Follow the (Yellow Brick) Road

Randomly stormy weather is marking the end of our winter here in Israel.  Thankfully, I left real tornado country behind in South Dakota, but Israel’s history occurs on her many ancient roads.

Today’s roads are very clear.  There are curbs or shoulders on the sides, painted lines and/or a median in the center.  In antiquity, however, roads were more like light from a flashlight.  There would be a more heavily traveled path in the center, with the wearing down of the surroundings tapering off with the distance from the center, much like light from a flashlight gets weaker the farther from the central beam you get.

The first to put effort into defining roads were the Romans.  When their legions moved into an area, one of their tasks was building roads.  Not only were defined roads necessary for moving troops, but well defined, well kept roads were a source of income.  Tolls were expected if you wanted some protection and maintenance of the road. The town of Abu Ghosh outside of Jerusalem had as its main source of income during Ottoman times the collection of taxes on the Jerusalem-Jaffa (now Tel Aviv) highway, Route 1.

Like (almost) all roads in Israel, Route 1 follows an ancient path. It was not the main road between the port city of Jaffa and the main city of Jerusalem – that honor was granted to today’s Route 443 – the Beit Horon ascent.  Almost 1000 years ago, however, a new force appeared on Israel’s roads – Christian pilgrims.  The presence of several important Christian sites on Route 1 resulted in much more traffic there and changed Route 1 into the major road leading to Jerusalem from the southern coast.

Although Route 1 was paved first during the Roman period, the specific path of the road changed throughout time.  I noticed this when I was doing some research on the battles for Latrun during the Independence War of 1948.  During 1948, whoever controlled the British Tiggart fort burma road pavingand the adjacent monastery would control the road and the water pumping station in the area.  They would control all supply and access to Jerusalem, the heart of the country. Fierce battles took place, lives were lost, and ultimately Israel did not win out.  In order to supply Jerusalem, a back road, the Burma Road was built during the war.

What was confusing to me when looking out over the roads and structures as they exist today, and comparing this to maps was that the road seems to have changed paths.  Today, the road is on the east of the fort and monastery, but according to maps and documents and maps from 1948, the situation then seems to have been exactly opposite.

While trying to clear up this discrepancy, I discovered that, indeed, this was the case.  During the British mandate, the main road from Jaffa to Jerusalem followed the path of Nahal Nachshon in this area, going to the west of the buildings.  During the period between 1948 and 1967, however, this road was out of commission, sitting in Jordanian territory.  The Jordanians who wanted to reach Jerusalem went via Ramallah.  Israelis desiring to reach Jerusalem went through a road system which is now broken up into Rt. 44 and Rt. 38 to Shaar HaGai, and only then on Rt. 1.

During this same time period, a separate road system was built from Tel Aviv-Jaffa to Lydda airport.  This road follows the path of Nahal Ayalon, as it does today, forming the western part of Route 1.  After the Six Day War, the road to the airport was extended to connect to Rt. 1 and Jerusalem at Shaar HaGai.  During this time, instead of going on the west side of the fort and the monastery, it was more direct to build the road to the east, where it sits today.

Once I realized that the “original” Rt. 1 should be to the west of the monastery, I got into my jeep to check it out.  Shortly after passing the turn to the monastery, one continues on a hardly developed dirt road.  Not more than 50 m past the pavement, you see clearly the British curb markers of the original 1948 Rt. 1! Fabulous!  I found the not-quite-yellow, not-quite-brick Roman/Crusader/Ottoman/British road!


A Castle of Wonderous Beauty

Last week’s Places in Your Neighborhood trip took me (again) to the Rosh HaAyin area.  The sites are fabulous and I don’t get tired of exploring them and showing off the interesting corners in the Land of Israel again and again.  Every group is different and brings their own questions and points of view to the tour so I am always challenged to make that unique encounter between the group and the site.

We got to discussing Crusaders.  (Logical, since we were standing in a fortress – Migdal Tzedek –  first built during Crusader times – Mirabel.)  Crusaders came to the Holy Land in 1099 C.E. There seems to be several details missing from many people’s vision of what it meant to be a Crusader.  The Crusaders as an entity were in the Holy Land for almost 200 YEARS.  Think about it.  If the Crusader period were to be ending in the United States now, the first  Crusaders would have arrived during the 1812 war against Great  Britain.  The Crusaders were as  firmly entrenched in the Holy Land as the vast majority of Americans are entrenched in America.  They never even remembered a  different life.

Going along with that, Crusaders had families,  wives, children.  These family members were often from European  stock – so it is not just the male knights who are coming as part of the various crusades, but they are bringing the whole  family. Their sons and daughters marry each other and we have  developing a sub-culture of European Christians in a Middle Eastern, Muslim world. This pattern can be seen in immigrant neighborhoods today. Cultural groups tend to marry from within not only because of familiarity, but also because of shared  norms.

One such “intermarriage” influenced the ownership in the Crusader castle above Rosh HaAyin.  As the Crusaders were a normal community in all respects, they did not always interact in a positive way; Crusaders also had internal fights.  One of these conflicts came up over the castle which sat on the site of Migdal Tzedek.  Two brothers-in-law, Heribrand II and Baldwin II came to Israel  during the first crusade.  Heribrand and his wife, Hodierna (sister to Baldwin II) have a son named Manasses.  Manasses’s cousin (Baldwin II’s daughter) is Melisende – the famous one who married Fulk deAnjou, ruled herself and renovated Jerusalem.   Manasses comes to  Israel in 1140, and because of his relationship with Melisende, is  appointed Constable of Jerusalem in 1143 after Fulk’s death.  This is a political appointeeship, apparently, as he is a terrible general and launches 2 failed military campaigns in Edessa and Damascus.

Migdal Tzedek – taken by Ira Gidon

In  1150 he marries Helvis of Ramle (the daughter of Baldwin I of Ramle and the widow of Barisan of Iblelin, one of the founders of  the wealthy Ibelin family).  With his marriage to her comes the territory of Ramle and the area of present day Rosh HaAyin.  He       builds a castle on the hill overlooking the headwaters of the Yarkon Stream.  A large beautiful castle with two churches governing the surrounding farm land, springs, and most  importantly, the road.  This castle is named Mirabel – of wonderous beauty.

You would think that he would be content with what he had.  He, however, is described by William of Tyre, a contemporary chronicler, as haughty and disrespectful of his elders.  And maybe they would have put up with his bad attitude if he hadn’t started up with his cousin Melisende and her family.  He put a wedge between Melisende and her   son, Baldwin III (why are they all named Baldwin?) by encouraging Melisende not to abdicate power to Baldwin III when he came of age.

Baldwin III had himself crowned and, under duress, Melisende agreed to split the kingdom with him.  This was a temporary situation and when Baldwin III finally decides to take the reigns of power for himself, Manasses found himself on the losing team, his beautiful castle of Mirabel taken by his cousin’s son.

This was not only the end of Manasses’s stay in the castle, but the end of his stay in the Holy Land as Baldwin III had him exiled permanently, his title Constable of Jerusalem stripped from him.
So, Manasses, having arrived in the Holy Land in 1140, only stays until 1162 – 22 years.  The Ibelin family, which he married into, and his family – the Baldwin/Melisende family continued to have long runs in the Holy Land.  He, however, did not find fame and fortune in the Holy Land and was even run out of the country.

Mirabel continues to be a Crusader castle under Baldwin III for another 25 years until it is captured by Salahadin’s younger brother.  In 1240 the Crusaders retake the fortress under Richard, Henry III and Frederick II.  The castle, Mirabel, is captured finally in 1260 by Baybars, who levels it to the foundations.  It remains in ruins for almost 600 years until the modern period and is rebuilt in 1852.

Today the ruins of Mirabel, renamed Migdal Tzedek after the sheik who resided there in the 19th century, stand forboding over the road to Rosh HaAyin.

Despite the long run of Crusaders in the Holy Land, the vision of Crusader knights and ladies gracing Mirabel’s halls, noble families vying over her control, exists only in the imaginations of her visitors.

What’s it 444?

Now that the holidays of Tishrei are behind us, time for another season of Places in Your Neighborhood.  This year,  our trips will include places like Tel Beit Shemesh, the new excavations at Tel Azeka and Tel es-Safi (Biblical Gat), Qesr el-Yehud,  Tel Gezer, the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Park Ayalon sites, and  Ashkelon.

Our first trip this year takes us to the Rt. 444 sites.  Rt.  444 and it’s counterpart Rt. 6 lie on the ancient superhighway through Israel connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia.  As such, many important settlements in antiquity were located along its length.

Izbet Sarta (our first stop) has been excavated to the late Bronze/early Iron age.  Never heard of Izbet Sarta?  Maybe you know it by its Hebrew name – Even HaEzer – site of the (in)famous battle against the Philistines.  Here we can see how the early Israelites  constructed their towns.

We will continue to the fortress on the hill above Rosh HaAyin-  Migdal Tzedek.  We will have a chance to explore the building which most only see during their morning commute.

Last stop is the town Herod named after his father – Antipatris – and see remnants of the Roman road paved 2000 years ago, as well as foundations of buildings almost twice that old! and British water installations.

Tour date:  Sunday, October 21, Heshvan 5
Tour start: 9:15 a.m. in Rosh HaAyin
Tour end:  approx. 1:00 p.m.  in Antipatris
Approximate travel time:  30 minutes each direction.

There is a cost to enter Antipatris National Park (27 NIS per person).  For those with a Matmon card, entrance is free.  Guiding fee is 50 NIS per person.

You need to wear good walking shoes, a hat and bring water. Bathrooms are located at the entrance to Kibbutz Einat (gas station), and in the National Park.

If you are interested, please  e-mail me to let me know.  This tour will only run with a minimum of 8 people so tell your friends to come along.

Montfort Castle

Last week took me to Nahal Kziv with a group of friends.  We parked near Moshav Hila, home to the returned soldier, Gilad Shalit and descended to the stream bed.  After playing in the clear, cool waters, we walked along the nahal for a long bit enjoying the shade.  We came across a confluence of paths – this was our sign to leave the stream bed and start the ascent to the Montfort castle (and the cars waiting beyond it).

As we crossed the nahal to leave it behind, we were met by a large wall.  Certain elements seemed Crusader, but I did not remember learning anything about the structure beforehand.  Turns out that my intuition was correct – Crusader period.

But let’s take a step back.  The Crusaders arrived in Israel in 1099.  As part of their compensation for taking part in these campaigns, territory in the Levant was granted to and purchased by Christian European Crusader families.  These landholdings were used as residences and farms, and usually made their owners very rich.  Once there was wealth, castles were built to store and protect that wealth.

Salahadin, a Moslem Ayubbid emperor, retook the countryside and captured the castles in 1187 in one massive campaign, lasting only a few months.

But the Crusaders were nothing if not tenacious.  They came back only 4 years later and were successful in recovering most of their territory (with the notable exception of Jerusalem).  The landholders, however, never recovered their former glory and became strapped for cash.  At around the same time, the Military Orders were established and were looking for centers for their operations and for their pilgrims.  The Hospetallers, the Templars, and the Teutons began purchasing lands that had previously been owned by individual families.

Each order had their own specialty; but all strove to combine a monastic lifestyle with defense of Christian sites and pilgrims.   An earlier castle existed in the current-day town of Me’iliya called Castellum Regis.  This castle was seat of the Galilean Crusader kingdom dominated by the Franks.  It was in the territory of the De Milly family until the
knight, Joscelin III of Courtenay, married into the family and inherited the castle and the surrounding countryside.
In 1220 the entire area was sold to the Teutons who began construction on the Montfort castle in 1226 – leading to the decline of Castellum Regis.  The Teutons, who had started in Akko, decided to build in the surrounding countryside a spur castle.  It is not known exactly why the location of Montfort, on a mountain spur, not on a major road, not near lush farmland, was chosen for the main castle of the order.  It could be that the knights wished to distance themselves from the competing (and sometimes hostile)
Templars and Hospitallers.  It could be that they wanted to have a remote location for their archives and treasury.  It could be that it was simply built as a lavish retreat for the Grand Master, who, it seems was a permanent resident, much in the sense that Masada was built as a refuge for Herod.

The castle was built with all the normal elements, donjon, moat, watch tower, 3 surrounding walls, and also with some creature comforts such as a waste chute.

The structure below in the Nahal which I happened upon last week is thought to be a guest house and a mill.  The streambed of Nahal Kziv forms part of the Sea-to-Sea hiking trail of today.  (I hope to hike this trail next summer with some friends/kids.)  Most likely, the path also served Crusader pilgrims trying to get from the coastline to the Christian sites in the interior.  They would not have wanted to make the arduous climb up to the castle (as my companions and I did last week – all 1200 steps up!).  It would have been much more comfortable for them to seek shelter close to the stream.

The fate of Montfort was similar to that of all the other Crusader castles of the Second Crusader kingdom.  On the 8th of June, 1271, Baybars lay siege on the outpost.  Ten days later after Baybars breached the outermost wall, the parties signed a truce which allowed the Teutonic knights free passage to Akko in exchange for the fortress.  The Mamelukes destroyed the castle and pushed remnants into Nahal Kziv.  It is thought that approximately two-thirds of the stones from the complex are now in the Mediterranean.

After hiking for 7 hours, we returned to our cars, tired, sweaty and hungry, with a bit more of Eretz Yisrael under our feet and in our souls.

The Buck Stops Here

My most recent Places in Your Neighborhood trip took me to Ashdod.  Ashdod has a few really nice sites from several periods of history but is not oft visited.  People in my groups had been there to the port to pick up their lifts, or to swim at the beach, but had not visited to learn about the place.

Despite it not being on many tourist itineraries, Ashdod is mentioned many times in the Bible.  It is one of the cities which is allotted to the tribe of Judah but not captured from the Philistines. (I have included a picture of me hanging out with the Philistines from the Museum in Ashdod.)  It is one of the five cities in the Philistine pentopolis.  Interestingly, the Philistine conquest of the southern  coastal plain had ramifications of the settlement pattern. at Philistine Museum-Ashdod Philistine influence came along with the emptying out of rural areas and concentration of population in cities.  Although researches do not know exactly why this happened, we can look at the changes the Industrial Revolution had on the rural life in America to make a reasonable guess.  Could it be that the introduction of technology in the form of metallurgy caused people to flock to the cities for available jobs?  We just don’t know.

The famous story of the Philistines stealing the Ark of the Covenant and taking it to the temple of the god Dagon takes place in the town of Ashdod.
The prophet Amos predicts the destruction of Ashdod – this destruction does come in 722 B.C.E.  at the hands of Sargon of Assyria as recorded in II Chronicles.
Population leaks back into the city after that only to be exiled and the city destroyed in 586 B.C.E as prophesied by Zephania, Zecharia and Jeremiah.
Nechemia speaks of the Jewish population of Ashdod marrying Ashdodian wives – a sign that Ashdod was again settled during the return from Zion – this time by Jews as well as non-Jews.

The oldest settlements we have in the Ashdod area are actually outside of the municipal boundaries of current Ashdod (which is a totally modern planned city).  Tel Ashdod to the south was probably the site where all the stories from the Bible took place.  Tel Mor, located near the grain silos on the banks of Nahal Lachish, was the home to industry during ancient time – the industry of making dye – and was active even before the Philistines arrived on the scene.  During the Byzantine era, a new settlement, Ashdod-on-the-Sea, was founded and during the Fatimid era a massive sandstone fortress was built with its front gate open to the sea.

My tour of Ashdod included Givat Yonah with its beautiful overlook of the modern port and city of Ashdod, the Fatimid fortress at Ashdod-on-the-Sea, and finally a visit to a very unassuming bridge now called “Ad Halom” = “Until Here”.

The bridge sits on foundations of a Roman bridge which spanned Nachal Lachish and was part of the super-highway which connected Egypt to Mesopotamia.  Bridges were very important in ancient times, as they are today.  They smooth out the trip and facilitate crossing muddy, lush passages.  Not so important for foot travel, once the carriage, the horse, the cart, the train, or the car became the primary means of moving goods and people, bridges were indispensable.  Armies, with their heavy loads of supplies and fighters, are totally dependent on crossing such points easily.  At the eve of war in 1948,  Nahal Lachish was crossed by 3 main bridges:  An Ottoman bridge for carts and foot traffic; a railroad bridge; and a modern British bridge for cars.  It was protected by a pillbox which was built by the British during the Arab revolt of 1936-39.

During the Independence war, the Egyptian army made its way north, seemingly on their way to Tel Aviv.  Intelligence from the Israeli side ordered the blowing up of the bridges over Nahal Lachish in order to slow the anticipated advance.  The story goes that 300 kg of explosives set out with Shimon Margolin and 9 Kibbutz Beer Tuvia volunteers on the backs of two donkeys.  Almost immediately, the first donkey collapsed and died.  Shimon put all 300 kg of explosives on the back of the second donkey.  That donkey trudged through the night until, only 2 km from its destination, he, too, fell and died.  Then the troop of 10 soldiers each took 30 kg of explosives on their backs and carried it to these bridges.  The Jewish fighters (the bridge was blown up on May 12, 1948 before the state was declared) succeeded in their mission and the battle which ensued upon arrival of the Egyptians 2 weeks later was won at least partially because the Egyptians could not cross the nahal easily.
Ad Halom was the site of the Israeli Air Forces first battle.  The nascent state had but 4 fighter planes in its possession.  After the battle, only 2 remained, one crashing after being hit and killing its pilot – the only son of a South African family – Edward (Shlomo) Cohen.  Fifty other soldiers in the Israeli army lost their lives in the battle at Ad Halom.

It is hard to imagine what the State of Israel would look like today if the Egyptians had taken Tel Aviv, or if there would even be a Jewish state here at all.  I encourage you the next time you are in the area, to take in a bit of Israeli history with a stop at Ad Halom.  “Until Here”, or in modern Amerian parlance “The Buck Stops Here” – stop and see the nahal and the bridge (the Ottoman bridge has been restored as a foot bridge) that represents  how thin the thread was by which this country was won.