mound have unearthed many extraordinary finds from this period - nearly 3,000 years ago.
Copious springs producing as much as 40,000 cubic meters an hour, well up from the heart of the hillock and form the main source of the River Dan, one of the three tributaries of the Jordan. These are augmented by more streams gushing from among a group of massive terebinths, known by the Arabs as Tel el Kadi - the "Mound of the Judge" - which corresponds to the Hebrew word Dan, meaning to judge.
Although its area is small, the nature reserve has been carefully set out to provide much interest. A picnic area is located at the entrance, which is through a copse of eucalyptus trees planted in 1939 by the founders of nearby Kibbutz Dan. A clearly marked track ensures that the visitor sees every corner of this well-watered garden. The path meanders through a paradise of rare trees and shrubs, creepers, ferns and mosses, crossing the brooks by footbridges or stepping stones. Silver poplars rustle with the slightest breeze; an oriental plane tree soars up to a height of 15 meters, while the Syrian ash and Tabor oak lift their heads above the variegated greenery of the laurel, the lotus shrub and the ever-present rhamnus.
Moist warmth, food and protection have transformed the nature reserve into a home for a variety of wild life. Lizards bask in the sun; birds chirp and whistle from the treetops; small woodland creatures can be heard scuttling in the fallen leaves, while the cool water is alive with movement.
On the west of the reserve a curious phenomenon can be seen, for the streams are sucked into an opening in the bedrock, to appear again a short distance to the south. Another point of interest - this time man-made - is the 150-year-old flour mill activated by water-power. Actually in use until 1948, it has now been reconstructed and may be set in motion under proper supervision, concluding a memorable visit to the Nature Reserve of Tel Dan.
Brekhat Ram - the "High Pool" - lies in the northern Golan, near the Druze village of Mas'ada. Oval in shape, the pool measures about 900 by 600 meters, and dips abruptly to a depth of over 9 meters. It is strange to see this expanse of shining water set 1,000 meters above sea level, adding color and beauty to the majestic but somewhat barren landscape. Despite the fact that one section of the crater rim is of chalk, not volcanic basalt, most authorities believe that the water basin is the mouth of an extinct volcano.
The waters of Brekhat Ram are cool and sweet, with a very low salt content, and the surface level varies only by around a meter between summer and winter. Never overflowing, always tranquil, this mysterious lake with a capacity of two million cubic meters seems to be on the water-course between Mount Hermon and the Banias. Springs gushing from the Hermon foothills apparently feed the underwater sources of Brekhat Ram, which through faults in the lake bed in turn feed the copious streams of the Banias.
Mentioned ever and over again in ancient writings, one of the stories of Brekhat Ram is a Talmudic legend which claims that the waters of Hamat Gader, the hot springs of Tiberias and the lake of Brekhat Ram are remnants of the biblical Flood!
PLAIN OF ZEBULUN
Palm trees flourish in the warm humid air of the plain of Zebulun near Akko. Adaptable and decorative, the date palm grows best in well-watered, sandy soil, like that of the desert oasis, or not far from the sea, where there is abundant groundwater and a reasonable amount of heat. Some varieties thrive in land with a high salt content, and along the southern shore of the Dead Sea are extensive groves of palms producing large quantities of excellent dates.
Those in and around Akko, however, are taller and more graceful than the palm trees at the Dead Sea. Akko's palms are widespread and beautiful, adding much to the town’s exotic, Middle Eastern atmosphere. They grow in the seventeenth- century mosque of Jazzar Pasha, the cruel governor of the district at that time; they grow in the ancient walled fortress-citadel, now a public garden; they grow in the parks and in the courtyards of Akko's historic khans. Plantations of palms, once cultivated along the banks of the Na'aman river, stretch from the town's southern boundary to the Crusader mills of Kurdaneh, some 7 kilometers to the south.
AQUEDUCT NEAR AKKO
Jazzar Pasha's Aqueduct dominates the landscape near Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta'ot. Built in the late seventeenth century by Ahmed Pasha, governor of the district of Sidon, it was perhaps the most remarkable engineering project carried out in this area during the 400-year-long period of Turkish rule over the Holy Land.
Ahmed, nicknamed Jazzar or the Butcher because of his cruel, ruthless character, was a strong personality and an excellent administrator, who made the seaport town of Akko his capital and his home. Akko had few natural springs, so to remedy this deficiency, he erected the aqueduct, which drew fresh water from the copious springs of Kabri, 13 kilometers to the north. Until recently, the aqueduct was believed to be the original one, but investigations have proved that the plaster-lined conduits leading the water out from Kabri and for at least 5 kilometers beyond, date back to Roman times. As seen today, the aqueduct begins as a canal at ground level. Then, in order to preserve the gentle incline needed to convey the stream to its destination, it is supported on pillars, some up to 10 meters high, like those bordering the Arab village of Mazra'a. Soon after passing Mazra'a the land rises and the pillars become shorter. Near Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta'ot the soil level dips and the channel again rests on towering columns before entering Akko.
Jazzar Pasha's Aqueduct, largely destroyed in 1799 when Napoleon attacked the city of Akko, was restored in 1805 and later kept in good order by continual repairs and renovations. It supplied most of Akko's drinking water until blown up for security reasons during the War of Independence in 1948.
No longer in use, its picturesque columns and arches remain as a spectacular memorial to one of the few developments initiated by the Turkish regime in the land of Israel.
The Aravah, extending from the southernmost tip of the Dead Sea to Eilat, is part of the Great Rift Valley. Cutting through walls of rock, this bleak, semi-desert canyon, 165 kilometers long and up to 20 kilometers in width, separates Jordanian territory on the east from that of Israel on the west. Red Nubian sandstone forms the bulk of the steep cliffs on the Jordanian side, giving the land its ancient name of Edom - in Hebrew, red - while on the west, the gentler slopes are far more varied in color, shape and structure.
Three natural divisions - northern, central and southern - make up the Aravah valley. Each section has a number of springs, which are extremely important in this area with an average annual rainfall of only 50 millimeters and a hot, dry climate. Generally speaking, the springs nearer the Dead Sea and its winter overflow tend to be more saline, while those further south are progressively sweeter.
Israel has made good use of its limited water resources in the Aravah, utilizing them for permanent settlements and temporary camps. Superhuman efforts have been made by national bodies to encourage such settlements, particularly those engaged in agriculture. Government agencies and the Jewish National Fund laid the infrastructure of roads, soil reclamation and basic buildings. Even in the northern section, with perhaps the most difficult climatic conditions, the colony of Ne'ot ha-Kikkar was established in 1961. Its members specialize in cattle raising, and have also succeeded in growing date palms irrigated by highly brackish spring water.
Ein Hatzevah, a copious spring and luxuriant oasis in the Central Aravah, is believed to be located on a huge underground lake, as yet untapped. It has its own special history of Nabatean, Roman and Byzantine occupation, and a village called Hatzevah, was established nearby. Also in the Central Aravah is Be'er Zofar, close to the spring of Be'er Zofar, where Nahal - Israel's Pioneer Fighting Youth - founded a group. Phosphates have been found near Ein Yahav in the Central Aravah, while further south is Be'er Menuha, an oasis and road junction, formerly a laborers' work camp.
King Solomon's copper mines, now re-activated at Timna, are an exciting part of the Southern Aravah, where several thriving units are bringing fertility back to the long-neglected soil. Kibbutz Keturah was founded in 1973.
Water-rich Yotvatah was established in 1951 on the ancient water source of Ein Radian, which was passed by the Children of Israel on their journey through the wilderness. An Israelite citadel, a Roman fortress, and a temple to Diana, pagan goddess of hunting, were unearthed there. Be'er Orah was set up in 1950 on the spring called in Arabic "the Well of Darkness", due to its high magnesium content, which caused sickness. Here were found Roman-Byzantine melting plants connected with the Timna copper mines. Eilot was founded in 1962 and Grofit in 1971. All added their unstinted labor and social ideals to the prosperity of the Aravah.
Past and present mingle in this strange, torrid strip of land. King David conquered it from the Edomites, then both he and his son Solomon used it as a trade route to their port of Eilat.
After a long period of Edomite rule - it was recaptured by them in the eighth century BCE - the Nabateans came into power and developed the Aravah conserving its water resources, planting, and promoting commerce. The Romans, then the Byzantines, continued the same policy, but with the coming of the Arabs in 638 CE, the Aravah, like most of Palestine, declined. Only with the renewal of Jewish faith and enterprise did the barren Aravah again begin to "blossom as the rose" (Isaiah 35:1).
BEACH AT EILAT
The shoreline south of Eilat pulsates with interest and activity. In this port area ships of many types and sizes, flying a variety of foreign flags, ride at anchor. Cargo boats carry raw material and finished goods through the Gulf of Eilat and the Straits of Tiran into the Red Sea, and beyond to the great markets of the world.
Capacious tankers bring crude oil - the lifeblood of every modern nation - to be processed in the Haifa refineries. Sailing boats paint a gay picture against the blue sky and even bluer sea with their bright-hoed sails, while a little way from the commercial sector, glass-bottomed boats take visitors over a fairyland of corals and fantastically formed tropical fish. By snorkeling or skin-diving a closer look may be obtained of these natural wonders.
Southwards down the coast, opposite the Coral Beach, comfortable hotels rose in the 1970s in the wake of the new motorway, once the Darb el Haj - the Moslem pilgrim road to Mecca. Incidentally, a short distance inland from here, along bleak Wadi Tueba, rock peckings of Greek and Nabatean writing and of a menorah and other Jewish symbols have been discovered, proof that the ancient caravan routes passed along the self-same path.
Just beyond the former green-line boundary is the wide, sandy Taba Beach, formerly the site of an Egyptian outpost. Further along, the ruined castle-citadel on "Coral Island", also called "Jezirat Farun" - "Pharaoh's Island" - can be seen; then the tranquil inlet known as the "Fjord." Close by the Fjord is the hot water pool Birket Assia - a rare phenomenon found only in a very few other places in the world.
For more on Eilat see Air Mail 1960; EilatAIR_MAIL_1960. For more on Coral Island and the Fjord see also Landscapes of Israel; Coral Island and Ha-Mifratz ha-Ne'elam.
Zefat (Safed) is one of Israel's four Holy Cities, the others being Jerusalem, Tiberias and Hebron. Situated in Upper Galilee, on a hilltop nearly 900 meters above sea level, it looks out upon a breathtaking vista stretching from the Sea of Galilee to the snowy peak of Mount Hermon.
A favorite holiday resort, Safed's quaint winding lanes and mediaeval synagogues, combined with its comfortable hotels and friendly guest-houses, have made it a magnet for summer visitors. A major attraction is the Artists' Colony, where many sculptors and painters have their studios. The Glicenstein Art Museum adjoins the colony, and Safed also boasts a museum commemorating over 400 years of printing, for it was here, in 1578, that the first Hebrew book was printed in the Holy Land.
During Second Temple times Safed was one of the Beacon Hills which passed on the tidings of the birth of the New Moon, given out from Jerusalem. When the Jews of Galilee joined the revolt against the Romans in 66 CE, Josephus Flavius, historian and military commander, fortified Safed. The remains of his ancient citadel are incorporated in the hillcrest park in the town center.
After the fall of Jerusalem, Safed became the home of many notable and learned families, and a considerable Jewish community grew and lasted for centuries. The Crusaders transformed it into an important stronghold with a well-established civilian population, partly Jewish. However, from 1188, when it surrendered to Saladin, until its final conquest by Mameluke sultan Beybars, Safed shuttled between Moslem and Christian rule.
Beybars made Safed the capital of Galilee, and eventually the town revived. Jews returned there in comparatively large numbers, and were joined by Spanish refugees fleeing the Inquisition, and by immigrants from Eastern European seeking their Jewish heritage.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw Safed blossoming as a center of learning and mysticism. Famous names appear in the city's annals - the Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Lurie, popularly known as Ha'Ari; Rabbi Joseph Caro, scholar and interpreter of the law, who wrote the Shulhan Arukh (or the "Set Table" - see Shulhan ArukhSHULHAN_ARUKH); and others equally illustrious.
As Turkish administration grew weaker, Safed's eminence declined. The Turks were unable to maintain law and order, and the country became a prey to marauding bands. Trade and commerce diminished, and the catastrophic earthquake of 1837 resulted in the death of over 4,000 souls.
At the outbreak of the 1948 hostilities some 12,000 Arabs and 1,500 Jews were living in Safed. The Arabs were forced to abandon their initial attack and run away, and since then the town has made steady progress. Today, thriving Safed has a population of 24,000 Jews, and is enjoying a period comparable only to the prosperous days of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for the town has developed into the urban center of Eastern Upper Galilee.
Nazerat Illit - Upper Nazareth - rises high above biblical Nazareth, some 30 kilometers south-east of Haifa. Established in 1957, this practically all-Jewish townlet of Lower Galilee is located on the hills overlooking its sister town hallowed in Christian lore - the home of Mary, where Jesus spent his childhood and adolescence. Here, in Jesus' day, was a small but thriving Jewish city which flourished until the Arab invasion in the seventh century CE.
One of the most promising of Israel's development projects, Nazerat Illit has become the administrative hub of northern Israel. Planned for an eventual population of 75,000, it was provided from the start with good roads, good housing and other facilities.
The 50 pioneering families found homes ready for them, as well as a nucleus of schools and essential services such as health, education and commerce. Recreation became available at its large football stadium, sports clubs, community and youth centers, and evening classes for adults. Synagogues and an immigrant absorption center were built.
Backed by Governmental and Jewish Agency authorities, its early days were made smoother by the fact that the housing provided was more than adequate; that roads were already laid and transport reasonably efficient.
A chocolate factory; a textile plant; engineering firms and a number of smaller industrial enterprises provided employment. More than 70% of the town's pioneering citizens were immigrants from Eastern Europe, artisans, craftsmen and high-school graduates who came with apt skills. Another 10% or so came from Arabic-speaking lands, and the remainder were veteran Israelis.
By the 1970s very few inhabitants had left the town, and the large number of would-be settlers who could not be absorbed for lack of accommodation, was a sure sign that economically all was well. Nazerat Illit has continued to thrive, its outstanding geographical position probably adding to its stability. The fact that it is so near to ancient Nazareth, with its Christian and Jewish traditions, its beauty and its special character, has given the town a sense of unbroken history lacking in the background of the majority of development towns in Israel.