one and a half million people live in the Galilee, each one for their own special reason. Some like the wide open spaces, the green fields and the bright blue skies. Some like the sounds of nature – the wind blowing through the trees, the rush of water in the brooks and riverbeds, and some like the diverse population – a tapestry of religions, communities unparalled anywhere else in Israel.
Others like the magic and mystery of the Galilean sages and rabbis, the pilgrimage sites and tombs to pray at, and of course there are others who like the tasty culinary world of the Galilee, from the fruits to the crystal clear water.
This Galilee guide combines all of the above with the unique charateristics of Galilee.
The ERETZ Guide to Galilee includes 12 routes each one detailed by a different guide or expert with their own unique and different style, with insights that he or she would share with the traveler.
The routes in this guide are not the usual travel itinerary. They are ideas to be followed, highlights to pass by, or maybe stop for the view, the air, or the natural heritage.
And, if you detour from the route, as your own personal curiosity, or a whim, takes you, this guide has fulfilled its purpose.

Hadar Gatt and Yadin Roman

The North Shore

Between Rosh Hanikra and Nahariya
By Yadin Roman

The shore between Rosh Hanikra and Nahariya is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach along the coast of Israel. Unlike the straight coastline of sandy beaches to the south, there are little inlets and coves, a cliff plunging into the sea, and even six small islands opposite the shoreline.
Half a century ago, I was a member of a Nahal group slated for Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra. For nearly a year, our group lived in a row of shacks on the Ladder of Tyre slope, the range that separates Israel from Lebanon. We worked in the fields from the early morning hours, spending the afternoons exploring Israel’s northern shore next to the kibbutz.
The construction of a cable car to the sea grottos at the foot of the white chalk cliffs of Rosh Hanikra was still a few years away; the only way to get into the grottos was to swim. Riding the swell of the waves, we made our way into these towering sea canyons and explored the dozens of cracks in the rock, eroded by the sea into underground caves and hidden caverns. South of the caverns, we snorkeled in the small inlets between the abrasion platforms along the shore, among the multi-colored fish, and a sea turtle or two. At the same time, beneath us, on the clear sandy seafloor, sea cucumbers and stingrays made their way through forests of green seaweed.
The obvious start for a North Shore tour is Rosh Hanikra, the western outcrop of the prominent Ladder of Tyre (Sulam Tzur). In 1924, British and French officers marked the border between British Palestine and French Syria, the first border in the dismembered Ottoman Empire, where borders were unknown. Cairns placed along the ridge’s crest, later replaced with numbered stone pillars, marked the boundary. Border marker number 1 still stands at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing, which today only serves the United Nations peacekeeping force. The British Mandate customs house still stands at the border crossing, next to the radar station built in the 1940s to spot boats of Jewish immigrants trying to get into Palestine.
An observation platform, restaurant, and the cable car’s upper station down to the grottos can be found near the border crossing. The white cliff face of Rosh Hanikra is marred with cracks and openings created by the contact between rainwater and the chalky rock. Over the years, the rain has enlarged the cracks and created an underground drainage system through which the rainwater enters the sea. Once the caves in the rock reach sea level, the waves enlarge and form the grottos that we can visit today. These are not the only sea caverns on the Ladder of Tyre. There are more on the Lebanese side of the border.
Until World War II, the only way to cross from Lebanon to Palestine along the coast was to climb the Ladder of Tyre. Following the conquest of Lebanon from Vichy France in World War II, the British decided to connect the Palestine and Egypt rail network with the Lebanon network by extending the line from Haifa to Beirut and from there through Tripoli to Istanbul and Europe. The British Army deployed engineering units from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand to construct the line. To get over the Ladder of Tyre, the engineers dug two tunnels through the Rosh Hanikra cliff above the caverns. A bridge over the northern grotto connected the two tunnels. The tunnels were completed in April 1942, and the whole line was completed by the end of the year.
The Haifa-Beirut line never came into regular service and was only used during the war for military purposes. On March 14, 1948, during the Night of the Bridges operation, when all the bridges connecting Palestine to the lands around them were destroyed by the Haganah, the Carmeli brigade blew up the bridge connecting the two tunnels. After the War of Independence, the exit from the northern tunnel into Lebanon was blocked.
Today a cable car leads down the cliff to the caverns. In the northern train tunnel, a multi-media presentation tells the story of the caverns and the train tunnels. A tunnel dug through the cliff leads through the two largest caverns, exiting opposite the Elephant’s Foot, a large sea arch south of the ridge. From there, a path continues around the cliff back to the lower cable car station.

Understanding Megiddo


Megiddo is the mother-lode of the chronology and archaeology of the ancient periods in the Land of Israel. However, It is a complex site to understand. The site has 30 layers of civilization, stacked one on top of the other, spanning 4,000 years. Parts of the site are still unexcavated, others have been removed by the various archaeological expeditions.
Ancient cities in the Levant developed due to a few key factors; a perennial source of water, arable land, a secure location, and being on a significant crossroads through the ancient world. Megiddo had all three. It is located on a small hill overlooking the fertile Jezreel Valley; a relatively large spring emanates from the foot of the hill, and its location controls the most important highway of the ancient world – the road connecting the two principal river civilizations – Egypt, and Mesopotamia.

The Israelite Gate

Walk up the iron steps to the Six-Chambered Israeli gate. The gate had two towers in front of it — the foundations still clearly visible, a large plaza in front of the gate — with fortifications around it. Further down the road leading to the plaza remains of another tower can be seen. Even further down are a series of steps — that we passed on the path to the Bronze Age gate. This served as a pedestrian approach to the gate.

The three Iron Age layers of biblical Megiddo, are the most controversial of the site’s layers. These three layers out of thirty have been at the forefront of archaeological controversy for over fifty years.
The last Canaanite layer of Megiddo, layer VI, was destroyed by a massive blaze during the first half of the 10th century BCE. Most of the population was massacred, the buildings demolished, the temples burnt, and the city destroyed. On the ruins of Canaanite Megiddo, a new settlement arose with a population that had no affinity with the former Canaanite city.
The first Israelite layer, VB, is the earlier part of layer V. It was founded in the last third of the 10th century, somewhere around 920 BCE. Its beginnings was a group of structures on the Megiddo hill, one of them probably larger than the others, maybe a fortress or governor’s house. The date of the founding of this first Israelite city is crucial. Those who try to push the date back can attribute it to the United Kingdom of David and Solomon. Others, who claim that there was no Davidic Golden Age, attribute the founding of layer VB to the local Israelite tribes, who would eventually come together to form the Northern Israelite Kingdom.
Two controversial biblical verses attribute Megiddo to Solomon. I Kings 9: 15 reports that Solomon built “Jerusalem, Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo.” Yigael Yadin took this as proof that Solomon built fortifications and gates in all these cities. Yadin led an excavation in the 1960s to prove this point. I Kings 4: 12 recounts that Solomon had “12 governors over Israel” among them Baana, son of Ahilud, the governor of “Ta’anakh, Megiddo, and all Beit She’an.” Did Solomon’s kingdom ever reach as far as the Jezreel Valley? Could the flimsy first Israelite settlement of Megiddo be attributed to Solomon, even though the early Kingdom of Israel is a more plausible contention?
One of the earliest finds of the Chicago excavation was a 26-centimeter inscribed basalt base of a stela set up in Megiddo by Pharaoh Sheshonk – biblical Shishak. This Pharaoh conducted an aggressive military campaign in the Land of Israel recorded in the Bible, on the walls of the temple of Amon in Karnak, Egypt, and the stela from Megiddo.
Shishak’s campaign took place around 925 BCE. According to the Biblical and Egyptian accounts, it left a path of destruction throughout the country. However, there are no signs of destruction or battle on layer VB. The first Israelite layer developed gradually into the next layer. It is not logical to assume that Shishak would place a victory stela on a ruined city. Therefore, it would seem that the Egyptian Pharaoh was attempting to renew Egyptian control of the land, hence the victory column at Megiddo, which stood in the last Canaanite city, placing the first Israelite layer after 925 BCE. Shishak died three years after the campaign, and further attempts by the Egyptians to renew their empire in the east did not materialize. It seems logical to assume that layer VB was settled after the local Israelite tribes had devastated the last Canaanite city at Megiddo — sometime toward the end of the 10th century BCE and beginning of the 9th. The Biblical David and Solomon were long gone be then.

Go Out and Explore


This guide is the companion to the special issue of ERETZ Magazine, The Golan, and presents a selection of sites, attractions, and communities throughout one of Israel’s largest and most beautiful expanses of wide, green, open spaces. Much of the land on the Golan is a nature reserve and much of the rest is open, undeveloped space or agricultural fields and orchards. As a result, the Golan is the largest green lung in Israel.
Efforts have been underway since 1967 to unearth the Golan’s enigmatic history; thus far, over 30 synagogues from the time of the Mishnah and Talmud have been identified along with dozens of archaeological sites from the Roman and Byzantine periods and even prehistoric times. In addition, the Golan boasts a number of Crusader fortresses, Mameluke khans, and even interesting remains from modern times, dating from the French Mandate of Syria to the state of Syria.
One of the Golan’s most noteworthy features is that from the first day of settlement there in the wake of the Six Day War in June 1967, the pioneers of Kibbutz Golan (which became Kibbutz Merom Golan) refused to become enmeshed in the traditional political divisions of the various kibbutz and moshav movements. They set a precedent which the people of the Golan continue to uphold to this day.
“On the Golan,” the members of the Golan’s first kibbutz told David Ben-Gurion when he visited them in 1967, “there are not different political settlement movements. There is no division between religious and secular, kibbutz and moshav, or town and agricultural village. The Golan is a place where a new kind of civil society will be created – a society that is at peace with the different political divisions within it, the different people making up that society, and allows room for all.”
Over the years, the Golan has indeed demonstrated that it is defining making room for all as the new Zionist vision and agenda.
In an effort to provide you with a light, portable, convenient guide to use while traveling in the Golan, as compared to a thick, heavy tome, this is not a comprehensive list of all that exists in the Golan, but a selection of the sites we see as the most interesting. These sites include kibbutzim and other communities, historic and archaeological sites, nature attractions, and additional destinations that have a unique story.
The guide is organized into three main sections: north, central, and southern Golan. The numbers of the sites in the guide matches their numbers on the attached map for that section. These sections are followed by a special section on the Golan Trail and information about places to eat and sleep on the Golan.
I hope that this guide will encourage you to go out and explore the Golan – walk its trails and see its spectacular landscapes with your own eyes – its stunning sternbergias and irises in bloom and its flowing rivers and waterfalls.
Yadin Roman

Snow capped Mount Hermon (Almog)

Mount Hermon

One Mountain – A Wealth of Experiences
Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Vehicles can enter until 3 p.m.
Entry fee in winter.
Tel.: 1-599-550-560

As the only ski resort in Israel, the Hermon is a major tourism site that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to northern Israel annually. Suitable for the whole family, the site extends over 600 acres and is located 1,600-2,040 meters above sea level.
The ski lift, which operates year round, carries visitors 1,250 meters to the site’s upper level in about 15 minutes. The ski lift is suitable for passengers of all ages and each seat can accommodate up to two passengers.
In winter, visitors can ski, snowboard, take skiing lessons, or simply play in the snow. The site’s upper level offers sledding and the lower level offers mountain sledding year round along a one-kilometer track on which the sled can reach a speed of up to 45 km/h (the rider controls the sled’s speed with a hand brake). The track ascends, descends, twists, and turns through the Hermon’s amazing, wild landscapes, offering thrilling views and an exciting experience. Each sled can accommodate up to two riders. Riders must be at least three years old and 1.45 meters tall; children must be accompanied by an adult.
In summer, the site offers a combination of nature, scenic landscapes, family entertainment, and tours that introduce visitors to the heritage, history, and wealth of knowledge about northern Israel, while they enjoy the cool, pleasant weather. Summer highlights include driving a three-wheel mountain cart – the only one of its kind in Israel – along specially designed tracks (for visitors aged 15 and up). This pleasant yet challenging ride that plunges about 850 meters downhill will appeal to thrill seekers. Young visitors (age five and up) can explore the Hermon’s slopes by summer tubing: sliding down the mountain on inflatable tubes. Hikers can enjoy a wide variety of trails at different levels of difficulty. Free tours are offered in cooperation with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The tours tell of the battle during the Yom Kippur War over the Hermon outpost, a symbolic site which is the source of the mountain’s nickname, “the eyes of the state.”
Groups of devout Christians from around the world often visit the mountaintop to pray.
The route up to the site leads past the charming wooden houses of Moshav Neve Ativ, welcoming visitors into the Alpine atmosphere with fresh, crisp, clean air and a dazzling 360-degree view of one of the most beautiful places in Israel.

Early Travelers

The northern shore of the Dead Sea, 1920s. (Matson Collection, Library of Congress)

It is difficult to pinpoint when the Dead Sea and its historic sites were forgotten, but in the Middle Ages, major effort was required to visit the Dead Sea region, whose paths were unknown and its few places of settlement difficult to reach. In the early nineteenth century, when modern geographical research began, very few dared to travel to the Dead Sea. The Ottoman Empire, which had ruled this region since the sixteenth century, was in such disarray that, in 1831, the governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, gained control of the Land of Israel, holding it for nine years. The Bedouin tribes that roamed the deserts of the Middle East did not accept the overlordship of either the sultan in Istanbul or the Egyptian pasha in Cairo. Even if an adventurous explorer managed to obtain a permit from the sultan to visit a faraway corner of the empire such as the Dead Sea, the Bedouins showed no regard for this official sanction. At the very least, they demanded protection and passage money – each tribe in its own territory, according to the intertribal rivalries and wars over living space, grazing rights, and water sources.

It was impossible for a foreigner, especially a European, to just venture into the deserts of the Ottoman Empire. The first European travelers who attempted to navigate these routes learned to speak Arabic, versed themselves in Moslem customs, and dressed as Arabs, recording their impressions of this unknown world only when no prying eyes could watch. Some lost their lives in the attempt to explore these forbidden lands; they were murdered, died of unfamiliar diseases, lost their way, or dehydrated in the desert sun.

A lithograph of a convoy of travelers in Gaza from Charles William Meredith van de Velde’s travels in the Holy Land in the 1850s.

The first modern traveler to circumvent the Dead Sea was a German explorer, Ulrich Jasper Seetzen. Studying medicine in Gottingen, Germany (he became a doctor in 1789), Seetzen was exposed to a new approach in geography: employing travel observations and collections of flora, fauna, and artifacts to understand the world. It was one of his classmates, Alexander von Humboldt, the founder of modern geography, who developed the concept of travel in the field as the basis for the expansion of scientific knowledge. These new ideas profoundly influenced Seetzen; around 1799, he decided to devote himself to the discovery and research of the African continent. He lined up a few sponsors and contacted a few museums, promising to send them the specimens that he intended to collect during his travels. With the financial support for his mission secured, Seetzen set out for Africa, starting with Syria, which he reached in 1804. His first stop was Aleppo, where he improved his knowledge of Arabic and Moslem customs. In April 1805, he arrived in Damascus, from where he set out on a number of fact-finding trips to the Hauran and the Jordan Rift Valley. During his travels, he presented himself as a Moslem doctor by the name of Mousa al-Hakim (Mousa the doctor).

“I let my beard grow, dressed myself in a half-Turkish, half-Arab costume, took on an Arabic name, Mousa, and equipped myself with some medicines,” he reports.

The title of his second travel diary reveals the huge scope of his early travels: Travels from Aleppo to Damascus, and from there to the Hauran, the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, the Leja, Hermon, Golan, al-Ghor, Jabel Ajlon, el Balaka, and around the Dead Sea to Mount Hermon and Jerusalem. Seetzen collected information obsessively. He wrote down the names of all the villages along his way that he did not manage to get to, made a list of all the riverbeds around the city of Kerak, copied over 150 Greek inscriptions that he encountered along the way, compiled a list of the types of Arabian race horses, meticulously recorded the mineral composition of rocks, mentioned the names of all the animals that he saw, and gathered countless samples of flora.

On April 9, 1807, Seetzen arrived at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. He left behind a letter written in French, hanging it on the wall of the monastery’s guestroom: an amazing catalogue of unexplored sites that Seetzen was the first European to visit. Five years later, Swiss traveler John Lewis Burkhardt, the first European to reach Petra, copied it: “U. J. Seetzen, called Mousa, a German traveller, M.D. and recorder (Assesseur) of the College of H. M. the Emperor of all the Russias in the Seigneurie of Jever in Germany, came to visit the Convent of St. Catherine, the Mountains of Horeb, Moses and St. Catherine etc.; after having traversed all the ancient Eastern provinces of Palestine, namely: Batanea, Decapolis, Gileaditis, Ammonitis, Amorrhitis, and Moabitis, as far as the frontiers of Gebelene (Idumea) and after having twice made the tour of the Dead Sea, and having crossed the desert of Arabia Petraea, between the town of Hebron and Mt. Sinai, after a sojourn of ten days he continued his journey to the town of Suez” (Burkhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, 1822).

From Suez, Seetzen continued to Cairo. In March 1809, he sailed to Jidda in the Arabian Peninsula, bent on visiting the holy cities of Islam before continuing onward to the main area of his research: Africa. However, when he arrived in Mecca, he aroused the suspicions of the imam, who had him poisoned. Seetzen died in September 1811. His journals and notes were published 50 years later. When they finally were presented to the public, it turned out that they still were the most accurate descriptions of the areas he had visited. A sketch that Seetzen made of the Dead Sea area became the base for the first modern map of the Dead Sea.

Seetzen was not only the first modern explorer to circumvent the Dead Sea, but also the first to put Masada on the map, under the name “Szebby,” which was an Arabic distortion of the name “Saba,” that is, Masada.

A decade after Seetzen’s journey, two officers from the British Royal Navy, Charles Leonard Irby and James Mangles, set out on a brief tour of Europe and the Middle East. The tour that was planned to last for a few short months turned into a fascinating four-year adventure.

Following a comprehensive visit to the antiquities of Egypt, the two set out on camels to cross the Sinai desert to reach Jaffa. From there, they traveled north along the coast to Caesarea, Haifa, Acre, and Rosh Hanikra. They toured Lebanon; visited Tripoli, Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus; traveled through the Hauran and the Golan; descended to the Hula Valley; crossed the bridge of the Daughters of Jacob; visited Banias and the Hula Lake; ascended to Safed; passed through Tiberias, Zemah, Hamat Gader, and Beit She’an; and finally recrossed the Jordan to visit Jarash and Salt in Transjordan.

In May 1818, they planned to circumvent the Dead Sea and from there travel to Petra, in accordance with the wishes of their traveling companion and sponsor, Mr. Bankes. With typical English understatement, they explain the difficulties of undertaking this voyage: “as the only two Europeans who had ever been at… Petra [Seetzen and Burkhardt] are both dead…. performed this trip alone and in disguise… and made all their observations by stealth, which necessarily rendered their remarks very brief and cursory” (Charles Leonard Irby and James Mangles, Travels in Egypt and Nubia, Syria, and Asia Minor; During the Years 1817 & 1818). They decided to set out disguised as Moslems; Irby became Abdullah and Mangles, Hassan. After many difficulties, they finally made it to Petra. The return trip was around the southern edge of the Dead Sea, which resulted in a fascinating description of the vegetation and landscape of the Dead Sea shore and the fertile Zohar Valley. 

While riding back to Jerusalem, they reported on a phenomena that baffled Dead Sea experts for many decades. As they descended from Kerak to the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, they encountered a small caravan of horses and mules on their way to Jerusalem. Irby and Mangles overtook the caravan and on reaching the shore of the Dead Sea, turned south in order to ride around the southern edge and come up again on the other (western) side. As they rode up the western side, they suddenly saw, in the distance, the small caravan walking in front of them. The caravan, they reported, had crossed the sea on a shallow ford in its center. This enigmatic ford never was seen again, but inspired much speculation. If it had existed, then it would have been one of the reasons for the location of Masada. This short cut across the Dead Sea is exactly opposite, and in full sight of, the fortress. It would have been the shortest route between the oasis of Ein Gedi along the western shores of the sea and the fertile plains around Kerak on the other side of the sea and the shortest route from Jerusalem to the Nabatean Kingdom.

Seventeen years passed before the next chapter in the rediscovery of the Dead Sea area: the sad sojourn on the sea of Christopher Costigan, who set out in a small boat with a Maltese servant to sail on the Dead Sea. The 25-year-old Irishman decided to sail down the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and continue to sail around its coast. Costigan bought a boat in Beirut, transferred it to Acre, and then transported it on camelback to the Sea of Galilee. He arrived there at the height of summer, in July 1835, but the Jordan, then a mighty river, still had a strong, turbulent current that overturned Costigan’s small boat repeatedly. He did not give up and instead hired camels to carry the boat to Jericho and the Dead Sea. A few days after he and his servant arrived in Jericho, he sailed the boat on the waters of the Dead Sea. For the next eight days, Costigan circumvented the shores, measuring the depth of the waters at different points. At night, he slept on shore. At four points along the shores, the two sailors saw ancient ruins, one of which they identified as the ruins of Gomorrah. On the sixth day of their voyage, they ran out of water. The next day, Costigan started to drink Dead Sea water and on the eighth day, they barely managed to get back to the northern shore. The Maltese servant set out to seek help and left Costigan on the beach lying under the boat, where a group of Bedouins discovered him and took him and the boat to Jericho. The Maltese, in the meantime, made it to Jerusalem, where he recruited the aid of an European missionary, John Nicolayson. The missionary rushed to Jericho and found Costigan completely dehydrated. After harnessing a makeshift stretcher for Costigan to a horse, the missionary managed to transport him to Jerusalem, where a doctor eventually revived him. By then, however, he had contracted malaria, which claimed his life a few days later. He was buried in Jerusalem, in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion.

Two years after Costigan’s tragic attempt to sail the Dead Sea, two additional Englishmen, G. H. Moore and W. G. Beke, set out to make trigonometric measures on the Dead Sea. The two bought a boat in Beirut, shipped it to Jaffa, and transported it to Jericho via Jerusalem. They only managed to complete some of the tasks that they took upon themselves because their Bedouin guides were scared of entering the territory of the hostile tribes around the sea. Even so, they made some interesting discoveries, finding that the boiling point of water is much higher than normal at the Dead Sea. This led them to the conclusion that the Dead Sea is substantially lower than sea level. Barometers already had been invented by then, but they were too cumbersome to take along to the desert. It was only in 1841 that the real level of the Dead Sea finally was measured in a series of horizontal measurements taken with a level. An officer of the British Royal Engineers, J. F. A. Symonds, spent 10 weeks measuring the difference in elevation between the Mediterranean Sea at Jaffa and Jerusalem and then went on to measure the difference in elevation between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. His result – minus 1,311 feet, about 437 meters below sea level – was very close to the measurement that officers of the British Geographic Society obtained with a barometer a few decades later. Once that was solved, explorers moved on to the challenge of measuring the difference in height between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, which of course influenced the flow of the Jordan River, a topic which held their attention throughout the 1840s.

In 1847, Lt. Thomas Molyneux, of HMS Spartan, and three volunteers were sent to sail down the Jordan from the Sea of Galilee in order to measure the difference in elevation. None of the four had any experience with Bedouins or the desert. Molyneux set out at the end of August for Acre. From there, he transferred his boat on camelback to Tiberias, sailing from there into the Jordan River. Right from the beginning, Molyneux had trouble with the Bedouins. He refused to pay passage money and then insulted them by finally offering too meager a sum accompanied by a display of his arsenal of arms. Very soon, the four discovered that they could not continue on the serpentine river and so they continued on shore, where they discovered that they were amidst a large number of Bedouin encampments. Molyneux sent his companions to try to navigate the river again, but they were attacked by Bedouins who stole everything on board the boat. When the boat failed to arrive at the agreed-upon meeting point, Molyneux set out to look for his men, found the empty boat, and made a dash for Jericho and Jerusalem, where he put together a search party that was unable to find his crew.

Molyneux did not give up. He recruited a new crew: a guide from Tiberias and a young Greek from Jerusalem. As evening fell, he set sail on the Dead Sea. Molyneux’s boat was equipped with only two oars and his crew members did not have the faintest idea of how to maneuver the small vessel. After two stormy nights at sea, Molyneux realized that they would not make it to the peninsula in the middle of the eastern shore and decided to return to Jericho. After a night and a day of hard rowing, the three managed to return to the northern shore. Molyneux loaded the boat on camels and managed to return to the HMS Spartan, where he discovered his three original companions, safe and sound. They had managed to make their way back to the ship. Molyneux, like Costigan, came down with malaria, and died in November 1847, on board his ship in Tripoli or Beirut.

Heritage sites along the Road to Independence

Naharayim electric plant, 1930s (Matson Collection, Library of Congress)

Naharayim Experience, Gesher

In April 1948, Gesher was the first settlement that had to face the attack of a regular army – the Jordanian Arab Legion. In May 1948, with Israel’s declaration of independence, the settlement was in the eye of the Iraqi invasion. 

Following the siege, Gesher was totally destroyed, but its members held out until the withdrawal of the enemy. Upon the conclusion of the war, the settlement moved to a new site.

Today, a museum operates in the historic site. It illustrates life at Gesher in its early days through the old buildings, exhibits, and an audiovisual presentation. 

The site also includes the recently inaugurated Gaon Hayarden Promenade, whose circular route overlooks the Jordan River and the Naharayim power station. In the heart of the promenade is the Bridges Lookout, with a view of the three historic bridges that used to cross the Jordan.

Also at the Gesher site: a model illustrating the method of operation of the Naharayim power station, the remains of a caravansary from the Mameluke period, and a British police fortress. One of the locomotives that was used in the construction of Naharayim was completely renovated and repainted, and can be operated for a short trip around the site. Directions: Kibbutz Gesher. Access from Road No. 90, opposite the entrance to the kibbutz.

Castel National Park, Mevasseret Zion

Castel National Park is located on the ruins of a Crusader castle and an Arab village. In the War of Independence, the site was an important army post, which overlooked the main road to Jerusalem, and bloody battles were fought for control of the Castel. Reconstructed bunkers and trenches can be seen at the site, complete with explanatory signs. 

From the top of the hill there is a breathtaking view of the Judean Mountains.

Ben-Gurion House (Courtesy of Ben-Gurion House Museum)

Ben-Gurion House, Tel Aviv

This building was the home of David and Paula Ben-Gurion until they moved to Sde Boker. After their move, they would stay here on their visits to Tel Aviv.
Ben-Gurion bequeathed the house to the State of Israel. The house contains the same furnishings, decorations, and household objects it had when the Ben-Gurions lived there, in addition to exhibits. It was opened to visitors in 1974. 

In 1981, the building to the north, the home of labor leader Hillel Cohen, was made part of the museum compound, in accordance with Cohen’s will. This building houses a permanent display on Ben-Gurion and his heritage and classrooms that are used for lectures and seminars on the Jewish people, Zionism, and society. 

The museum offers activities for children and youth and has a 20-minute film. 

Ben-Gurion’s library is open to the public (by appointment).

Palmach Museum, Tel Aviv

This museum features a sophisticated presentation on the Palmach (an acronym for Plugot Hamahatz or Striking Force), the military branch of the Haganah underground organization. 

It shows the Palmach’s heritage and role in the War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel. 

Visitors join a group of young people from the time they enlist in the Palmach, shortly after its establishment, until the end of Israel’s War of Independence. Their fascinating personal story, a three-dimensional display, and special effects bring the documentary material about this period to life. 

The tour of the museum begins and concludes in a memorial hall for fallen Palmach fighters.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibits. Additional educational activities, led by museum guides, are available if arranged in advance. The Palmach Museum is part of the Museums Unit of the Ministry of Defense.

Outpost Facing Gaza, Kibbutz Sa’ad

This museum is located in the only building that survived after Kibbutz Sa’ad came under heavy attack in Israel’s War of Independence. 

The site is devoted to a depiction of the history of the three religious kibbutzim in the area. On the ground floor of the museum is an exhibit of photographs from Sa’ad’s experience in the War of Independence and telegrams describing events in the time of the war. 

The exhibit shows the suffering of the fighters who had to spend day and night in the trenches. 

On the second floor, an audiovisual presentation is screened; it deals with the atmosphere in the Land of Israel in the time of the war and other topics. The building’s roof affords a nice view of the entire Gaza Strip.

Yad L’Isha Halochemet, Old Nitzanim

The battle of Nitzanim, whose fallen included three female fighters, inspired the creation of Yad L’Isha Halochemet, a monument dedicated to the women who lost their lives in the battle and to female fighters in all of Israel’s wars.

The monument is part of the Old Nitzanim site, which features an audiovisual presentation on Nitzanim’s heroism in Israel’s War of Independence and on the female fighters. 

Visitors can also see “The Palace” – an old Arab orchard house in which the defenders of Nitzanim bastioned themselves, reconstructed positions from 1948, and other monuments to fighters.

The site offers a variety of guided tours in the adjacent Dune Park.

War of Independence. Damages in Kibbutz Negba at water tower after the Egyptian soldiers left (GPO)

The Open Museum, Kibbutz Negba

A bronze monument sculpted by Natan Rapaport depicts three Negev defenders. Beside it is the Open Museum, featuring the water tower that was a major lookout point in Israel’s War of Independence and was blown up by Egyptian planes. There are also an Egyptian tank, the first tractor on Kibbutz Negba, and Negba’s original tower and stockade site (the structures were put up overnight to create settlements before the British could stop them).

Givati Brigade House, Yoav Fortress, Lakhish 

This site played an important role in Israel’s War of Independence. The museum focuses on the deeds of the brigade in 1948 and also on the new Givati Brigade. 

It offers a selection of videotapes, and the memorial room has a wall with the names of the fallen of the brigade and a computerized system that provides information about them.

In addition, there is a room with Israeli and Egyptian weapons; exhibits of Israeli and Egyptian military vehicles; a lookout tower; an amphitheater for various gatherings; a library, and an instructional center. 

The museum offers guided tours to Givati sites in the area.

Ben-Gurion’s Hut, Kibbutz Sde Boker

The hut that was the desert home of David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, and his wife Paula has remained as Ben-Gurion left it when he died (1973), as he requested in his will. 

The area around the hut is well tended. In addition, approach paths have been paved, and plazas for presenting explanations have been built. Sayings from David Ben-Gurion’s philosophy and pictures illustrating early life on Kibbutz Sde Boker have been incorporated in the area.

In the heart of the hut is Ben-Gurion’s workroom, containing part of his library. In this room, he wrote his many books and articles. 

In the next hut, which was used by his bodyguards, is an exhibit showing David Ben-Gurion’s special attachment to the Negev.

Yad Mordechai Museum (Heidi Gleit)

Yad Mordechai Museum, Kibbutz Yad Mordechai

This museum is devoted to the Holocaust, the partisan battles in World War II, and the fighting in the area of Yad Mordechai during Israel’s War of Independence. 

The section depicting the Holocaust chronicles the rise of the Nazis to power, the life of the Jews in the ghettos, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the path to the crematoria of Auschwitz.

The museum narrates the resistance
of companies of Jewish partisans in Nazi-occupied territory, the clandestine immigration to the Land of Israel, the establishment of 11 settlement points in the Negev (1946), the battles against the Egyptian invaders, and mainly
the bitter fighting for Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.

Beside the museum is a monument to Mordechai Anilewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the person after whom the kibbutz is named. 

The scene of the battle for Yad Mordechai is re-created in the spot where it took place.

The Israel Trail


Thirty years after its inauguration and with some modifications, the nearly one thousand kilometer trail is an experience not to be missed. Yes, it’s a 45-day hike that some Israelis finish in one haul. Most people will do it in segments. Families set out to hike the trails 52 segments in a year of weekends (it has become very popular as a bar-bat mitzvah year project), others hike it in three-day segments over a long time (the last group that I led on the trail did it in 5 two day meetings a year over six years). 

There is no better way to get to know the landscapes of Israel and its people than by hiking the trail. So the next time you’re here, take a few days on the trail. It is clearly marked, and you don’t have to be an expert hiker. But, once you finish, it is an experience that your grandchildren will talk about to their children, telling them stories of that time “when our parents hiked the Israel Trail.”

eretz magazine | issue 181



Israel is a land of varied landscapes and a bewildering assortment of historic, and ancient sites. But, it is no Italy, or Egypt. There are no towering cathedrals, no‭ ‬ostentatious palaces, no pillared temples. Israel is a land of soul and feeling. To really enjoy it you need an interpreter, to bring to life the astounding essence of this country. 

These interpreters are the Israeli tour guides – the madrichim; the mentors who fill with meaning the ruins and sites. 

For the past two-years the madrichim have been out of work – waiting for the day when tourism will resume. Hopefully we will find the way to preserve the profession, and not discover tomorrow that we cannot give our visitors the experience that is Israel. 

Yadin Roman

Jacob Shoshan

I am looking forward to welcoming you back. Enjoy the intriguing mosaic of creeds, cultures, flavors, and scents that make up this country. We’d love to show you many new locations – Anu, the Jewish Museum, Innovation Centers, agriculture technology, artifacts discovered in archaeological digs.

Marion Forster Bleiberg

I miss the sense of adventure, the passion of sharing my enthusiasm about this amazing country with its flaws and extraordinary achievements. .

Ran Peri

I miss the sparkle in my tourists’ eyes at the end of a day in Jerusalem’s Old City, always an intense experience. No structure or edifice in Jerusalem will take your breath away, but the text that enlightens these sites is the biggest story ever told.

Gila Toledano

My dear friends. I miss you. The comradeship on the bus, your love of everything to be seen in this country. Miss our walking tours, hikes in the desert and mountains, and all that fills me with love and passion for helping you visit this country. 

Avi Camchi

Waiting to have you back and show you around on a life-altering experience. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, The Galilee, The Negev Desert, The Jordan River.  Israel is a treasure trove of historical sites – with unique Arts and Fashions scenes, a trendsetting culinary haven, and a multi-cultural spectrum.

The Source


The most impressive of the ancient remains at Megiddo is the water system with its grand shaft and tunnel. The system was discovered by the Chicago Expedition in a complex dig that involved dozens of workers and the removal of massive amounts of earth. Once the system was cleared a concrete roof was built over the entrance to the shaft and steps were built to make it possible to descend to the tunnel.

Megiddo had two sources of water. Ein Megiddo (Ein el Kobi) in the east, and a second water source in the west. The second water source emanated from a cavern that over the years was deepened by the inhabitants of Megiddo to concentrate a larger flow of water. A series of steps was built leading down from the western side of the tel into the cavern and the water. Reaching the western water source from the tel entailed walking out of the gate in the north eastern part of the city and then around the northern walls to the spring. In the 9th century BCE, during the time of the Omrides, a stepped gallery which allowed access from the western side of the tel straight down to the entrance of the cavern was built.

The water system itself was built in the 8th century BCE during the time of Yoash and Jeroboam the Second. It involved digging an open pit through the ancient layers on the western side of the tel, all the way down to bedrock. Here a diagonal shaft was hewn in the rock, down what was presumed to be the water level – probably marked by a clay layer that caught the water seeping through the limestone rocks, the catchment area of the spring. Then a 52-meter long tunnel was hewn through the rock all the way to the spring. Finding the clay layer was a complex operation – but figuring out in what direction to dig was a more complex and difficult task. 

Once the tunnel reached the spring a second stage was embarked upon. The tunnel was deepened and extended to the bottom of the outside pier, so that the water could flow from the spring along the tunnel to the area of the shaft, and from there it was drawn up into the city. Once this was completed the outside entrance to the spring was blocked so that the only access to the water was from inside the city.

The water level that collects in the pool of the spring fluctuates according to the amount of rainfall every year and during the rainy season. Even today after heavy rains the waters from the spring will flood the tunnel keeping it closed for weeks on end.

Use of the water system probably ceased with the Assyrian conquest. We don’t know exactly how this happened, but a gruesome find when the water system was unearthed may provide us with a clue. On the inside of the blocked up original entrance to the spring a skeleton was found – it may have been the soldier who was posted to guard the entrance and who died at his post.

Skeleton discovered at the blocked entrance to the spring. Perhaps the guard assigned to guard the water system on Megiddo’s final hour. (Oriental Institute, Chicago)
The blocked outside entrance to the spring. (Oriental Institute, Chicago)
Left: The tunnel in the 1930s. (Oriental Institute, Chicago) Right: Unearthing the water system shaft. Notice the original steps. (Oriental Institute, Chicago)



“The largest cache of documents found in the Cave of the Letters was the archive of Babatha, daughter of Shimeon son of Menahem. Thanks to this women – who managed to survive two husbands and must have spent most of her live in litigation, either suing the guardians of the fatherless son or being sued by the various members of her deceased husbands’ families – we have come by a priceless source for the period just preceding the war of Bar Kokhba. It is full of legal, historical, geographical, and linguistic data”
(Y. Yadin, Bar Kokhba, Weidenfeld&Nicolson 1971, p.222)

The discovery of ancient scrolls in the Judean Desert sparked a race between archaeologists and antiquity thieves to find additional fragments of the past to research or sell. Every nook and cranny in the caves and canyons of the Judean Desert was combed and excavated in the hunt for ancient treasures. Papyri and other documents yielded the best prices in the markets of Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jerusalem.
The first large Israeli archaeological expedition in the Judean Desert set out in 1960. In 1961, it members combed the cliffs of the canyons south of Ein Gedi. They divided into several teams; Yigael Yadin led the team that explored the cave in the Nahal Hever canyon that subsequently was dubbed the Cave of the Letters. Yadin’s team uncovered some of the expeditions most spectacular finds in this cave, where Jews from Ein Gedi had hidden from the Romans in 135 CE, during the final year of the ill-fated Bar Kokhba Revolt. The Roman army apparently besieged the caves in Nahal Hever until all those hiding in them died. In addition to the skeletons of the Jewish rebels, this cave contained letters from the time of Bar Kohkba that seem to have been part of an archive belonging to the leaders of the rebels in Ein Gedi. They include correspondence between them and Bar Kokhba’s headquarters at Herodium. Bar Kokhba himself signed those letters with the name, “Simeon son of Kosiba,” and the title, “nasi [president] of Israel.”

Babatha was widowed twice. Her first husband was Joshua son of Joseph and they had a son who also was named Joshua. After her husband’s death, Babatha waged a long legal battle with his family.

The excavation of the Cave of the Letters also found a leather purse with documents that had been hidden in the cave. It contained 35 papyri that were organized and catalogued by topic. They belonged to a wealthy Jewish woman who lived during the second century CE and was named Babatha the daughter of Simeon son of Menahem. These documents reveal more than a few details about Babatha’s life. She was born around 104 CE in Mahoza, a small agricultural town on the southeast shore of the Dead Sea near Zo’ar, a few kilometers from the border between the Roman provinces of Judea and the land of the Nabateans.
The archive sheds light on the personal life of a Jewish businesswoman, as revealed in the ketubah from her marriage to her second husband, Judah son of Eleazar of Ein Gedi.
Babatha was widowed twice. Her first husband was Joshua son of Joseph and they had a son who also was named Joshua. After her husband’s death, Babatha waged a long legal battle with his family regarding the custody of their son, child support arrangements, and the share of his estate due to her. Babatha remarried to Judah son of Eleazar, who was known as Kthousion, and served as her son’s guardian. Judah, a wealthy Ein Gedi resident and grove owner, also was married to Miriam daughter of Ba’ayan, with whom he had a daughter named Shelamzion.
Judah became ill and died in 130 CE, without having any children with Babatha. According to their marriage contract, she inherited his palm groves in Ein Gedi as collateral for his debts to her. In 135 CE, the last year of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Babatha was at Ein Gedi. Perhaps she moved there when the revolt began or after she married Judah. His first wife, Miriam daughter of Ba’ayan, was the sister of Jonathan son of Ba’ayan, the leader of the revolt in Ein Gedi. When the Roman army arrived in 135 CE to destroy the Jewish settlements in the Dead Sea valley, the residents of Ein Gedi fled to hide in the caves that they had prepared for just this eventuality. Babatha set out with her son Joshua, Miriam, Shelamzion, and Jonathan for the large cave hidden in the cliff of the Nahal Hever Riverbed.

Esler’s main advantage in examining the text is that prior to becoming a historian, he was a lawyer. Since Babatha’s archive contains legal documents, he approached them not only from the perspective of a historian, but also of a legal scholar.

Tombstone of Hannah. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem/V. Naikhin)

The Romans discovered their cave as well as the other caves in the Nahal Hever cliffs where rebels were hiding. They set up a camp on the top of the cliff on both sides of the riverbed. It is not clear if the Romans descended to the caves, which were accessed via a narrow stone ledge, or simply waited until the rebels died of thirst and hunger. In any case, none of the rebels in the caves survived. Yadin’s team discovered their skeletons in the caves in 1961.
Babatha apparently hid a waterskin containing the purse with documents, along with the keys to her home, a number of valuables, and cosmetic utensils in a cavity in the floor of the cave, where the excavation team found it.
Naturally, the correspondence between Bar Kokhba, from his base at Herodium, and his commanders in Ein Gedi, Jonathan and Masabala, was the discovery from this cave that won the most renown. However, Babatha’s archive, which reveals the details of the daily life of a Jewish businesswoman in the Dead Sea valley in the first century CE, attracted more than a little attention from researchers. Every detail of her life and those close to her, her property, and her legal struggles has been researched and written about in academic articles and books.
The papyri discovered in the Cave of the Letters include the marriage contract of Salome Komaise, daughter of Levy. Additional documents mentioning her were discovered later in Nahal Ze’elim, creating another personal archive of a woman from that period. Babatha and Salome lived in Mahoza, to the east of the Dead Sea. The archaeological finds indicate that they knew each other. The palm groves that they owned were next to one another, the same people served as witnesses to sign their documents, and they both died in the same cave in Nahal Hever. Beyond that, both women owned property, enjoyed a relatively high socioeconomic status, and managed complex businesses that involved large sums of money. Many people mentioned in both women’s documents were Jews, an indication that Mahoza was home to a flourishing Jewish community even though it was in Nabatean territory.
The material from their archives was published sluggishly, mainly appearing in the 1990s, some 30 years after it was discovered. Many researchers have studied the archives since then; their different interpretations of it have sparked stormy academic debates, which naturally inspired more articles and research.
The latest additions to the wealth of research on these archives were recently published. Prof. Philip Esler, of the University of Gloucestershire in England, examines the four oldest documents in Babatha’s archive in Babatha’s Orchard: The Yadin Papyri and an Ancient Jewish Family Tale Retold (Oxford University Press, 2017). Kimberley Czajkowski addresses legal aspects of life in the periphery of the Roman Empire, on the border between Judea and the land of the Nabateans, and how the residents coped with the political changes occurring around them in Localized Law: The Babatha and Salome Komaise Archives (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Mystery of the Four Documents

In 2013, Esler began reexamining the documents in Babatha’s archive. His area of expertise is the books of the New Testament, particularly the Gospel of Matthew, which was written in the second century CE. That sparked his interest in Babatha’s archive since it was written during the same period. Esler’s main advantage in examining the text is that prior to becoming a historian, he was a lawyer. Since Babatha’s archive contains legal documents, he approached them not only from the perspective of a historian, but also of a legal scholar.
Babatha’s contracts were preserved as “tied” deeds. The same text was written on the papyrus twice, at the top and the bottom. After the writing was completed, the upper part of the papyrus was rolled up and tied shut. The witnesses signed the back of the document next to the strings that sealed it in order to protect its integrity as an original document. If any doubts arose about the version of the text that remained visible on the unrolled section, it was possible to untie it in the presence of witnesses to see if the part in the rolled section matched it. If they matched, that meant the text had not been tampered with.
Four documents in the archive attracted Esler’s attention. They had been written between 94 and 99 CE, almost 40 years before the Bar Kokhba Revolt. They all dealt with agreements that were signed in Mahoza. One of them was a sales contract for the purchase of a large grove of date palms by Babatha’s father. This grove later was given to her and she was registered as its owner in 127 CE according to the Roman authorities. However, the other three documents are not related at all to Babatha’s father and two of them dealt with a matter that was not related to the grove Simeon bought or to his life in Mahoza.

’Amat-’Isi gave her husband two years to return the loan without interest. If the loan were not returned within that amount of time, they would need to pay interest of 9% per year and ’Amat-’Isi could demand to be repaid in full at any time.

The first of the three additional documents outlined the terms of a loan that two entrepreneurs, ‘Abad-‘Amanu and Muqimu, took to open an agricultural business in the profitable palm groves of the Dead Sea valley. Since they lacked the means to rent palm groves, Muqimu borrowed from the dowry of his wife ’Amat-’Isi. ‘Abad-‘Amanu and Muqimu were guarantors on the loan. This loan sheds light on the rights of women in the ancient world with regard to managing their financial assets independently of their husbands. Even though a married woman was able to loan property only to her husband, she was able to demand that the debt be repaid at any given moment in order to guarantee financial independence for her and her children, mainly as protection if her husband divorced her. The document on the loan, which was signed in 94 CE, features all the aspects of loans that are in use today on modern documents such as the length of time of the loan, the repayment schedule, the interest, the penalties in the case that the loan is not returned on schedule, and the names of the guarantors.
’Amat-’Isi gave her husband two years to return the loan without interest. The two entrepreneurs apparently thought that they would be able to return the loan within two years thanks to the profits they would earn from the groves. If the loan were not returned within two years, they would need to pay interest of 9% per year and ’Amat-’Isi could demand to be repaid in full at any time.
Esler did not understand what this agreement was doing in the purse with Babatha’s documents. He decided to study the four Nabatean documents about business dealings in Mahoza further in a bid to figure out what they were doing in Babatha’s archive.
The second document, which was signed five years after the first one in 99 CE, is a sales contract for a palm grove on the shore of the Dead Sea. A woman named ’Abi-‘adan daughter of ’Aptah son of Manigares sold it to a man named Archelaus. It was an expansive grove on the shore of the Dead Sea next to a grove that Nabatean King Rabel II owned.

Nahal Hever. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Archelaus was a well-known figure in his day. He was a local who did well for himself, rising to a senior position in the service of the Nabatean royal family. His father, ‘Abad-‘Amanu, Muqimu’s partner, also served the Nabatean royal family in the army. Upon completing his army service, he returned to the village of his birth, invested in agriculture, and together with Muqimu began to expand the business by renting additional palm groves. He apparently helped his son, who also wanted to serve in the royal service, by tapping his extensive connections in the army and friends who resided in the Nabatean capital of Petra. Shortly before acquiring the palm grove, Archelaus was appointed governor of one of the provinces of the Nabatean kingdom and decided to expand his family’s holdings along the southern coast of the Dead Sea by purchasing this handsome palm grove on its shores. He saw the fact that the grove bordered the royal family’s property as a great advantage that would allow him to become even closer to the king and advance himself further.
The sales contract, as one would expect, detailed the exact borders of the grove that ’Abi-‘adan sold to Archelaus. Surprisingly, the third document in this group in Babatha’s archive, which was dated to one month after the palm grove was sold to Archelaus, is a sales contract for the same grove, with a few changes in the borders, to Simeon the son of Menahem, that is, to Babatha’s father. This raises the question of why and how did ’Abi-‘adan sell the same grove to two different people, one month after the other. The consensus among researchers is that the sale to Archelaus fell through so she sold it to Babatha’s father instead.
Esler rejected that interpretation. His close examination of the documents revealed a different story.
Simeon, Esler conjectured, wanted to buy ’Abi-‘adan’s handsome palm grove on the shore of the Dead Sea alongside the property of King Rabel II. However, when he approached her about purchasing it, he discovered that it already had been sold to Archelaus of the village of Rummon in exchange for 112 selas, which were equal to 448 Roman dinars.
Esler concluded that in the short time that passed between Archelaus’s purchase of the grove and its sale to Simeon, a number of dramatic events occurred. Archelaus’s father ‘Abad-‘Amanu apparently died suddenly and unexpectedly around the time of the sale. ‘Abad-‘Amanu, as mentioned above, was Muqimu’s partner and the two had taken a loan from ‘Abad-‘Amanu’s wife five years before the agreement between Archelaus and ’Abi-‘adan. Their agriculture venture apparently did not go well and they did not succeed to return the loan within two years, as they had hoped, and so they now needed to pay interest for three years in addition to the loan itself. The death of one of the partners and the failure of their business venture scared ’Amat-’Isi and she demanded repayment, in accordance with both the law and the loan contract.
However, ’Amat-’Isi did not turn to her husband since she knew that he was unable to repay the debt. Instead, she turned to Archelaus, the heir of her husband’s late partner. His closeness to the ruling family led people in the Zo’ar area to assume that he would have access to sources of revenue that would allow him to raise the money.
However, it turned out that Archelaus was unable to repay his father’s debt and so he asked ’Abi-‘adan to annul his purchase of the orchard so that he could get his money back and use it to pay at least part of his father’s growing debts.
Zo’ar was a small place and the gossip about the cancellation of the sale reached Simeon’s ears. However, he did not return to ’Abi-‘adan, but instead waited for her to approach him.

The Nabateans barely left any written history. All that is known about them is derived from a small number of Greek and Roman historians who described the Nabateans’ lifestyle in general based on secondary sources.

Items of a personal nature found in the Cave of the Letters in the Judean Desert, 132-135 CE. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Moshe Ken)

This is where the fourth document in the group comes in. This document also explains why the borders of the grove changed. The grove that Simeon wished to purchase was divided into two parts: a large section that ’Abi-‘adan owned and sold to Archelaus; and a smaller section that was sold to her husband Hasmar’il. Simeon wanted to buy the entire grove, since it was a wonderful, flourishing garden on the shore of the Dead Sea. As the only buyer remaining in the picture, he conditioned his purchase on it including both parts of the grove.
As a result, in one session, in the presence of five witnesses and stakeholders, both contracts were signed together. In order to ensure that Archelaus and his heirs would not claim one day that they actually bought the grove, Simeon had Archelaus serve as one of the witnesses on the contract for his purchase of the grove.
All of these documents were handed over to the main party of interest, Simeon. Since he held the original contracts, no one could claim that the sale had not been carried out in accordance with the law. The first contract, the loan that initially did not seem to be related in which Muqimu borrowed money from his wife, also became part of Babatha’s archive as proof of what led Archelaus to change his mind about the grove that he had purchased only a month earlier.
The drama surrounding this real estate transaction, that occurred 2,000 years ago, reveals the significance of women in the financial world in those days. The web of contracts was set in motion by the loan that a woman gave to her husband for business purposes. The woman did not only demand the repayment of the debts, but also protected her husband’s reputation and tried to find creative solutions to guarantee the continued success of her investments.
Babatha would go on to expand her personal property greatly. In addition to the large palm grove that her father gave her as a present and that she registered under her name in 127 CE, she also inherited a great deal of property in the Ein Gedi groves from her second husband. She went to Ein Gedi in order to manage her property and the legal discussions regarding it. She brought along the case with the documents – certificates, contracts, and marriage contracts that demonstrate the chain of legal events in her life. They were catalogued by topic, with the documents for each topic folded together into a bundle in the case.
She apparently was forced, against her will, to flee to the cave, but intended to return afterwards to continue her life. This is why she took along the documents and the keys to her house. At an especially difficult moment, she hid everything under a stone in a cavity in the rock, where they waited for 1,900 years until Yadin’s team found them.

Nabatean art objects. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

The Death of Rabel II

Czajkowski’s book looks at how the residents of the area on the border of Judea and the land of the Nabateans handled the political upheavals that roiled their surroundings. The documents in both archives date from a very stormy period in this part of the Roman empire. The earliest documents are from 92 CE and the latest documents are from 132 CE. This period includes the reign of the last Nabatean king, Rabel II, and the annexation of the Nabatean kingdom into the Roman Empire by Trajan in 106 CE.
The Nabateans barely left any written history. All that is known about them is derived from a small number of Greek and Roman historians who described the Nabateans’ lifestyle in general based on secondary sources. Other than that, Josephus Flavius writes about ties between the Nabateans and the Hasmonean kingdom and Herod. Archaeological excavations of their cities and settlements revealed additional information.
The Nabateans’ origins are shrouded in mystery. They already had established themselves in the Arabian peninsula, southern Jordan, the Negev, and around the Dead Sea by the Persian period. They were a few nomadic tribes who spoke a strain of Arabic. For a long period, they were merchants who carried spices and perfumes across the Arabian peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea via camel caravans. They also traded in bitumen from the Dead Sea, which was used in medicine and embalming. Over time, they expanded northward and wandered throughout all of Transjordan up to the Hauran.
In the second century BCE, Greek sailors discovered the secrets of the monsoon winds that enable them to sail directly from India to the Red Sea, making the Nabatean caravan routes across land redundant. In the first century BCE, the flourishing Nabatean economy floundered. The solution was permanent settlements and desert agriculture. The Nabateans made the most of their hydrological skills to develop distinctive, wide-ranging desert agriculture, from producing wine to raising Arabian race horses for Greek and Roman circuses.
Petra developed as the kingdom’s capital and the seat of the Nabatean dynasty, growing into a large, flourishing city. Apparently the transformation from nomadism to agriculture led to the rise of a royal family. The first Nabtean king that is known is Aretas I, whose reign began around 168 BCE, and the last is Rabel II, who died in 106 CE. In other words, a royal dynasty continued for some 300 years. Rabel II became king in 70 or 71 CE, around the time that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem following the Great Revolt. Rabel II was a vassal king who ruled under Roman sponsorship, but maintained a degree of independence; this apparently was the case in the Nabatean kingdom since the time of Pompey.
When Rabel II died in 106 CE, the Romans annexed his kingdom to their empire. The new province was called Arabica. It is not clear how the annexation came about and whether it involved a battle or occurred quietly. However, it is clear that it caused a dramatic change in the lifestyle of the residents of the land of the Nabateans as new laws and new customs were imposed on them.
There is no doubt that this is one of the reasons that the documents in the archives of Babatha and Salome are written in the three languages used by the three regimes that prevailed in the Mahoza area. In her book, Czajkowski examines how the residents adapted their daily routines to cope with the changing legal system. Much of the book is dedicated to the scribes who draft the various documents. She provides an entire discussion on whether Babatha, Salome, and their households knew how to read and write. This is a complex question. One document in Babatha’s archive indicates that she did not know how to read, but that might mean that she did not know how to read Greek, Nabatean, or Aramaic, but did know how to read in another language. Some researchers claim that the use of scribes to write contracts indicates that the population did not know how to write. However, that claim seems slightly misleading since even in modern times when literacy is widespread, the average person does not write a sales contract, a loan contract, or even a simple receipt, but instead turns to a lawyer. There is no doubt that in a world in which three languages were employed, representing three legal systems and resulting from significant changes in rule, drafting a contract is not a trivial matter, especially since it would need to be valid in all three systems and perhaps in a new unexpected one. That made it vital to turn to a knowledgeable lawyer, or a scribe to use the language of the day, who was fluent in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Nabatean, as well as Greek and perhaps also Latin, to formulate agreements. This was particularly important for marriages, loans, and real-estate transactions, which remain in force for the long term, so that the documentation of them would be considered valid in a court in the future if needed, even if the regime changed again.

The valleys of Safi and Zo’ar in the southern Dead Sea area. (Stephanie Gormann)

These documents date to a fascinating chapter in the history of the Jewish people: the period between the devastating destruction of the kingdom in the Great Revolt against the Romans and the total annihilation that followed the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Life for the average person continued amid these major historic events. People married, families grew, legal struggles were waged over property and inheritances, loans were extended, and agricultural ventures yielded handsome profits. Babatha and Salome were born some three decades after the Great Revolt. Their families may have settled in Mahoza in the years immediately after the revolt. They came of age in the midst of the preparations for the Bar Kokhba Revolt and continued to manage their legal affairs even after the revolt began, in between the battles. Their documents contain no mention of the revolt, they did business with both Jews and non-Jews, and their archives contain very little that is overtly Jewish or religious in nature. It is impossible to know what they were thinking in their final moments, in the cave in Nahal Hever, as the Roman Army camped above them waiting for them to starve to death or die of thirst. In those final moments in the cave, they most likely were not thinking about their flourishing palm groves, but about what whether all this extremism would give birth to anything other than destruction and devastation.

Lake and Swamp


Only in 2004, nearly half a century after the Hula wetlands were drained, did the Hula Nature Reserve begin to recover. The amendment to Israel’s Water Law that recognized Nature as a legitimate consumer of water allowed the reserve to receive clean Jordan River water together with water from the Einan Springs. The influx of the original water sources of the lake had a remarkable effect. Today the Hula Valley, with its system of canals and waterways, springs, and pools, is trying to correct the damage of what was perceived seventy years ago as an outstanding national achievement.

Interview with Yifat Artzi, Hula Valley ecologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority

The Hula Nature Reserve began to recover in 2004 when the amendment to Israel’s Water Law declared that Nature, including springs, riverbeds, and wetlands, is entitled to a fair share of the country’s water sources. The law recognizes Nature as a legal consumer of water in an amount that will enable the preservation and rehabilitation of Israel’s natural landscapes.
Until the amendment to the law, the Hula Nature Reserve’s water supply was made up of the fishpond spillage in the valley. The amount of water was barely enough to keep the reserve alive and not of the quality needed to preserve the flora and fauna that did manage to survive. The ecological well-being of the nature reserve declined year after year.
With the water law change, the reserve began receiving freshwater from the Jordan River, pumped into the nature reserve in ever-increasing amounts. Next, water from the copious Einan Springs, released into the Einan Riverbed, also began to flow into the reserve. The Einan water temperature, which emanates from deep down in the earth, is a constant 21 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit), making the riverbed a thermal haven for plants and animals in winter.
This warmth is crucial for certain fish species, tilapia (St. Peter’s Fish), for example, and water-borne plants such as Ceratophyllum submersum and London pondweed that used to thrive in the Hula. Once the water quality improved, many of the plants that had once prospered in the Hula reappeared. The natural world of the Hula Valley recovered spontaneously. Before the Hula water world’s revival, the pools and ponds had been infested with invasive species such as the dominant and robust catfish, together with carp and mullet that had escaped from the fishponds, and are not even native to the Land of Israel.
Wetlands recover rapidly, with the original flora and fauna reappearing as if out of thin air. The most famous revival example is that of the Hula painted frog, the first amphibian to officially be declared extinct. The frog had not been seen for over fifty years and was considered extinct. In 2011, Yoram Malka, the Hula park ranger, caught a fleeting glimpse of the frog as it leaped across the road. Since then, the extinct frog has been showing up all around the Hula reserve.
The painted frog is a very ancient amphibian species. Fossils of painted frogs uncovered in prehistoric sites in the Hula Valley indicate that the frog has not evolved in hundreds of thousands of years. Biologists searching for the frog’s environmental DNA have discovered traces of its existence in many ponds and water bodies around the valley. It seems that a large population of painted frogs had inhabited the shores of the Hula Lake and its swamps for thousands of years.
The return of the white-tailed eagle to nest in the Hula Reserve is another environmental success story. White-tailed eagles are an endangered species, with a worldwide population of less than 7,000. Israel was the southernmost place where these eagles nested. After the draining of the swamp, the white-tailed eagles vanished from Israel. Attempts to acclimatize them by importing eagles from Europe failed, even though, for many years, a single pair of these imported white-tailed eagles nested in the Hula reserve – but with no offspring. Eventually, it turned out that they were both male eagles. When a female eagle released into the wild as part of a project to get the eagles to nest in Israel, joined the two males, hopes soared. Two chicks hatched, but they became ill and died. Then a new female, released into the wild, arrived in the reserve. The new female paired up with one of the two males, and the couple is now building a large nest on a tree in the Hula reserve. Hopes are high that this single nest will mark the white-tailed eagle’s return to nest in the Hula Valley.

Fish Ladders

The Hula reserve is a contrived natural space. It exists as long as human beings continue to manage it. The reserve water supply is artificial, its water level is carefully controlled, and the infrastructure of embankments and dams is maintained continuously. The reserve was created following public pressure from a few environmentalists fighting to preserve the swamp and lake’s wildlife. However, the nature reserve, established on the area that used to be the lake, could not maintain the swampland’s plants on the peat floor of the swamp.
Outside the reserve, in the drained swampland, the peat dried up, caught fire, and blew away as dust and ashes during the summer windstorms. Every year the height of the Hula Valley floor sank. The nature reserve, buffered behind its embankments, remained at the level of the former lake. Today, the nature reserve is two meters higher than the former swamp’s peat covered floor, disconnected from the rest of the Hula Valley.
The the isolation of the reserve’s ecosystem is detrimental to both the reserve and the valley’s flora and fauna. A few years ago, an area north of the nature reserve, flooded due to extreme winter rains, and was added to the nature reserve. This new area has now been connected to the valley and its water systems, with the aid of “fish ladders” – serpentine water channels that gently descend from the reserve to the Jordan River and the valley floor. The fish immediately caught on to the ladder and started using it, as did the herons and egrets that stand above the ladder trying to catch the fish.

Buffaloes vanished from Israel with the swamps. Following the Six-Day War, a herd of buffalo was discovered in the Bethsaida Valley, north of the Sea of Galilee. The animals were transferred to the Hula Reserve.

There is no doubt that the reserve must be part of the Hula Valley’s ecological system, as this connectivity is crucial to the environment. Otters are an excellent example of this. The otter population in the valley has been diminishing since fish farming was discontinued in the 1990s. The surviving otters scuttled to the nature reserve, where they could find fish in safe surroundings. Otters, which feed on fish, are timid animals and are challenging to see. Over the years, otter sightings have been occurred from self-operating field cameras and the prominent territorial markings, which they leave on stones and rocks near the water. From these sightings, it seems that the otter population occurred in the Hula Valley and the rest of the country is precarious.
Many of the surviving otters are run over as they try to cross the roads. They have to do this as the Hula Valley roads cross over the streams and canals, forcing the animals to leave the riverbed and try the tarmac, usually at night. One attempt to help the otters and other wildlife in the valley has been to create dry shelves under the bridges. These were built into the water conduits under the roads, allowing the animals to continue along the riverbed without ascending to the road.
Connectivity is a keyword in the attempt to conserve biological diversity along the waterways, from the Jordan River sources down to the Sea of Galilee. A survey conducted along the 90 kilometers of canals in the Hula Valley discovered hundreds of obstacles that partially or fully block fish passage. The modern blockages to the waterways are in sharp contrast to the description of the Jordan River in January 1869, by the Scottish adventurer John MacGregor. He had arrived at the Hula Valley with his canoe – the Rob Roy, planning to descend the Jordan from the Hula to the Sea of Galilee. MacGregor points out that “During the whole course of the Jordan from source to end there does not seem to be one notable cascade or regular fall” (The Rob Roy on the Jordan, Nile, Red Sea & Gennesareth). MacGregor’s free-running Jordan does not exist today, and fish cannot migrate during the winter from the Sea of Galilee to the Hula Valley to reproduce.

Wild Water Buffaloes

The largest animals in the Hula Swamp were the water buffalo, a large bovid that likes to wallow in the mud. Buffaloes vanished from the landscapes of the Land of Israel together with the swamps. Following the Six-Day War, a herd of buffalo was discovered, roaming in the Bethsaida Valley, north of the Sea of Galilee. The animals were transferred to the Hula Reserve. In a large swamp or lake, damage caused by buffalo churning up mud from the swamp floor is negligible. However, in the pocket-sized Hula Reserve, the damage was significant. Eventually, the herd was moved to a fenced-off area, and local Baladi cattle were introduced into the reserve to control vegetation. Baladi cattle, which had vanished from Israel with modern agriculture, were found roaming the Golan Heights after the Six Day War and in Judea and Samaria’s remote villages. Just like buffalo, Baladi cattle is good for keeping the reserve clear of invasive plants – but, unlike buffalo, they do not enter the water. It also turns out that Baladi cows are very fertile, and today Israeli cow stock is being improved with the genes of Baladi from the reserve.
The Hula Swamp was a balanced wetland. In winter, when rainwater gushed down the riverbeds, the swamp expanded, flooding the areas around it. In summer, the swamp shrank back to size. This ecosystem was beneficial for certain kinds of plants – especially papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) that formed vast swamp stands. Papyrus in the Hula Swamp, the northernmost distribution point for the plant, flourished on the swamp’s peat floor. When the swamp was drained, the papyrus shrank and never recovered.
At the beginning of the 1990s, a plan was hatched to re-flood some of the original swamp areas. The area chosen was the lowest part of the valley, a place where the peat had dried up and which frequently suffered from underground fires. This area could not be used for agriculture. The idea to re-flood this area was part of an attempt to control nitrates from contaminating the Sea of Galilee. A canal was designed to collect the excess water from the fields and divert it to the re-flooded area. To prevent water seeping from the fields straight into the Jordan River, a plastic barrier was inserted into the peat so that water would flow to the canal and not to the Jordan River.
In 1995 the canal to the Agamon, as the re-flooded area would be called, was opened, and a new lake came into being. That same year the Sea of Galilee’s water balance was overturned. Once nitrates from the peat fields were prevented from reaching the Sea of Galilee, the lake filled with massive blue-green algae areas (actually a bacteria called Cyanobacteria), some of which were toxic. It turned out that the Sea of Galilee needed nitrates for a healthy ecological balance.
The farmers of the moshavim, who had given up their lands to create the Agamon, hoped that hotels and tourist facilities around the new lake would generate a new source of income These ideas had many opponents, especially from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which managed to stall the plan for a few years. In 2007 the “Peat Convention” committed the state to keep the peat wet so that it would not catch fire; together with the Agamon its seemed that a solution has been reached to mitigate some of the damage done by the draining of the swamp. However, it soon turned out that wetlands cannot be restored by simply trying to reverse the damage caused by human intervention.

At the beginning of the 1990s, a plan was hatched to re-flood some of the original swamp areas. The area chosen was a place where the peat had dried up and which frequently suffered from underground fires.

Cranes and Pelicans

Following the creation of the Agamon, thousands of migrating cranes began arriving in the Hula Valley, Cranes summer in Eastern Europe and winter in Eastern Africa. They are strong flyers and can actually cover the whole distance from Europe to Africa without stopping. However, if they can, they prefer to break the long trip into segments, descending in flat areas where they can sleep in shallow waters and find fodder. Cranes feed on agricultural residue and eat everything. When the crops cultivated in the Hula Valley were changed from cotton and fish ponds to peanuts, corn, peas, chickpeas, and almonds, cranes discovered a food bonanza.
The first flocks arrive at the end of Autumn, feeding mainly on the residues in the peanut fields after the harvest and preventing the rodent population’ growth. However, once the peanut residues are finished, the cranes progress from peanuts to the other winter crops, causing much damage.
In the 1990s, cranes were rarely sighted in Israel. There were only a few pairs in the valleys of the north, less than one thousand cranes in total. However, peanuts and the Agamon were a blessing for the cranes. In 2020 the farmers decided to open a crane feeding station at the Agamon to get them away from the fields. The cranes loved the new arrangements, and their numbers increased dramatically. In 2017 fifty thousand cranes descended on Israel, thirty thousand in the Hula Valley alone. The crane feeding station at the Agamon soon became a major tourist attraction, with nearly half a million visitors making their way to the north to see the cranes.
More cranes meant more fodder, and soon the price of feeding the cranes became prohibitive. Initial attempts were made to cut down on the feeding, start feeding later, and change the crop rotation to diminish the number of cranes flocking to the Hula Valley. This made it difficult to predict if visitors would be able to see cranes at the Agamon. Instead of the cranes, it was the number of visitors that decreased. The crane project had turned into a fiasco. Last year, the feeding station’s operation was curtailed, and today the Hula Valley is being weaned of the cranes.

Following the creation of the Agamon, thousands of migrating cranes began arriving in the Hula Valley, descending in flat areas where they can sleep in shallow waters and find fodder.

Pelicans are a different story. Pelicans cannot, like cranes, fly over water. They keep to the same migration route from the Danube Delta to Eastern Africa year after year. The pelican is the heaviest of all migratory birds. Because of its weight, it has to stop, feed and rest along the way. In the last decades, water sources where the pelicans used to stop are dwindling in Turkey, Syria, and Jordan. The Hula Valley has become one of the last resorts for the pelicans migrating over the Middle Eastern route, with the pelicans arriving exhausted, hungry, and tired.
Fifty thousand pelicans arrived in Israel last year. Pelicans fish in groups with the single pelican eating an average of 800 grams of fish a day. In the last few years, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel have been monitoring the number of pelicans arriving and leaving the country. In an attempt to get flocks away from the fishponds the INPA stocks non-commercial fish in the Hula reserve and in the Hefer Valley. There are still quite a few pelicans that come to the fish ponds, but, in contrast to the cranes, the number of pelicans wintering in Israel is decreasing and efforts are ongoing to save the world’s largest migratory bird.
Wetlands carry some of the world’s widest variety of plants and animals. However, only in the last fifty years have we learned that they need to be preserved and not turned into farmland. Draining the Hula Valley was a major environmental mistake and a lesson in human humility. Today efforts are being made to try to correct the damage. However, a lot has still to be learned about intervening with Nature, even when these are attempts to repair damage already done.