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Geography of Israel: The Jezreel Valley

The Jezreel Valley is home to some of the most fertile farmland in Israel and it is a place with wonderful vistas. The agricultural heartland of the country; it is an area rich in natural springs.

While there are other valleys in Israel, in Hebrew the Jezreel Valley is often referred to simply as “Ha’emek - The Valley”. This is a great area for hiking, picnicking – enjoying nature and learning about both modern and biblical history.

It has been a long time since I called this area my home. But, if the saying “Home is Where the Heart Is” is true, then this is still my home. For me, this land where my grandfather and grandmother first met and fell in love is as close as it gets to paradise on earth.

The valley got its name from the biblical city of Yizre’el that served as a wintering place during the time of the monarchy. The city flourished under the reign of King Omri and was ultimately destroyed by Tiglath-Pileser III, in 732 BCE.

Until the early 1920s when the first Jewish settlements were established in the area, almost 30 years before the birth of the new nation, The Jezreel Valley had many swamps.

In September 1921 Kibbutz Ein Harod was established near the Spring of Harod, it was the second Jewish settlement in the area. During the 1920s there were six Jewish settlements in the valley.

As early as 1891 the man who would later be known as the “Redeemer of the Valley”, Yehoshua Hankin began negotiating for the purchase of 40,000 acres (160,000 dunam) at a price 16 Franc per dunam. The deal fell through and the sale was delayed until 1909. The first parcel of land purchased was 2,375 acres (9,500 dunam) and it was used to establish Merhavia, the first settlement in the valley, in 1911.

The Turks exiled Hankin and the major land purchase in the valley, 17,500 acres (70,000 dunam) was only concluded in 1920 after his return. Hankin is buried on Mt. Gilboa overlooking the land that he liberated. Moshav Kfar Yehoshua is named after him and serves as a living memorial to his deeds.

While in biblical times the primary cities mentioned in the valley were Megiddo, Yizre’el and Beit Shean in modern times Afula and Beit Shean are the primary towns in the area. Yizre’el is no longer a city, but rather a kibbutz established by demobilized Palmach soldiers in 1948. And the Megiddo of today is a tel that is home to a hoard of archaeological ruins.

Aside from the great battle between Saul and the Philistines, the incident involving the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite (I Kings 21) occurred in the area as well. King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard and asked Naboth to give the vineyard to him (the King also said he would replace it with another vineyard or pay for it). Naboth replied by saying, “The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.” Ahab was not pleased, but it was his wife Jezebel who was really enraged. She had Naboth stoned to death and then told her husband to go claim what was rightly his. The intersection of the road that leads down from tel Yizre’el (Route # 675) and connects to Route # 71, the Afula Beit Shean road is aptly named Navot Junction (Navot is the Hebrew pronunciation of Naboth).

It was at the Spring of Harod, at the foothills of the Gilboa, that Gideon chose the warriors that would help him defeat the Midianites. And according to the Book of Revelation (the New Testament) Armageddon is located the Jezreel Valley.

Aside from its agricultural significance the Jezreel Valley was an important thoroughfare even in ancient times as it presented an easy route from the ocean in the west to the mountains east of the Jordan River and to Egypt. It was along the route mentioned in the bible as the Way to the Sea (Isaiah 9:1) and part of what was later known by the Romans as the Via Maris, the ancient route from Egypt to Mesopotamia. The importance of the valley in terms of transportation continues to this day, as many trucks from Amman, Jordan travel through it on their way the port of Haifa.

Many of the kibbutzim and moshavim in the area offer Bed & Breakfast type guestrooms. These are not necessarily luxurious accommodations, but in most cases they certainly offer more than the Spartan image that one might think of. Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa, a religious kibbutz right on Mt. Gilboa will be of interest to those who keep kosher. Kibbutz Ein Harod Ichud is in the process of building wooden A-frame units (furnished right down to a jacuzzi) that command a wonderful view of the valley and the Gilboa (the units are scheduled for completion sometime in April-May).

Note: Jezreel is pronounced Yizra’el in Hebrew. The ‘im’ suffix indicates plural, therefore kibbutzim is the plural of kibbutz.

Sources: Copyright © 2000 Gems in Israel All rights reserved. Reprinted with Permission.