Intelligent Crossing

“I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection.”

Luther Burbank

Today my Places in Your Neighborhood tour took me to guide at one of my favorite sites – Qesr al-Yehud on the Jordan.  I have been fascinated by this place ever since qesr-dadmy first visit as part of the tour guide course.  During that time, the site was closed to the general public, and only with consultation with the army, could a group enter.  As you drive along the road which leads you to the site, an eerie combination of run-down  Christian compounds and barbed-wire fences warning of mine fields accompanies you on both sides.  As you approach the site, in the near distance you can see brand new churches, their gold domes and spires glistening.

But it isn’t the modern military history or the site’s place in the Christian mythos that attracts me to Qesr al-Yehud.  What draws me here over and over again is the ability to access the Jordan, and the thought that very near to this spot, the Children of Israel crossed into the Land of Israel and started their journey to nationhood.

Today, we reached Qesr al-Yehud after exploring part of Nahal Prat and beginning an encounter with wilderness and water.   The soothing noise of the Jordan flowing by their feet started lulling some people into a short snooze.  I started to tell the story of the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan, when David O.  asked how I could be sure that this was the spot.  I explained about how this is one of the natural places along the Jordan where it is easier to cross and so it makes sense that they would have chosen this location.  But, he countered, the crossing of the Jordan was miraculous, so wouldn’t it have been even more of a miracle to stand somewhere where it wasn’t so easy to cross?  Maybe somewhere randomly along the Jordan?

I heard his argument.  G-d did magnify the miracles performed during the exodus from Egypt to prove his might in front of the world and the Jewish people.  Interesting point.  But something didn’t sit right.  Whether Qesr means Castle or Breaking through, this site is connected to the Jewish people (al-Yehud).  The Eshtorei HaParchi who was one of the early travelers to Israel in the Medieval period, tells us that the probably the most
accurate factor in determining the location of a Biblical place is the current Arabic name, so there must be some Jewish connection preserved here throughout the ages.  Why not the crossing?

As we continued on our visit to the site, David O. just would not let it rest.  He kept after me for evidence that this was the site of the crossing.   Maybe some pottery shards, some ancient buildings marking the spot?  I explained that there would not have been much material culture from a nomadic people.  But he still didn’t let it rest.

In case you think I am complaining, let me assure you, I am not.  These challenges push me to think deeper, research more, and put things in order.  This is one of the experiences which makes me happy to be a tour educator and not just a tour guide.  I don’t have all the answers and thrive on input from others.  If people don’t let up, then I know they are engaging with the subject matter, and that is a total win for me.

And then, after another comeback, it hit me.  Something which made sense of my intuitions; something more concrete.

Maybe we were looking at the story from the wrong angle?  Maybe the perspective of 3500 years of history had colored our view of the events?

I asked David O. to put himself in the position of Joshua.  He had just taken over from the greatest leader/prophet of all time, Moses.  Joshua needed to complete a task – lead the children of Israel over the Jordan and into Israel.  How was this going to happen?  At the beginning, the mechanics were not clear.  It was not clear to Joshua that the people would merit a miraculous crossing; it is not even on his radar scope as a possibility.  So, Joshua takes the people to a place where it would make sense to cross, Qesr al-Yehud.  Only after he arrives there and sets up camp for a week or so is Joshua let in on G-d’s plan to bring the Children of Israel over the Jordan in a miraculous fashion.

It isn’t that Joshua doesn’t have faith in G-d, it is just that he is making a sensible plan.  It is Joshua’s Intelligent Crossing here at Qesr al-Yehud and G-d’s Selection of the Jewish people which forged the nation .  And while I am still not sure that David O. is convinced, I think that both he and I learned something today.  Fabulous!

A Sea of Reeds?

Barbara brought to my attention an apparent crack in my definitions of yam and agam in my earlier post.  How could the Yam Suf be a yam (sea?) if it has suf (reeds?)?  If it has suf, it should be an agam.

Let’s think about the most famous story involving Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds?), that of the Children of Israel crossing the Yam Suf.  After an arduous period of slavery and 10 grueling plagues, which wiped out the economy of Egypt and left 90% of the Children of Israel dead, the remaining people run for their lives out of Egypt.  After journeying for 3 days away from the comforts and resources of Egypt, they reach Yam Suf.  Up until this point, G-d is continually acting in a way to show his might, not only to the Egyptians but also to the Children of Israel.

Imagine what the Children of Israel were seeing when they stood before the Yam Suf.  What would be the best way for G-d to show His power?  Would they be standing in front of a small pond with lots of reeds (suf)?  How could such a body of water swallow up Egypt’s mighty chariots as described in Exodus 15?

eilat mountainsWe know from the Bible where the Yam Suf is and its description as a border is listed in many places.  Yam Suf is equated with the Red Sea of today.  One of the bordering towns of the Yam Suf is listed as Etzion Gever, near today’s Eilat.  An event which happens on the sea by Etzion Gever gives us another description of not just where the Yam Suf is, but what it is like.

“Yehoshofat (one of the kings of Yehuda) constructed Tarshish ships (a fleet of ships) to sail to Ofir for gold.  But he did not sail because the ships were wrecked (by natural means) at Etzion Gever.”  II Kings 22:49

From this passage, we see that Yam Suf is stormy.  But is the Red Sea stormy?  Most people who visit Eilat would disagree.  Stormy seas are in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Rim, the Straits of Gibralter.  We need to remember, however,  that the Bible only cares about the Levant.  The main yamim here are the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.  Using this as our scale, the Red Sea is the stormiest.  Only 8 years ago, a storm in the Red Sea sank an Egyptian ferry carrying 1300 people.

How then can it be called Yam Suf, Sea of Reeds?  The Atlas Daat Mikra gives an interesting interpretation.  Instead of suf=reeds, think sufa=storm.  That colloborates what we know of Yam Suf from the Children of Israel’s crossing.  It magnifies the miraculous nature of this story; a weakened people comes to a stormy sea pursued by the greatest army of the day.  They cross over on dry land, and the army is swept up in the storm surge.

The result of the fjording of Yam Suf is that the Children of Israel realize G-d’s might, and that all the nations of the world tremble before them.  The way is paved for the birth of a nation.

Lakes and Seas

Words are important.

When I am examining an issue, one of the first lines of clarification is, “What do the terms mean?”  I don’t know if this comes from my science background, my desire to break a problem into parts, but very often defining terms is a good first step in an effort to think clearly.  What does this have to do with water?

I often have tourists ask questions something along the line of:

How can the Sea of Galilee be a “sea” if it is fresh water?  It is too small to be a “sea” – more like a lake.

Is that the Jordan River?  Really?  I imagined it would be like the Mighty Mississippi River.

Why do some streams have water all year (like David Stream) and some streams almost never have water (Og Stream)?  How can they have the same classification?

Good questions, but they ignore the main problem with these terms – they are in English.  The bodies of water in Israel were first described in Hebrew in the Bible, with their English “translations” only coming later.  Remember, that the Hebrew of the Bible was used to describe a very specific terrain, the terrain of the Levant, and not to describe other places.  No matter what you believe about the origins of the Biblical text, one thing is for sure.  The author of the Bible was very familiar with the geography of the Land of Israel.   Thus, we can expect that this author uses geographical terms very specifically, without considering how they may be translated into English.

There are a few different Hebrew words used for bodies of water:

Agammediterranean sunset
Nahar (and Yaor)

I have done a fair amount of research on these terms and their meanings.  This post dives into the meaning of the first two:  agam and yam.

These terms are used in the Bible for bodies of water that do not have a clear vector component.  In other words, they are not “going anywhere”.  In English, you may translate them as lake, sea, or even man-made reservoir!

The difference between an agam and a yam, has to do with a related word agamon which is a reed.  An agam is a body of water, without a vector, which has the possibility for growing reeds, ie. shallow enough that much of its surface could be covered by reeds.

“And the parched land will become an agam, and the thirsty land springs of water:  The home of jackals shall become a pasture for cattle, an enclosure of reeds and rushes.”  Isaiah 35:7

Agam is not used as part of a proper noun in the Bible but rather as a descriptive concept.  The current Agam HaHula in the northern part of Israel is aptly named.

The topography of Israel dictates that agamim are not prevalent. Most of the water in Israel’s interior is “on the move” as Israel is a hilly/mountainous (leave those definitions for another time…) land.

A yam, by comparison, is a much larger body of water (still with no vector component), and much deeper.  There are many examples of yamim in the Bible:  HaYam


HaAcharon (Mediterranean Sea), Yam Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Yam HaMelach (Dead Sea), Yam Suf (Reed/Red? Sea), and many others.  There is no differentiation between salt and fresh water bodies of water, as long as the size dictates a large percentage of clear water.  Yamim can have islands, depths, shores, and are generally much more prevalent (and important) in the Bible than agamim.

“Then sang Moshe and the children of Israel this song to the Lord, and spoke saying:  I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously, the hourse and his rider has he thrown into the yam.”  Exodus 15:1


Meter by Meter

Every spot on which your foot treads, I give to you, as I promised Moses.”  Joshua 1:3

In contrast to many modern countries, where the automobile is king, in Israel time is made for the foot journey. It is an interesting aspect of Israeli culture is that hiking is an educational and national priority.  Students, soldiers, and employees are taken on trips all over the country, not only to see the sites but to walk the land.  During holidays, a good percentage of  Israeli families will head, yes, for their cars, but only as a means to ultimately arrive at some sort of nature walk.

How did this national pastime develop?

gideon-ein-gediFirst, we can look to biblical sources.  G-d commands Abraham to walk the land in the following story.
Abraham enters the land, and travels along the spine route from Shchem (Nablus) to Beer Sheva (today’s Route 60).  It is then that a famine strikes the land and Abraham and his family move to Egypt. When the famine is over, they move back to Israel traveling along the same road and settle between Ai and Beit El, near Route 60 between Bitin and Deir Dibwan.  He needs to split up the grazing land with his nephew, Lot, in order to minimize conflict.

How to split the land with his only male relative – potentially the one who will inherit the message and continue what will become the Jewish people (Isaac has not yet been born)?  Abraham offers Lot a choice:  if Lot goes left, Abraham will go right; or if Lot prefers, Lot will take the right and Abraham the left.

Reading this today, we may think that “left” and “right” are arbitrary directions and are meant to be taken figuratively.  In ancient times, however, these directions were not ambiguous. Directions were oriented towards the orient or East.  It is reasonable, then, that Abraham and Lot were facing East and Abraham offered Lot either the northern half of the country (to the left) or the southern half (to the right).

Lot’s choice here is crucial and seals his fate.  He looks straight ahead and sees the plain of the Jordan.  It reminds him of Egypt in its fertility.  He chooses to go East, which was not an option given by Abraham!  Lot sets his tent in Sodom, away from Abraham and cuts himself off from Abraham’s future inheritance.

At this time, G-d tells Abraham that he will inherit the land (without Lot) and he should “walk about the land, through its length and its breadth”.   Why is it so important for Abraham to walk the land?  What does walking around the land add to G-d’s promise?

Firstly, walking the land shows some degree of ownership.  People are prevented from walking where they are not welcome and have no business being.  Posting “Keep Out” signs clearly tells one that this property is not mine but rather belongs to someone else.

Secondly, walking the land by foot provides familiarity with a place in a way that cannot be accomplished any other way.  Adam Zartal, an archaeologist who has worked on archaeological survey in Israel and identified Joshua’s altar on Mt. Eval,  when asked about modern survey methods stated, “There is no hi-tech substitute for walking the land, meter by meter, with your own two feet.”  The more we personally walk the land, not only do we discover more about it, but also we develop a close relationship with it.

Walking ties us to the land.  It is easier to give up on places that you have never seen with your own two eyes.  People fight for their homes not just because they own them, but because they have grown to love them through their investment of themselves and their very existence there.  So, too, for land that you have walked; you expend effort in order to be there and so you grow to love it.

It is exactly for these reasons that G-d commanded Abraham to walk the land which would become Israel.  Not just to own it, but more importantly to learn to love it.

In my next post, discover the roots of hiking in Israel in the modern period.  You may be surprised!


“To whom it may concern,

Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program – Invitation to public meetings”

Thus read my invitation to presentation of findings on the 6 year study on the proposed Red-Dead canal.  As I have a special love for the Dead Sea and a fascination with all different kinds of topics associated with it, I wanted to hear what the World Bank has to say about this potential solution for the dropping water level.

Here are some of the interesting things I learned at this summary meeting.

The World Bank is interested in this project for three reasons.

dead sea hotels from dredging1.  To Save the Dead Sea

2.  To desalinate water and generate electricity for local governments

3.  To provide a symbol of peace in the region.

The Study is not funded by the World Bank, however.  The World Bank provides management and coordination but the funding came from 8 different countries.  It looked at whether the Red-Dead is feasible, as well as its effects on the environment, alternatives, and modelling of both the Red Sea environment and the Dead Sea environment.

Where does the idea come from?  The Dead Sea is in trouble.  The inflow to the Dead Sea, once 1.3 billion m3/year has now dwindled to about 100,000 m3/year.  This has led to the dramatic drop in the level of the Dead Sea and threats to the environment around it.  The idea of the Red-Dead is to transfer water from the Red Sea in the area of Eilat and Akaba to the Dead Sea.  The drop in elevation from sea level to 427 m below sea level would power hydroelectric plants.  Somewhere along the way, some of the transferred water would undergo desalination and be piped to population centers (mostly in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority), where the need for water is great.

Sounds good?  Maybe.

What the study found, however, is that this plan is costly ($10.6 billion) with 20% of the cost going towards transfer of desalinated water to consumers.  It does not generate any electricity to the grid as all electricity would be expended powering the desalination plants.

Although the technical extraction of water from the Red Sea was evaluated and a possible plan with the smallest environmental footprint was suggested, the effects of transferring a large quantity of sea water to the Dead Sea are unknown.

There are other plans.  The Med-Dead (Mediterranean-Dead Sea pipeline), and restoring the Lower Jordan by a combination of purchasing water from another country (Turkey), desalination, and conservation are the two main contenders.

We could also do nothing.  If we do nothing, the level of the Dead Sea will continue to drop.  At some point, the chemical plants will probably stop pumping, as the cost of pumping will rise as the water level in the northern basin drops (the chemical plants are in the southern basin).  The level of the Dead Sea will stabilize at 550 m below sea level – a full 120 m below the level of today.  We have no idea what kind of damage will be caused by such a dramatic decrease or if the Dead Sea and the environment around it will ever be able to recover.  It could be that endemic species become extinct; that sinkholes threaten population/vacation centers; that industries which provide significant income to both Israel and Jordan are forced to close.

Restoring the Dead Sea is inexonerably linked to tackling water issues in the area in general.  The Dead Sea level continues to drop because we are pulling too much water out of the system.  This is the real challenge, not only to our immediate area but to the entire region.  In Syria where there is a problem with allocating water to agriculture, much of the rural population left their farms and went to the cities.  The resultant strain on city resources is one of the causes of the revolt and bloodshed happening right now in Syria.

“To whom it may concern,”

Solving the crisis in the Dead Sea concerns each and every one of us.  What are you doing for the Dead Sea today?

Do You Diguette?

I went to the Negev yesterday with a few colleagues and I got into a discussion with Shany about the JNF (Jewish National Fund) plantings we saw.  I contended that the technique for planting the rows of trees was called “Liman”; she called them “Terrasot” (pl. for terraces in Hebrew).  Shany said that “Liman” is a term only used for planting trees in bowls – depressions in the ground made to preserve water in the center of the bowl.  According to her, these lines of piled up soil on the sides of the hills were terraces, similar to the terraces we see throughout the central mountain range.

Up until this point, I thought I understood Negev agricultural terminology; and, I was so convinced that I was right, I decided to do a bit of research to find out if both the desert farming technique using “bowls” and the technique of building up lines of soil on hillsides were both called “Limans” or if one was a Liman and the other a simple terrace.

This research took me into another question I have been wanting to tackle which was posed by Leah from my Tour Guide class.  She asked what was the name and the purpose of the rock piles we see all over the Negev.

I like to remind people who are traveling with me that despite appearances, Israel has plenty of natural resources.  We have water, sun, access to other places, trees, land – and all this was sufficient for supporting rich societies here ONLY because people knew how to manage them.  Ecology may be a 21st century idea for the rest of the world, but here in Israel ecology has been a necessity since the dawn of civilization.

So, too, in the Negev, an area which received less that 200 mm rainfall a year (in some places much less).  In antiquity, the people living in this desert climate figured out how to harvest water during the bleak winter rains, channel it to fields and grow wheat, barley, wine, olives, figs, etc.  It may take a lot of engineering and a lot of land, but it is possible.  Around the area of Avdat, approximately 25 acres of land were needed to collect enough water for 1 acre of crops.

One technique used by ancient peoples was the Liman.  A Liman is a depressed area surrounded by low hillocks.  The water falling on these hillocks flows into the center of the “bowl”.  This technique was initially used by the JNF  for planting large trees to provide shade.  You can see many JNF Limans on the road down to Beer Sheva. Most of the Limans planted in the Negev today are populated by Eucalyptus trees as they grow quickly.
Another technique is the Diguette.  Diguettes are small mounds built along a line on a slope.  Trees can then be planted uphill from each of these lines.  The mounds help to catch the water flowing down the hill and give it a longer exposure to the plant, decreasing run-off.  In Hebrew they may be called “Terraces” but actually they have a special name/function when they are in a desert climate. Diguettes are used around the world in arid areas, including Africa, and boost the ability of an area to produce crops thereby saving lives today.  The JNF uses Diguettes today to plant indigenous species and it is the main technique used in the Yatir forest project.

Catchment farms were used in natural stream beds.  Various dams were built along the stream bed.  The rain which fell on the surrounding hills flowed naturally into the stream bed, where the crops were. The water which overflowed each step of this terraced structure flowed to the step below, controlling the amount of water in each step and holding the water in the farmed area for a longer amount of time.

The rock piles my friend Leah asked about are an interesting phenomena in the Negev.  They are called by the local population Tolilat al-Anev (Grape Mounds).  In the 1830’s when these were first described by 2 British surveyors/explorers/botanists/geologists, it was assumed that these mounds were used in ancient times for growing grapes.  On further inspection, not only were there no grapevine remnants found in any of the areas, but also there were no adjacent wine presses.  There still is no definitive explanation for these mounds, but there are a few theories.  One is that the  clearing of the rocks into mounds allowed for more erosion of the soil on the slopes.  This soil was washed to the
valleys and mixed along the way with organic material to make a richer soil in the valleys.

The mounds are not only found on the slopes of hills, but also in relatively flat areas.  This leads to another hypothesis that the rocks randomly strewn about impinged upon the rainwater’s path to a central point.  Gathering the rocks in mounds meant that there was more free and clear smooth ground to draw the water to that central collection area.

Turns out that I was only partially right about Limans.  Shany was correct that Liman is a very specific term and not a general one. Thanks to Shany and Leah for piquing my curiosity and pushing me to learn more about agriculture in the Negev!

Do you Diguette?  I DO!

Some Things Never Change

Some things never change.

(OK, I know that never is a long time, but in historic time, topography/geology doesn’t change.)  Routes that develop naturally (through usage and not through planning) form where the topography makes such routes easy.  People and animals tend to be lazy.  If they need to get from point A to point B, then they will pick the way on which they expend the least energy to make the journey.
The same is true with fording bodies of water, such as rivers and streams.  Generally, places where the topography made fording easier in the past are the same places where bridges are built today to cross those bodies of water.One such example has to do with the Jordan.  By looking at the Jordan today and the available crossing points today, you can relate these places to Jordan crossings from the Bible.Why does the Jordan have only a few places available for crossing?
The places where the water is fordable are the places where the nehalim (streams) coming from the west empty into the banks of the Jordan (or in the vicinity). The nehalim carry with them silt from the mountains and create a sort of “sand bank” where the Jordan is narrower and easier to cross. In these silty spots, one could send a boat with a pulley system, or in Roman times, even build a bridge.

What are these crossing places?   Starting in the North, the beginnings of the Jordan are in the swampy Hula Valley.  There is no crossing a swamp, so the first available place to cross was where the geology changes – at the juncture of the Hula Valley and the Heights of Corazin, at the Bnot Yaacov bridge.

South of the Kinneret there are several crossings of the Jordan.
Tzemach – immediately to the south of the Kinneret
Gesher – at the confluence of the Yarmuk (from the east)  and the Jordan
The Jordan River Crossing – opposite Beit Shean – at the mouth of Nahal Harod
Adam Bridge – at the mouth of Nahal Tirtza (this one leads directly to Shchem/Nablus and is mostly likely the route the Patriarchs took when entering the Land)

Qesr al-Yahud – at the mouth of Nahal Prat.

Qesr al Yehud (Castle of the Jews) is being developed by the Tourism Ministry as a site for tourists.  The site was off-limits for civilians for over 30 years – a closed military area  – as it lies on the Israel – Hashemite kingdom of Jordan border.  Before that time, however, many monasteries and  capellas sat near this area of the Jordan and many pilgrims visited.

What makes a point on a route into a destination?  Routes, and especially confluences of routes or crossing points, are points of human meetings and activities.

Qasr al Yehud is thought to be the spot where the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan on their  way in to Israel (Joshua 3:7-17). It is where Elijah and Elisha forded the Jordan on Elijah’s journey to the divine chariot (II Kings 2:1-12).  According to Christian tradition, it is also the place where John baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:1-17).  

It brings up an interesting debate. I hear frequently from people I guide, “How can we really know that this is the exact spot where such-and-such an event took place?”  And I understand from where the question is coming.  Biblical events happened a long time ago (at least in the historic framework), and there are no signs left stating: “The Children of Israel crossed here” or similar things. But what I can tell  people is that the topography and geology during the Biblical era was extremely similar to what it is today. It is reasonable, therefore, to place Biblical events in places where the physical lay of the land indicates that such an event would have been likely.

Walking and touring the Land of Israel today, with eyes open to the physical surroundings, helps one have a unique perspective on Biblical events.  Come to Qesr al Yehud and see for yourself!

When Water Flows Uphill

I wrote in a previous post about an aqueduct that I came across while hiking in the Golan above Nahal Zevitan.  The technology involved in the building of this aqueduct is interesting.  The question is as follows:  how do you get water from a spring in a gully to the top of the hill where the flocks are?

First, a bit of topography.  The Golan is a raised, flat plain which is cut (along tectonic faults) by streams.  The streams are fed by springs.  North of the Sea of Galilee, the Golan plain slightly slopes to the south, providing a relatively constant decrease in elevation as you move from the Golan to the estuary of Beit Zaida on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee.  This is the area of Nahal Zevitan.  The spring which feeds the Nahal cuts a deep gorge through the plain on its way to the Sea.

The aqueduct which you meet on the path of Nahal Zevitan was built by Bedouins.  They diverted the water from the spring into the aqueduct, which has a very slight slope downwards.  The aqueduct has such a slight slope, in fact, that the slope of the plain above is greater.   The water flows down, but the elevation of the surrounding land decreases faster.  In this way, the water from the aqueduct “climbs out” of the gorge to the flocks and animal sheds on the plain.  Love the technology!

Zevitan Hike

This week school will start for Gideon and Hill.  We spent last week squeezing the last bits out of summer while trying to prepare for the upcoming year.  As part of that effort, we went hiking in the Golan – something that was missing from our summer until last week. In previous summers and vacations throughout the years, we have hiked most of the more popular hikes in the area, and last week we repeated one of the good hikes – Upper Nahal Zevitan.

What makes it a good hike?

First of all, it needs water, preferably enough water in which to swim.  Nahal Zevitan and its continuation in Nahal Meshushim have pools surrounded by the black hexagons which characterize this stream system.  The pools are cool and deep – I could not stand up even at the edge of the pool at which we stopped to swim.  The stepped hexagonal prisms provide a “diving board” up to 12 feet above the surface of the pool.  Everyone had a chance to jump into the cool water, and most did.  About 4 million years ago, Golan volcanoes covered the limestone crust with igneous basalt.  This basalt cracked due mostly to tectonic activity as the Golan lies on the upper end of the active Dead Sea Fault System.  The Zevitan Stream lies on a major surface fault and so the canyons are very steep.  Water erosion carves narrow canyons through the basalt.  When these canyons fill with water, very deep, narrow pools form.

Secondly, a good hike requires a bit of nature.  Our first foray into the Zevitan system a few years ago led to our first experience with Sabra (Prickly Pear) fruit.  Boaz convinced us that we could safely pick, peel and eat a sabra right from the cactus with only a pocket knife and a bandana.  Anyone who has tried this knows that this is almost impossible.  But the fruit looks so alluring, so juicy, so wonderfully edible that you can’t help but try.  After picking prickers out of peoples hands, arms, lips, tongues, we realized that we should leave the sabra-picking to trained professionals (or at least those with leather gloves).  The Golan is also populated by rock hyraxes which you can often see along this trail.  And the views.  The views through the crevasses toward the Sea of Galilee were exquisite.  The winding stream bed, which gives Nahal Zevitan its name, covered in low trees and bushes and yellow grasses framed the blue water in the distance from the sea – just beautiful.

The third factor in a good hike is a bit of history.  We walked for a bit in an aqueduct.  The issue of water has been a major factor in the development of history in Israel.  Here, in the Golan, the control of water is key.  In 1964, the National Water Carrier opened, pumping water from the Sea of Galilee as far south as the Northern Negev.  As a response,  Syria and Lebanon started plans for a Diversionary Canal which would take water from the headwaters of the Jordan and carry them to the Yarmuk Stream bypassing Israel. The tensions which resulted, and the tank and artillery exchanges which took place between 1964 and 1966 provide a backdrop for one of the causes of the Six Day War in 1967.  Even in ancient times, control of the water meant that you could water your fields and your animals.  In this part of the world, water is connected to survival and prosperity.  It appeared to us that the aqueduct in which we walked was modern, being lined with cement, possibly to bring water to a nearby Syrian farm, whose remains we came across later in the hike.

The last major factor in a good hike is a bit of challenge.  The beginning was filled with climbing over rocks and through pricker bushes.  My feet got totally bruised and reinforced that it really was time for new hiking boots.  Next time we do this one, we will dedicate more time to it and climb down to the base of the waterfall and continue on to the Sea of Galilee.  I like that – the plan for “next time” and how we can improve our experience and push just a little farther.  It is one of the things I like most about hiking with this group of friends.  We will be there for each other and there will be a “next time”.  The walk from the overlook of the waterfall back to the Yehudiya parking lot was, quite honestly, a bit boring, with the biggest challenge being how long it would take to hitchhike from the parking lot back to the car.  My hitchhiking karma bank must be doing o.k. – it only took Gavi and I five minutes to get a hitch.  After another 15 minutes of walking on the road, we were back to the car.

It was a fitting hike for the end of summer, with all the factors of a “good hike”.

Location, Location, Location

According to Real Estate agents, there are only three relevant factors when selling a house:  location, location and location.

When choosing a location for a settlement, whether in the ancient world or today, there are four factors which are necessary.  In Hebrew, they can be easily remembered  because they all begin with the same letter – mem.

Water (Mayim in Hebrew)
Food (Mazon)
Protection from one’s enemies (Migun)
Location – connection to other settlements through transportation/communication (Makom)

Most settlements in Israel during the Bronze age through approximately the advent of the Roman period were located on tels.  A “tel” is a somewhat artificial mound, with different strata corresponding to different material cultures which existed one after the next in the same spot.

Why did different civilizations build one on top of the other? Because of Location.

The same four attributes were available regardless of who was in control.  Water systems were built around springs; food is grown in arable land; the ever-growing hill on which the settlement was built did not decrease in its ability to protect the residents (in the age before propellants, the longest range weapon was the bow and arrow); and the roads are based on topography.  None of these natural elements are affected by politics.

And so the question arises:  Why are modern cities not built on tels?  When did tels go out of use and why?

In the news this month are the continued finds of a Hasmonean-era port near the Ottoman walls of Akko, on Israel’s northern coast. Could the construction of the port be the cause of the abandonment of the ancient city on the Tel?  What allowed them to build the port on the open sea in that time period?

The ancient city of Akko was built on a tel overlooking the Ne’aman Stream.  The stream provided a port.  In ancient times (and until today), it is impossible to build a port on the open sea. Some locations, like Jaffa and Dor in Israel were lucky enough to have a natural breakwater which made construction of a port possible.  (If you don’t have a breakwater, storms wreak havoc on the ships which are docked and ruin the coastal storage areas.) Instead of building ports on the open sea, settlements took advantage of stream outlets into the sea.  A boat could sail a short distance up the river/stream and dock in relative safety. This happens all over the world until today.  Examples of major ports on rivers near the ocean include New York, Lisbon, and Tokyo.

There are disadvantages to the system.  Once boats got too big, the bottoms could scrape along the bottom of the stream bed. Also, because streams and rivers are reliant on yearly weather conditions, their status – depth, strength, etc. –  can vary greatly from year to year (something we know all too well here in Israel) and impinge on the commercial viability of a port.  Rivers and streams can also sometimes change course.  The Ne’aman Stream, because it is such a lazy stream, does not have one clear channel, and is today nowhere near the ancient tel.  Perhaps during ancient times it also sometimes moved away from the settlement on the tel.

Current locations of Tel Akko, Ne’aman Stream, Ancient Akko, Modern Akko

In order to cope with changing conditions, technological advancements were called into play in the construction of ports. With the development of concrete which could be laid under water, entire artificial ports could be constructed regardless of the natural topography or geography.  One such port here in Israel was Caesaria, constructed by Herod between the years 22 – 10 B.C.E.

Back to Akko.  The history of Tel Akko is like the history of other tels in Israel – layer upon layer of construction and destruction – until the Hellenistic time period. At that time, the tel is under the control of the Greeks, but the change in location off of the tel does not happen because of political reasons.  Nature and technology conspire against Tel Akko. During this time period, the level of the Mediterranean drops several meters.  The tel of Akko “moves” farther and farther inland as the waters recede.  There is pressure to build a port closer to the sea.

The other factor which comes into play here is the introduction to the Land of Israel of Greek engineering and technology.  Numerous aqueduct systems were built during this time period taking advantage of the scientific discoveries in the ancient Greek world.  So, it should come as no surprise, that this combination of nature and technology led to the construction of a sea port in the area of current-day Akko.  The archeological finds on Tel Akko show that at this time, most of the tel has been abandoned, with only scarce finds from the Roman and Byzantine periods.  Archaeological finds from this summer reveal a port on the sea, adjacent and under the current “Old Akko” Ottoman port city walls.

The tel is abandoned in favor of the new city of Akko.  With its new harbor, it becomes the main port of the Land of Israel in its time.  Indeed, the status of Akko as Israel’s #1 port continues through the ages until it is destroyed in 1840 C.E. by the British, Austrians and French who come to return Akko  to the Ottomans after Ibrahim Pasha from Egypt tries to throw off the Turkish yoke.

John Adams said:
I have heard my father say, that he never knew a piece of land to run away or break.

But as we see from the history of Akko, settlements can and do change location, running away from their former site.  Real Estate markets also change – what’s a good location today, may not be so tomorrow.  In Israel this plays out in the movements, through the ages, of settlements.