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The Jordan Valley – A General Description

In the winter and early spring the Jordan Valley is a celebration of nature. The air is fresh and the whole region is a festival of contrasting colors, from the blue of the sky, to the brown and green mountains, and the low lying areas checkered with the red buttercups, yellow chrysanthemums and purple lupins. There are strong, bright colors everywhere while white egrets hover in the air, and hoopoes, swallows and sparrows squat on the electricity cables, and from to time spread their wings and set off in group glides in a celestial formation dance. This pastoral scene fronts a rich life that began in ancient times.

The Jordan Valley in the Bible

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan and Jericho, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan you shall drive out all the inhabitants from before you and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places. And you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land, and dwell in it; for I have given you the land to possess it.” (Numbers, chapter 33, 50-53).

The Jordan Valley is cited in scripture from the earliest days of the Israelites, before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Israel to inhabit the Promised Land, and throughout history up to the present day.  The Book of Joshua describes how the Israelites arrive at Gilgal, after having crossed the Jordan River.  Prof. Adam Zertal, of the Haifa University Department of Archaeology has unearthed structures in the shape of human feet believed to have been erected by the Israelites upon their initial entry to the Land of Canaan and manifest the biblical notion of claiming ownership of the land by setting feet on it. Since 1990, Sites shaped like human feet have been excavated in the Jordan Valley and all date back to the early Iron Age (12th to 13th centuries B.C.E.), and their shapes indicate that they were used during ceremonies as communal gathering places.  The concept of the Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem on three major holidays (known as "aliya la'regel" or ascending on foot) also originates from the foot-shaped sites in the Jordan Valley and Mount Ebal.

The Sartaba Mountain

Josephus described the Alexandrion Fort as: “a wonderful fort atop a high mountain”. The impressive remains of the Alexandronian Fortress depict a significant chapter in the life of the Hasmonean dynasty in the region.  This site is also the place where bonfires were lit by the Second Temple court in Jerusalem, as a beacon to the Babylonian Diaspora, announcing the beginning of the new month.
The hill juts out sharply and rises to a height of 377 meters above sea level, about 650 meters above the Valley. Its cone-shaped outline is visible to people traveling along the Valley road and can be seen from afar. The Sartaba Horn overlooks the eastern Trans-Jordan junction near Nablus, and this gives it its strategic importance. In the past this pass connected two international routes – the King’s Way on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the Sea Route along the shores of the Land of Israel. This is also the route taken by Jacob when he returned from Laban the Aramite  to the Land of Israel (Genesis, Chapter 32).

The Jordan Valley in Modern History

In the midst of World War I, the British forces meet the Turkish/German armies at the "Uja line" in the Jordan Valley.
Pre-Independen,ce the Palmach forces, attack the bridges over the Jordan River.
In the 1967 Six Day war the Israel Defense Forces reached the Jordan River and blew up the bridges preventing enemy troops from crossing.  From that time, Israel's eastern border was stabilized and the region became the "Land of Pursuit".
The settlement movement in the Jordan Valley began immediately after the Six Day War, as part of the overall plan to settle the region. The plan, devised by Yigal Alon who served as Minister of Absorption and Deputy Prime Minster ‎from 1967-1969, tried to provide a solution for two important problems that arose in Israel’s new situation following the war. The first problem was to set a secure border along the Jordan River and to generate strategic control along the Jordan Valley, on Israel’s eastern border. The second problem was to deal with the new situation in which there was a large Arab population in Samaria under Israel’s control.

Minister Alon suggested establishing two rows of settlements along the border parallel to the Jordan River as the Jordan Valley had no Arab inhabitants at the time (except for Jericho and the area near the Adam Junction). The first row was set up on the level terrain of Kikar Hayarden alongside the Jordan River by what is known today as the "Valley Road" or "Gandi's Road" - part of Route 90 stretching from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat. The second row was to be built in parallel, to the west, along the foothills of the Samarian Hills that drop down into the Valley.
The Settlement Division of the Jewish Agency joined by the various agricultural movements and the IDF Nahal units and acted to create the "security belt" proposed by Alon.

The first community to be established was Mechola (January 1968) as the community connecting the Jordan Valley to the Bet Shean Valley.  The pioneers who settled in Mechola worked to develop a viable agricultural economy combined with military activity, patrols and guard duty.   Using this model, the rest of the communities were established in the region. The community of Massua whose name translates as "Torch" followed and was established at the foothill of the Sartaba Moutain, thereby connecting the valley to one of its historical highlights, the torch lighting ceremonies during the Second Temple period.  After Massua, Kibbutz Gilgal, whose name symbolizes the first site of Israelite habitation upon entering the Land of Israel, was established. The establishment of the rest of communities followed, totaling 21 communities.

The Regional Council

In 1980 the Regional Council of the Jordan Valley was established on an area of 860,000 dunams.  To the north lie the city of Bet Shean and the Regional Council of the Bet Shean Valley.  To the south are the city of Jericho and the North Dead Sea-Megilot Regional Council.  In the west is the town Maale Efraim, the Shomron and Binyamin Regional Councils. The major roads that cross the region are, Route 90 (north-south) and Route 505 and 508, known as the Alon Road (Trans Samaria).

Most of the community names are derived from the original Biblical reference or in honor of army commanders killed in the line of duty. The communities are:  Argaman, Bekaot, Fazael,GIlgal, Gitit, Hamra, Hemdat, Massua, Maskiot, Mevot Jericho, Mechola, Mechora, Naama, Naaran, Netiv HaGedud, Roi, Rotem, Shadmot Mechola, Tomer, Yafit, Yitav.

Agriculture in the Jordan Valley

The special geographic-climatic condition of the Jordan Rift Valley is what makes agriculture the leading economic sector of the region.  The high temperature yields early ripening in the spring and late ripening in autumn, allowing for high financial gains.  The strong sun radiation favorably affects the fruits and vegetables and encourages their growth.  The below average rainfall and moisture contribute to low infestation resulting in high quality crops.

On the other hand, some of these conditions create burdensome difficulties for the farmers.  Salt content – below most of the Jordan Valley's soil is lime-rich marlstone, sediment left from salt water that covered the Jordan Valley in the past. This makes it difficult for vegetables and vineyards to grow and requires sluicing the soil and using large amounts of irrigation.  Climate- the high temperatures are an advantage in the winter (18-200 C), but become a serious disadvantage in the summer (37-380 C). The harsh climate causes strong winds to blow from the western hills, increases the amount of evaporation and dryness (2000 mm a year), and limiting possibilities in the summer.  Water- agriculture depends entirely on artificial irrigation.  The farmers have four sources of water:  1) good water from the wells of the Mekorot Company which are inadequate during the demanding season. In addition, the water level drops from year to year due to intense pumping and causes saline water and stops the pumping.  The other source of water is inferior quality water, including; 2) winter floodwater that flows from the Nablus region to the Tirza reservoir; 3) water from the Jordan River which has a high saline level and is appropriate only to irrigate date palms; 4) treated waste water from East Jerusalem and from the Kidron stream.

The value of agricultural production in the Jordan Valley is about 500 million NIS and the cultivated area is about 33,000 dunam.
The rapid development of the agro-technical technologies, high quality professional guidance and an independent research and development unit, have brought stability in the past five years to many of the major crops and allowed them to expand each year.  These crops include 14,000 dunam of top quality dates with 0ver 80% exported;

4,600 dunam of table grapes 70% of the yield is exported and is half of the grape export of the State of Israel.  Bell Peppers are a major vegetable produced in the region on 3,100 dunam.  A variety of brands and colors result in a high yield, grown primarily in the local soil and in different types of structures.  Peppers are also grown in the open field during the autumn and winter months. Herbs and Spices are grown in about 3,000 dunam and comprise 40% of Israel's yearly export.  The herbs are grown all year round and with the help of the professional supervisors and R&D have developed methods appropriate for cultivation in the Jordan Valley summer heat.  As a result, produce is marketed all year round.  The growers have to meet the stringent standards of the export agencies, with a stress upon completely bug-free crops, controlled usage of chemicals and strict requirements for packing houses and refrigeration.  The major herbs grown are; basil, arugula, spearmint, tarragon and chives.
Other agricultural crops include; cherry tomatoes, eggplants, flowers, citrus fruits, olives, pomegranates, chicken, turkey, dairy, goats and sheep.