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Israel Sites – Jerusalem


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Jerusalem capital of the State of Israel and spiritual center for most of the western world. Jerusalem is more than just a physical grouping of stone buildings and ancient walls spreading out over the Judean hills: it is the Holy City, symbol of universal peace and redemption for over 3,000 years.

Geographical Location

Jerusalem is located on the ridge of the Judean Mountains. These mountains continue to spread out west of the city, but to the east the green landscape gradually merges with the barren Judean desert which descends to the Dead Sea. The city is built entirely on hills, its houses picturesquely dotting the rocky slopes.

Part of the city’s historical importance can be attributed to the fact that it lies in one of the crossroads of Israel, balanced between the north-south route leading from Hebron and Bethlehem to Shechem (Nablus) and the east-west routes from the coast to the Jordan Valley.

In biblical times, Jerusalem was surrounded by thick, green forests of almond, olive and pine trees. But in the course of numerous wars and settlements, much of this lush greenery was destroyed and the soil left to dry out in the summer sun and wash away in the heavy winter rains. From earliest times, farmers have therefore been forced to terrace the ground and build stone fences along the slopes to hold back the soil. This stone terracing is still in evidence all along the Jerusalem landscape. A deliberate attempt has been made in modern times to replant the trees and the approach to Jerusalem is once again flanked by heavily forested areas.


Jerusalem has a rainy, temperate winter and a hot, completely dry summer. It is especially pleasant in the summer when the air is clear and the cool evening breezes bring relief from the noon-day heat. There is an occasional snowfall in mid-winter lasting only a few days.


The boundaries of the city have changed often, the last expansion taking place as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967. The remains of several different encircling walls attest to the city’s changing size even in ancient times.


The first mention of the city of Jerusalem appears in the Egyptian Execration Texts of the 19th and 18th centuries b.c.e. It is referred to there as a Canaanite city-state whose name was probably pronounced as “Rushalimum.” In the Tell el-Amarna letters of the 14th century b.c.e. it is called Urusalim, and in Abraham’s day it seems to have been known simply as Salem. In later times, the rabbis interpreted this as a variation of the Hebrew word shalom (peace) and gave the city its designation as the “City of Peace.”

Jerusalem is also sacred to many religions and this atmosphere of holiness is reflected in some of its names.The Greeks added the prefix hiero (“holy”) and called it Hierosolyma. and the Arabs call it Al Kuds (“The Holy”). Almost every occupying power has given the city a new name. It was called Jebus by the Jebusites who preceded the Israelite conquest. The name Zion at first designated a part of that Jebusite city, but was later used to refer to the whole city. Later, David gave his name to the city and it was called Ir David (The City of David). Jerusalem has since had many names, reflective of the love and reverence of its admirers, including “God’s City,” “Faithful City,” and “The Beautiful City.”


Although there is archaeological evidence of man having been in the Jerusalem area in prehistoric times, there does not seem to have been a permanent settlement there until the Canaanite period. It was during this time (c. 2000 b.c.e.) that Abraham met up with Melchizedek, priest-king of Salem. The Bible later tells how Abraham came to Har ha-Moriah (Mount Moriah) for Akedat Yizhak — the near- sacrifice of his son Isaac (see Akedah). According to rabbinic tradition, Har ha-Moriah ultimately became the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem. When the Israelite tribes divided Canaan into tribal lots, Jerusalem was originally assigned to the tribe of Benjamin, but they seemed unable to gain control of the area from the local inhabitants. So Jerusalem remained a Jebusite city until the time of David, thus cutting the Israelite territory in two and separating the central tribes from the southern ones.


When David became king, he set about uniting all the tribes into one nation. That meant eliminating the foreign enclave which presented a physical barrier to unification. At the same time, he hoped that by taking Jerusalem, the only city not owned by any tribe, he could create the national capital there and thus avoid inter-tribal jealousies.

David managed to capture Jerusalem with relative ease by infiltrating his men into the city through the water tunnels and surprising the enemy within the city walls. He used his own private army for this purpose rather than the combined armies of all the tribes. The city therefore became his royal domain — the “City of David,” capital of Israel.

When the Ark of the Law was later transferred there by the king, Jerusalem became not only the Royal City, but the Holy City as well. Yet for all its importance, the City of David was actually very small, covering an area of only about 30,000 square meters (roughly the size of three football fields set side by side). It was located in the Siloam Valley on the south-eastern slope of what would later become the Temple Mount.


Though David himself chose the site for the Temple, it was left to his son Solomon to actually carry out the plans for its construction. During Solomon’s reign, Jerusalem really took on the aura of a thriving capital, with its magnificently designed Temple and royal palace. At first the city was below in the valley and the Temple on the mountain towering above the city. Later the importent people and the king began to live on the mountain around the Temple. During this period the city changed its shape, expanding in all directions. But it was still within what is the Old City of today. Trade caravans passed through its markets, and the presence of a chariot force, foreign guards and a sumptious court replete with a large harem, contributed to its fame and growth. Solomon enlarged his father’s city to more than five times its original size.

Divided Kingdom

When the kingdom split in 930 b.c.e. after Solomon’s death, Jerusalem lost much of its political supremacy. The kingdom of Israel established its own capital and Jerusalem, now impoverished and weakened, remained only as the ruling city for the smaller kingdom of Judah. For the next four centuries, the city alternated between short periods of prosperity and longer periods of religious and political crises. Some kings defiled its holy ground with pagan shrines, while others tried to purify its sanctuaries and restore it to its former state of glory. Uzziah fortified the city, making it the center of moral and social regeneration. And Hezekiah reinforced the walls, repaired the Temple, and built a water tunnel capable of supplying the city in times of emergency.


In 587 b.c.e. the Babylonian army captured the city of Jerusalem after several months’ siege. The Babylonian captain exiled most of the inhabitants and, according to the Bible, “he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house burnt he with fire.” This disaster left Jerusalem desolate for over 50 years.


In 536 b.c.e., after the fall of Babylon, Cyrus, king of Persia who became the overlord of Judah, issued his famous declaration which allowed the Jews to return to Zion and rebuild the Temple. Slowly the Jews began returning to the Holy City and gradually they began to rebuild from the ruins. In the fifth century, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah’ the walls were repaired’ the Jewish community reorganized and eventually the Temple rebuilt.

Hellenistic Period

Jerusalem submitted peacefully with the rest of Judah to Alexander the Great (332 b.c.e.) who left the Jews pretty much on their own. But after Alexander’s death in 323 b.c.e., the city suffered through a series of wars fought by his would-be successors. It was finally taken over by the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty and remained under their rule in relative stability for the next hundred years.

In 198 b.c.e. the Seleucids (Syrian Greeks) defeated the Egyptians and, once again, Jerusalem changed hands. At first, the situation in Jerusalem seemed unchanged and even slightly improved. Jews were granted a charter confirming their right to live by “the laws of their fathers” and Jerusalemites were even partly exempted from taxes.

But in many subtle ways the Seleucids were attempting to Hellenize the Jews. In 175 b.c.e. Antiochus Epiphanes became ruler and the pressure for Hellenization became more blatant and forceful. The name of Jerusalem was changed to Antioch, a gymnasium was built just beneath the Temple and the Temple itself was ransacked.


Enraged by these actions, the Jews began an armed rebellion under the leadership of the priestly Hasmonean family. In December 164 b.c.e. the Hasmoneans were able to reoccupy Jerusalem and cleanse the Temple. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates that event. Though the city was besieged several times during the Hasmonean rule, it remained as the capital of the kingdom until 63 b.c.e. and boasted of evergrowing political, economic and religious activity. The remains of Hasmonean walls, coins, arrowheads and monuments found in Jerusalem are evidence of the prosperity of the city during that time.


Hasmonean rule was ended in the first century b.c.e. by the Roman invaders who divided the country into districts so that Jerusalem lost its status as capital. The Hasmoneans made one last attempt to regain control, but were ruthlessly suppressed by King Herod who seized control of Jerusalem in 37 b.c.e.

In an effort to secure his hold on the city, Herod completely transformed its appearance. He built a palace surrounded by towers on the northwest corner of the city. He enlarged the Temple area and surrounded it with a wall, of which the Western Wall is the only remaining section. He also entirely rebuilt the Temple, doubling its height and richly adorning its exterior.

Upon Herod’s death, Jerusalem was ruled by a series of Roman procurators. (One of these, Pontius Pilate (26–36 c.e.) was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem.) But the misrule of these administrators provoked the outbreak of yet another Jewish revolt, which soon became a full-scale war. In 70 c.e. Titus and his Roman legions laid siege to the city and then stormed its weakened defenders. The city was burned, its inhabitants massacred and the Temple destroyed. Of the once-glorious city, only the three towers of Herod’s palace and the western wall of the Temple Mount remained intact.

According to Jewish sources, the Romans razed Jerusalem to the ground and plowed the site over to prevent further settlement. Even so, some Jews managed to return. When the emperor Hadrian tried to establish a Roman colony there, the second Jewish-Roman war broke out with Bar Kokhba leading the Jewish rebels. They were defeated by Hadrian who subsequently decreed that no circumcised person should be allowed into Jerusalem under pain of death.

The Romans then proceeded to convert Jerusalem into a typical Roman colony, calling it Aelia Capitolina. After Hadrian’s death the ban on Jews in Jerusalem was unofficially lifted, only to be renewed by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. He permitted Jews to enter Jerusalem only once a year, on the ninth of Av, anniversary of the destruction of both Temples.


Constantine was the founder of the Byzantine empire and a devout Christian. He tried to make Jerusalem into a center of Christian worship by erecting many churches there, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and designating various areas as Christian holy sites. He also restored the name “Jerusalem” to the city. This policy of Christianizing Jerusalem was maintained by most of the Byzantine rulers who extended the restrictions on Jewish settlement in the city. Byzantine control had been threatened at various times by the Persians and in 614 the Persians actually managed to capture Jerusalem and hand it over to the Jews. But this victory was short-lived and the Byzantines returned in 629 to again expel the Jews. They ruled Jerusalem until their defeat at the hands of the Muslim Arab caliph, Omar, in 638.


The Arabs, like all of Jerusalem’s rulers, tried to change the character of the city to fit their own religious needs. Jerusalem was sacred to the Muslim Arabs as the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. The Dome of the Rock, built on the Temple Mount, is the most magnificent of the mosques and holy sites built by the Arabs in Jerusalem to commemorate that event.

But the Arabs never really restored Jerusalem to its former glory and it remained basically a provincial town. The majority of the population was still Christian, though the Jews were allowed to settle there. They developed two Jewish quarters: one southwest of the Temple area, and one north of it. The city’s inhabitants were for the most part impoverished merchants.


In 1099 the Crusaders besieged Jerusalem and, in one of history’s strange ironies, the “City of Peace” was once again involved in war and bloodshed. The Christian soldiers, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, scaled the city walls and massacred the inhabitants — Jews and Muslims alike. In order to repopulate the city, the Crusaders transferred Christian Arab tribes from Transjordan and settled them in the former Jewish quarter.

Jerusalem became the capital of the Crusader kingdom and thrived because of the concentration of all the government and church bodies there. Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims visited the city every year, thus adding to its growth and prosperity. But the Jews were still for the most part banned, as during the previous Christian period.


When the Muslims, under Saladin, recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, the Jews enjoyed a short period of resettlement in Jerusalem. But with Saladin’s death, the city remained without any stable authority and was shuttled back and forth between Christians and Muslims.


In 1250 a new Muslim force appeared on the scene, the Mamluks, who managed to establish themselves as rulers of Jerusalem for over 260 years. Jewish life in Jerusalem was somewhat freer under Mamluk rule than it had been with the Christians. The city remained poor but Jewish scholarship and learning thrived. Ottoman Empire.

Jerusalem came under the domination of the Ottoman Turks in 1517 when Sultan Selim I took it in a bloody battle with the Mamluks. His successor, Suleiman the Magnificent, left his mark on Jerusalem’s history by building the present-day wall around the Old City. The construction of the wall, which took five years, made a great impression on the Jews of the time and it remains as one of the dominant architectural features of the city to this day. Legend has it that Suleiman had a dream that he would be eaten by lions if he did not build the wall. One of the gates to the Old City has two lions carved on it and is called “Lions’s Gate” in memory of that dream.

But aside from spurring a construction boom, the Turks did not pay much attention to Jerusalem. They considered it insignificant from a strategic and political point of view, and during their 400-year reign, only a few Turks settled in the area. Neither industry nor trade developed to any important degree and the inhabitants were often forced to accept charity from outside sources. The three main sections or quarters of the city — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — remained overcrowded and squalid.


The “New” City

In 1859, in an effort to relieve the congestion in the Jewish quarter, Sir Moses Montefiore bought a plot of land near Mount Zion and established the first Jewish quarter outside the city walls. He also built a windmill on the plot which became one of the landmarks of the city and its first “industrial” structure. Thus began the development of the New City of Jerusalem and the expansion of the Jewish settlement there.

During the next few decades, many more Jewish neighborhoods were founded outside the walls, each with the distinctive ethnic flavor of its inhabitants. These quarters were usually built as uniform blocks with the windows facing inward on a closed courtyard. This fortress-like arrangement was meant to protect the inhabitants from Arab attacks. Among the Jewish communities to spring up in the New City at the end of the 19th century were the Mahaneh Yehudah quarter founded by Moroccan Jews, Shaarei Rahamim, founded by Kurds, and the Hungarian and Bukharan quarters inhabited by immigrants from Hungary and Bukhara (a territory in the U.S.S.R.).

The Christians also began establishing a foothold outside the city walls and soon there was a Russian compound for the Russian Orthodox community and a German Colony for the Protestant Templars.

One of the most important Jewish communities established in the New City was the Mea Shearim section founded in 1874 by pious Jews from within the city walls. Various communities of Ashkenazi Jews came to settle there and these kolels as the communities were called, were supported by funds from their hometown congregations. In the early years each kolel lived a totally separate existence within the narrow streets and winding alleys of its neighborhood, establishing its own yeshivot, synagogues and community services. They were later united under one all-encompassing religious authority, and Mea Shearim remains today as a stronghold of ultra-Orthodoxy and the traditional eastern European Jewish way of life.

With all this new settlement activity, Jerusalem began taking on the character of a “westernized” city. Roads were built and modern shops opened. Even suburban communities such as Rehavia were established whose beautiful homes contrasted sharply with the dense, shabby quarters near the center of town. At the turn of the 20th century, the population of Jerusalem was estimated at 45,000 including 28,200 Jews.

The British

The outbreak of World War I, however, changed the status of Jerusalem. It suddenly became the focus of international attention as various factions vied for control in the Middle East. The Turks sided with Germany and Jerusalem, no longer able to remain isolated from world affairs, became he nerve center for the attack on the eastern portion o’ the British Empire. But step by step the Turks were forced to give way to the British counter-attack. On December 11, 1917 the Turks officially surrendered Jerusalem to the British forces under General Allenby, who marched victoriously through the crowded city streets on his majestic white horse.

The Jews welcomed British rule. The efficiency and progressiveness of the British administration, coupled with the Zionist movement now in full swing and the historic Balfour Declaration which gave it impetus, encouraged greater Jewish settlement in Jerusalem. The Jews engaged in a tremendous building boom west of the city walls, as did the Arabs in the eastern part of the city. Hospitals and schools were erected and the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus was opened in 1925.

But along with the development came increased tension between the Arabs and Jews. Jerusalem, one of the few cities where the two groups lived side by side, became the focal point of this tension and exploded many times into bloody riots and acts of terror. Haj Amin al Husseini, appointed by the British as mufti (religious leader) of Jerusalem, incited his people to violent hatred of the Jews. Jewish, Arab and British facilities in Jerusalem were bombed by extremists on all sides.


Unable to cope with the situation, the British referred the problem to the United Nations and on November 19, 1947, the UN General Assembly approved a partition plan for Palestine, which left Jerusalem as an international zone, belonging neither to the Jews nor the Arabs. Refusing to accept the decision, the Arabs immediately began attacking Jewish settlements, including those in Jerusalem. The Old City was cut off from the New while the areas outside the walls were divided into warring camps of Jews and Arabs. Jewish Jerusalem was put under virtual siege by Arabs attacking the supply convoys along the approach to the city. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence.

The Divided City

Jerusalem emerged from the battle in April 1949 as a divided city. The cease-fire line, running roughly north-south, left the Old City of Jerusalem and its eastern environs to the Arabs while the Jews maintained control over the New City to the west. Walls were built along parts of the border to guard against sniper attacks. They were a tragic symbol of the physical and spiritual rift between the two peoples. For 19 years the Jews were denied access to the Western Wall, the old synagogues, the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and other Jewish holy sites. There was a Jewish enclave on Mount Scopus, but it was isolated from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem, the University and Hadassah hospital facilities remaining neglected and unused. By UN arrangement, only occasional convoys of Jewish police were allowed access to the area, and they were often fired on by the Arabs.

But Jewish Jerusalem recovered quickly and construction began immediately to replace lost facilities. A new modern University was built, Hadassah hospital opened a new branch, an improved museum was erected, and new roads were constructed to replace the Arab-held Latrun highway running from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Reunited City

In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Jerusalem was again unified, this time under Israeli rule, and the Jews and Arabs alike were given free access to all of its ancient and modern sites. Upon entering East Jerusalem and the Old City, the Israeli forces found that the Arabs had destroyed many of the old synagogues and desecrated the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, using the tombstones as building blocks. The Jews restored these areas, rebuilt the synagogues, renovated and reopened the facilities on Mt. Scopus and greatly improved the living conditions in the area, benefiting Arabs and Jews alike. Israel has also developed previously barren areas in the eastern sectors, building whole new, modern communities.

In 1993, local elections in Jerusalem resulted in the Labor party’s loss to the Likud and the end to its rule of the city for a generation. In a highly controversial and politically unwise move, Prime Minster Yizhak Rabin persuaded longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolleck (in office since 1965) to run again, despite the fact that the 83 year old Kolleck had originally conceded that he was too old to run for a seventh term. Kolleck lost to member of the Knesset Ehud Olmert, an articulate former health minister some thirty years Kolleck’s junior. After the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO in the same year, the Labor party tried to mix national with local politics declaring that the elections in Jerusalem would be viewed as a referendum on the peace process. This tactic was damaging in Jerusalem, a city whose distinctive religious and ethnic makeup consistently produced an ultra-nationalist majority.

Kolleck lost the election largely due to the fact that former Kolleck supporters could not bring themselves to vote for such an aged figure and the city’s 89,000 eligible Arab voters virtually boycotted the elections in order not to legitimize Israeli rule in East Jerusalem. The haredi population voted in droves for Olmert after Rabbi Meir Porush, the candidate for United Torah Judaism dropped out of the race on the night before the elections. Kolleck, announced his resignation from the city council on November 29.


The population of unified Jerusalem had exceeded 646,100 by 1995 consisting of 473,200 Jews and 172,800 non-Jews, including Christians. It is a heterogeneous population, ranging from urban, educated Arabs to semi-nomadic Bedouin, from Hasidim to Oriental Jews. Though the various populations have integrated somewhat, there are still quarters in Jerusalem which maintain the character of their distinctive populations. After 1967, the inhabitants of East Jerusalem were considered Israel residents with Jordanian citizenship. (They could apply for Israeli citizenship but practically none of them did so.) This status allowed them to vote for and be elected to the Jerusalem municipality but not to the Knesset. As Jordanian citizens they could cross the cease-fire line and visit in Jordan while they also had the right to move freely throughout Israel.

The Jerusalem Landscape

The landscape of Jerusalem is unique, a vista where ancient structures are interspersed with ultra-modern buildings. To preserve the special character of Jerusalem, the British Mandatory Authority ruled that all buildings in Jerusalem should be constructed of local stone. An effort has been made ever since to adhere to that policy so that most of the structures in Jerusalem are in harmony with the hilly, rocky landscape. The hills themselves have, to a great extent, determined the contours of the city. Jerusalem is really a city made up of individual communities, each built on a hill or cluster of hills and separated from neighboring areas by valleys or rocky slopes.

Jerusalem’s holy sites provide the greatest attraction for Jews, Christians and Muslims all over the world. Its ancient mosques, churches and synagogues dot the landscape. The Dome of the Rock and the El Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Via Dolorosa, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, David’s Tomb, Solomon’s Pools, Mount Zion… all these are places that evoke a mystical and spiritual sense of belonging for the hundreds of thousands who throng Jerusalem each year.

The ancient walls surrounding the Old City, built by Suleiman in the 16th century, became the identifying symbol of unified Jerusalem. There are seven gates built into those walls that are open to traffic: Herod’s, Damascus and New gates in the north, Jaffa gate in the west, Zion and Dung gates in the south, and St. Stephen’s (Lion’s) gate in the east. The eighth gate, known as the Golden Gate or the Gate of Mercy, was sealed by the Muslim authorities because Muslim legend has it that the Jewish Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this point.


Jerusalem’s rich history and religious significance have attracted many archaeologists seeking relics of the past and a clearer picture of the life and times of the early inhabitants. From the 19th century onwards, excavations have been carried out near the city walls, the Temple Mount, the old City of David and various other sites. The Israelis point out whimsically that one cannot turn over a stone in Jerusalem without uncovering some ancient archaeological find.

The most extensive excavations ever conducted in the area were carried out by Professor Benjamin Mazar near the Western Wall. He continued the work started by the American Edward Robinson in 1838 and British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon from 1961 to 1967. Since 1969 archaeological excavations in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem have been in progress under the initiative and leadership of Nahman Avigad. Among the finds in his excavations are the Israelite Gate Tower, the Cardo, an ancient shopping market, and the Nea Church.

Water Supply

One of the points that has intrigued archaeologists and historians alike is the way in which Jerusalem has been supplied with water throughout the ages. There is only one natural water source in the Jerusalem vicinity — the Gihon spring on the eastern slope of the Old City. The Canaanites built a tunnel leading from the spring into the city and it was through this tunnel that David made his historic entry into the city. At the end of the eighth century b.c.e. Hezekiah, king of Judah, had a new tunnel built which conducted the waters of the Gihon to the Siloam pools within what were then the city limits. This tunnel is still in existence today. One can wade through it and read the inscription placed there by the builders over 2,500 years ago. It tells how the workers, digging from both ends, met at an exact point in the center in what must have been a great engineering feat for those days. There were other pools, cisterns and reservoirs built round the city to increase its water supply but they proved to be inadequate for the growing population. So Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler, built an aqueduct to bring more water from the springs near Hebron in the first century c.e.

However, water shortages plagued Jerusalem’s residents in various periods. In the 19th century the waters of the Gihon became polluted and Jerusalem residents were compelled to buy water brought in from elsewhere by train or donkey.

In the 1930s several pipelines were led from other springs to Jerusalem, thus solving the water supply problem. During the War of Independence these were temporarily cut off by the Arabs, but the supply was restored shortly thereafter.


In Judaism

Jerusalem occupies a very special place in the Jewish religion. It is, of course, often mentioned in the Bible, in a historical and poetical context. It is sometimes given a quasi-mystical character and is frequently used to signify all of Israel or all of Judaism. Because of its special holiness, Jerusalem is treated differently from other cities by the sages. There could be no permanent ownership of property in the city; its ritual purity had to be protected, and so no burial sites were allowed within the city walls.

While the Temple stood, Jews were expected to make three pilgrimages there each year — on Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot. Many still make these pilgrimages, using the opportunity to mourn the destruction of the Temple. Jerusalem is also a popular subject for Jewish legend, folklore and song.

In Other religions

For Christians, Jerusalem marks the physical and spiritual center of the cosmos. It is the spot where the Garden of Eden was located and history began. They also believe it is the place where the world will reach its end.

There are those who feel that New Jerusalem should be for Christians only, believing that the Jewish claim to the city ended with the destruction of the Temple. They see Christianity as the rightful heir to the city because it is where Jesus preached, where he died, and where he is said to have been resurrected.

On the other hand, there are many Christian theologians who approve of the Jewish settlement of the city and view the successes of the State of Israel as a positive step in the rebirth of the Holy City.


For Muslims, the three holiest cities, in order of importance, are Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. They consider the rock in Jerusalem’s Mosque of Omar to be the center of the universe. This rock, which supposedly bears the hoofprint of Mohammed’s horse, is the place from which the Prophet is said to have made his Night Journey to the heavens.

In the Art

Jerusalem has provided the inspiration for many writers, poets, musicians and artists. Jewish poets of the Middle Ages wrote of their yearning to return to Zion. 19th century British poets used Jerusalem as a symbol of man’s yearning for a better life and a nobler society, and many books dealing with Jerusalem have been on the best seller lists since the Six-Day War in 1967.

For centuries, artists have attempted to present realistic and imaginary interpretations of the city. Its many faces have been carved in stone, etched in metal and wood, and painted on canvas. Pictures of Jerusalem appear on coins, old manuscripts, books, and in museum collections all over the world.

Entry taken from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM

by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.


Israel Sites – Hebron


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Hebron is an ancient biblical city in Erez Israel located in the Judean Hills, 19 miles south of Jerusalem.


The name Hebron may derive from the Hebrew word “haber” meaning friend, or from the Arabic “haber” meaning granary. In Arabic it is known as al-Khalil, which means “the city of the beloved” and refers to Abraham (see below). In the Bible, Hebron is also called Kiriath-Arba (Gen. 23:2).

Hebron was founded around the year 1727 b.c.e. on Jebel al-Rumayda, a hill near to the present town. At about this time, the Patriarch Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite, and it was here that the Jewish forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives were buried. Hebron, however, remained a Canaanite city until it was captured by the Jews in the time of Joshua. Several hundred years later (c. 1010 b.c.e.), David was anointed king of Israel in Hebron.

Hebron remained a Jewish city until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 b.c.e., when the Jews were exiled to Babylon; however, it became a Jewish city again around the second century b.c.e. A Jewish settlement continued to exist there under various foreign rulers until the 20th century c.e., except for a short period when Hebron was under Crusader rule (1100–1260 c.e.) and all the Jews were temporarily expelled.

Although the Jewish settlement in Hebron was small, it was considered very important by the Jews, who made frequent pilgrimages to the Cave of Machpelah. It also became an important spiritual center during the 16th century, after many learned Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 had settled there.

By the 17th century many important kabbalists and scholars had also settled in Hebron; a yeshivah was founded in 1659. In 1662 the pseudo-Messiah Shabbetai Zevi visited the Jewish community and impressed its members, but his final disgrace led to an economic and spiritual decline. The influence of the kabbalists was felt until the 19th century, when Habad Hasidim and other leading rabbis settled there and established several new educational institutions.

The flourishing period of Jewish settlement in Hebron came to an end in 1914, with the outbreak of World War I. After the war the Jewish settlement began to recover, but was destroyed in 1929 by Arab rioters who killed 67 men, women and children and wounded 60 others. The community was resettled in 1931, but was again destroyed by the Arab upheavals of 1936. In 1948 Hebron became part of the kingdom of Jordan. It was captured by Israel in the Six-Day war of June 1967, and there is now a Jewish settlement of 4,000 inhabitants called Kiriyat Araba adjacent to Hebron. Jewish presence in Hebron proper was resumed in Jewish-owned buildings in the city. Yeshivot were also established there.

Uniquely among West Bank cities, Jews and Arabs live side-by-side in Hebron. In the 1990s, there are approximately 400-500 Jewish settlers living next to 120,000 Arabs. These Jewish settlers place ideology over personal safety. Hebron is the stronghold of the Islamic extremist movement Hamas who has more support here than in any other West Bank region. It is also home to the ideological core of the Jewish settlement movement which includes leaders and members of the religious extremist Kach group and the settler movement Gush Emunim, from which the 1980s Jewish terror underground sprouted. In 1994, doctor and Kach activist Baruch Goldstein walked into the Cave of Makhpelah and killed 29 Muslim worshippers. Under the Oslo Accords II, 80% of Hebron is to be handed over to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. Despite the March 1996 pullback date, four devastating Hamas suicide bombings forced the Labor Government to postpone withdrawal.









Israel Sites – Haifa


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Haifa is the major port in Israel and a main town of the north of the country.


The city of Haifa, extending over the northwest flank of Mt. Carmel and overlooking the Mediterranean, had a population of about 246,000 in the early 1990s.

The first settlement in the area was a small port town, founded in the 14th century B.C.E. (Late Bronze Age) and lasting a thousand years. Jewish burial caves from the Roman period have been found nearby. The Talmud mentions it as a fishing village, and it was later known as a shipbuilding port.

There was a fierce battle every time the city changed hands. It was ruled in turn by Persia, Byzantium, the Crusaders, Saladin, the Franks, and Mamluks. Under Muslim rule there were only a few Jewish inhabitants, apart from those who made pilgrimages to Elijah’s cave on Mt. Carmel. By the Ottoman conquest in 1516, Haifa was practically deserted, but its population gradually grew to some 4,000 by 1798, when Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav spent Rosh ha-Shanah with the Jewish community.

Under Egyptian rule (1831-1840), foreign steamboats called at Haifa, rather than at Acre. The German Templars who settled in 1868 paved Haifa’s roads and introduced a stagecoach service to Acre and Nazareth. Haifa profited too when it was connected in 1905 with the railroad from Damascus to the Arabian Peninsula. But the city still had only about 1,000 Jews — some from North Africa, Sephardi Jews from Turkey, and a few Ashkenazim — in all, only an eighth of the total population. They lived in poverty in the Jewish Quarter, supporting themselves by peddling.

From the 1880s Russian Jews arrived, and many opened shops and factories. During his visit to Erez Israel in 1898–99, Theodor Herzl recognized that Haifa could become the country’s chief port. A milestone was reached in 1912, when the cornerstone was laid for the Technion, Israel’s major institute of technology.

After four centuries of Turkish rule, Haifa was captured in 1918 by the British. During the period of the British Mandate, roads and railroads were extended, and the harbor was completed in 1934, allowing Haifa to overtake Jaffa as a port. The city further prospered with the completion in 1939 of the oil pipeline to its terminus on the Mediterranean, at Haifa. The port made possible the development of many industries — such as oil refineries, textiles, glass, bricks and cement. The city’s development, however, was hampered by tension between its Arab and Jewish residents, particularly during the riots of 1936–39. When the land in the Zebulun Valley on the coast was bought from the Arabs in 1928, the Zionist movement made its first venture into large-scale city planning. The city was divided into an industrial zone, a residential area, and an agricultural belt.

As soon as the British evacuated the city in April 1948, the Haganah took over control in a lightning military action. Only about 3,000 of Haifa’s 50,000 Arab residents chose to remain in the city; the rest, following the orders of the Arab High Command, refused to accept Jewish rule and abandoned their homes.

Between the end of 1948 and 1993, the city’s population nearly tripled—from 97,000 (96% being Jews) to 246,000. Until the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, Haifa was the second largest city in the country. In 1989–90 over 20,000 Russian Jewish immigrants settled there. The coastal strip is occupied by the bustling “Steel City,” the crest and spurs of Mt. Carmel overlooking the bay are reserved for housing projects, while parks and orchards fill the gorges. The “Steel City” includes industrial works, large chemical and petrochemical industries, and a plant for producing organic fertilizers from waste. A tenth of the city’s population is employed in the port area, where Zim (Israel’s largest shipping company) also has its head office.

The port is the home-port of Israel’s fast growing navy. Piers and other port facilities have been added, such as the Dagon storage silos which can hold 75,000 tons of grain, shipbuilding facilities, a floating dock, and a jetty for Israel’s fishing fleet. In 1990 over a quarter of a million passengers passed through Haifa port and 1,762 ships called there. Things have grown somewhat in the 950 years since 1046, when the Persian traveler Nasir-i Khusrau wrote that large sailing ships were built there.

The non-Jewish Bahai sect has built a gold-domed sanctuary at its world center in Haifa, and has cultivated one of the finest and largest gardens in the country. Haifa also boasts Israel’s only subway, set up in 1959, and known as the “Carmelit.” Places of interest include Haifa University College, the Naval Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

(C) “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.


Haifa (The Galilee, Getting Israel Together, 1986)


There are many sides to Haifa. There is ‘Haifa-the-metropolis’, boasting all the attributes of contemporary urban center – including a lively cultural life, top class hotels, and an impressive concert hall where some of the world’s greatest artists appear regularly.

There is ‘Haifa-the-beautiful-residential-city,’ as the upper slopes of the mountain host beautiful suburbs with spacious villas, abundant greenery, and panoramic views.

And there is ‘Haifa-of-the-workers,’ the Haifa of heavy industry, the Haifa which tourists are only too happy to avoid. Yet this is the heart of Haifa.

The story of modern Haifa actually begins with a visit to the village in 1898 by the German Kaiser. Impressed by its potential, he announced impulsively that Haifa, (rather than ACCO -Acre-, as originally planned) would be the Mediterranean terminus for the great railway he was building in the Middle East. This, of course, necessitated the development of port facilities. And so, by the beginning of the First World War, the village had begun to develop into a city.

During the British period, this development accelerated. Haifa’s spectacular harbor was built, as were refineries for oil from the Iraqi pipeline which ran across the desert. Thousands of Jews and Arabs began to pour in to the city looking for work.

By 1939, 70% of Palestine’s factories were located in the Haifa bay area, including the great Shemen oil factory, the Nesher cement works, the Phoenicia glass factory and the Ata textile works. Thousands of Jews and Arabs worked in the harbor, at the refinery, and on the railroad.

In 1960, one commentator wrote:

Haifa remains the prototype of a workers’ community. Fully two thirds of its inhabitants are stevedores, longshoremen, sailors, and factory, refinery and railroad workers. There are, as well, many thousands of customs and harbor employees who disdain ‘white-collar’ classifica- tion. This proletarian character explains much about the city.


Howard Sacher:

Tourist’s Haifa is attractive; workers’ Haifa is not. Yet it is precisely this side – the Haifa of the large factories and the refineries, the steel works and the port, that should attract attention. Here at a glance, lies a major part of the story of the modern national Jew in Eretz Yisrael.

The settlers who came to Eretz Yisrael, determined to re-create the Jewish nation in Palestine, were committed to restoring all the elements which had fallen away. The most important element was that of a solid working most important attributes was that of a solid working class. During the last centuries of exile, the Jews had been forced into a small range of occupations. In Eastern and Western Europe, where the vast majority of Jews had lived at the end of the 19th century, most Jews had made their living by trading and commerce. They were rarely found in the centers of industry, where the new wealth of the modern world was increasingly produced. For the most part, this was because Jews were simply not allowed in, either by the government or by the factory owners. But as the future of the modern world lay in industry, the Jew could not afford being left outside.

For this reason, many of the olim felt that the creation of a strong working-class was an important priority for the rebuilding of the nation. They knew, too, that to bring the barren country into the modern world, industrialization was vital. The British, with their mandate for Palestine, knew it too. This convergence of interests came together in the peaceful bay on the Mediterranean, and turned Haifa into the central industrial base of Eretz Yisrael.


Israel Sites – Ein Gedi


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The Ein Gedi Antiquities (Getting Israel Together)



The Synagogue, a street, a Miqwe (see below) and a number of buildings are visible on the site. Some remains of the earlier Second Temple period settlement can also be identified.

Excavations at the site

In 1965, 300 meters northeast of Tel Goren, remains of a mosaic floor were discovered accidentally. The site was excavated between 1970-1972 by Profs. D. Barag and E. Netzer of the Hebrew University and Dr. Y. Porath of the department of Antiquities (today the Israel Antiquities Authority). Additional excavations were carried out in 1992 by G. Hadas on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and between 1995-1997 by Dr. Y. Hirschfeld on behalf of the Hebrew University.

The Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Dept. preserved and restored the mosaics and the site during the years 1991 to 1996.

Historic and archaeological background

The ancient Jewish settlement with its synagogue existed in the Third-Sixth centuries C.E. (Late Roman and Byzantine periods; also known as the Period of the Mishna and the Talmud).

Below these evidence was found of an earlier Second Temple period Jewish settlement which appears to have covered a large area than the later Jewish settlement.

Eusebius, an early Forth century father of the Christian Church, wrote of a “very large village of Jews” at Ein Gedi. Early manuscripts tell of Ein Gedi’s inhabitants who grew date palms and persimmons. The persimmon bush (Ommiphora opobalsamum) yielded a substance from which a valuable perfume could be extracted. Agricultural terraces and irrigation systems west of the settlement attest to Ein Gedi’s agricultural past.

The synagogue was completely excavated; nearby streets and buildings were partially uncovered. Buildings near the synagogue may have belonged to Synagogue officials, or served as study halls and inn.

The synagogue, a trapezoid shaped building constructed in the Third century C.E and paved with black and with mosaic floor, contained a moveable Torah Ark. The north wall, with its two entries, faced Jerusalem.

The synagogue was renovated and its mosaic floor repaired at the beginning of the Forth century. The central entry in the north was closed and converted into a nice for the Torah scroll. Columns were added in the prayer hall dividing it into a prayer hall and two aisles on the east and south. Three stepped rows of benches were built along the south wall. The synagogue that we see today was built in the middle of the Fifth century. It has a central prayer hall bordered by three aisles – on the east, south and west and along entry hall on the west. The Torah Ark was placed in front of the north wall opposite a rectangular bama. A new decorative mosaic floor with a dedicatory inscription was put down. An outer staircase on the northwest wall led to a second story balcony.

The Jewish settlement and its Synagogue were destroyed by fire; sign of which were very evident during the excavation. A hoard of line-wrapped coins was found in an adjacent building courtyard, the latest dated to the Emperor Justinian the First (527-565). Early in his reign, Jews suffered from official persecution. Argaeologists concluded that the Jewish settlement and its Synagogue were destroyed in this wave of persecution, in ca. 530 CE.

Our gratitude to the Authority for Nature reserves and National Parks for their permission to use the text from their folder for our “Live” site. The pictures by: Pinhas Baraq

The Department for Jewish Zionist Education

The Pedagogic Center Director: Dr. Motti Friedman

Web Site Manager: Esther Carciente

Updated:Wednesday 4th May, 2005.


Israel Sites – Eilat


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Eilat (Getting Israel Together)





Over the years, Eilat has developed into a tourist center, attracting people to the ever-present sun, to the many hiking trails and to the sea with its world famous corals.Today, Eilat is a thriving town and one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions. It is a paradise for those who love the water and water sports. Here you can laze around the beach or take an excursion in a glass bottom boat, go snorkeling or visit the Coral World Underwater Observatory and Aquarium or just stay in your airconditioned hotel room and admire the view from your window.

Contrary to popular belief Eilat is not just another pretty town there’s actually a thriving residential area, a lot of history and interesting sites to see.

With the exception of a lonely police station, no buildings or population existed here until the decision to create Eilat in the 1950’s.

This decision was made for two main reasons:

1) In order to establish a permanent Israeli presence in this small piece of territory between Jordan and Egypt.

2) In order to provide a port for shipping to destinations in Eastern Africa and Asia via the Red Sea.

Eilat’s port facilities were expanded during the 1960’s, in order to serve the shipping of Iranian oil. This oil was brought by tankers to Eilat, piped across the Negev to Ashkelon on the Mediteranean coast, transferred back to tankers and then shipped to Europe. However, since the Khomeini revolution which stopped the flow of petroleum, and the reopening of the Suez Canal, Eilat’s port has suffered greatly. Thus Eilat must constantly struggle against adverse conditions – economic, political and natural. Yet, Eilat must continue to exist in order to maintain Israel’s access to the sea and to strengthen national security on the remote southern border.


Israel Sites – Degania


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Degania Alef (A) and Degania Bet (B) on the Jordan plain, South of Lake Kinneret [Sea of Galilee]. The name Degania – “cornflower” – was given for the Arab designation of the land – Umm Juni.

Degania Alef was founded in 1909 by seven Second Aliyah Halutzim (Halutz), who came from Romny, Russia, on land acquired by the Jewish National Fund. Although the economically successful as a settlement, the group dispersed a year later. In 1911, the place was resettled by a group of pioneers from Russia known as the “Hadera Commune”.

Degania Alef was the first settlement based on communal living and became known as the “Mother of the Kevutzot”. Members of Degania Alef insisted on maintaining the frame of the small kevutzah, as opposed to the bigger collective settlement – the Kibbutz – and therefore, in 1920, with the coming of Third Aliyah pioneers, Degania Bet was founded. In 1932, part of the land was granted for a third collective settlement – Kibbutz Afikim.

During the War of Independence, the Syrian army reached the gates of Degania Alef, but was bravely repulsed. A burnt Syrian tank remains on the site as a memorial. The two Deganias have a combined population of about 1,000. Due to the hot climate and abundance of water, both Deganias are engaged in fully irrigated farming. Degania Bet has also a metal factory.

Levi Eshkol and Kadish Luz were members of Degania Bet. A.D. Gordon, Arthur Ruppin, Otto Warburg and other founders of the labor settlement movement are buried on Degania Alef.

(C) Reproduced with permssion from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.








More – Galilee (Getting Israel Together, 1986)

The first group to be trained in Chavat Kinneret, the Kinneret Farm, left it with the aim of settling a piece of land of their own. They founded Degania, the first kibbutz, in 1910. While these young people farmed the land, they also struggled with the question of their future, personal and national, which for them were inextricably tied up.

These chalutzim (pioneers) faced a dilemma. Although they were still only in their teens, they believed themselves to be the vanguard of the Jewish nation, working to restore a Jewish national life. Whatever the ‘nation’ demanded of them, they would do; wherever the ‘nation’ needed them, they would be. The pioneers took the burden of their people’s whole history on their shoulders. They felt that their task was to correct the faults of the past and iron out the distortions that the exile had caused in the national character of their people.

But how could they translate these soaring ideals into reality? The halutzim of Degania had decisions to make. They had dedicated their lives to the needs of their nation. But what exactly did the nation need most? Should the pioneers stay on the move, taking on one new project after another, breaking new ground at each site and then entrusting the project to others to continue? Was that what the nation demanded of them? Most of them thought so, and envisioned a future of unlimited romanticism, of constantly breaking new ground – both literally and metaphorically.

One boy, at least, stood against his comrades. “No – that’s not what the nation needs of us. That is the easy option,” he said. “Always moving, always seeking new paths – there will always be those who are ready to do that. Our task is to give the people what it lacks more than anything else. And that thing is roots. The Jew has been wandering for too long. It’s time he had a chance to rest. On his own land. In control of his own life.”

This young man was Yosef Bussel. For two years, he argued against his comrades, to persuaded them to stay in one place and to set down roots. He finally convinced them in 1912. The group decided to stay and to live out their lives in Degania. They moved into new houses that had been built by the Zionist movement, and settled down to fashion a life based on their ideals.

Through the daily attempt to live out their ideals in a new framework, the settlers of Degania laid the basis of the new society which came to be known as kibbutz. The kibbutz is a community based on total democracy, where all decisions are made collectively by all members. The early kibbutzim were based on the ideals of equality and self-labor, and reflected the creativity which the chalutzim brought with them.

The founders of Degania, while building a new form of life, put great emphasis on creating proper relationships, suitable for communal living. It was not always easy. In 1918, shortly before his tragic death by drowning in the Kinneret, Yosef Bussel penned a letter to a friend who had recently left the kibbutz. In it, he indicates the struggle among the members to reach a better understanding of one another – something that they considered to be essential for group living:


My dear Gershon, Already two weeks have passed since you left us, and this period with everything that happened in it, has passed very quickly, really without us being aware of it. These two weeks did not pass in a regular fashion.

We had an asepha [communal meeting of all the members] a week ago that continued from Thursday evening till Saturday night, with only small breaks for food and rest. On Sunday again we met for an asepha. Yes, an asepha like we haven’t had for a long time….

The asepha made a very strong impression on all of us, even if it made no concrete differences in our lives. We were trying to find out from each other answers to questions of our relationship to the meaning of life and to our future, to what we believe in. Everyone spoke very intimately and personally, opening themselves up to each other – we heard some very beautiful things indeed.

Nevertheless, on Sunday there was a difficult atmosphere and it was almost impossible to go out and work. About six of us went up to Moshe’s grave and sat and cried as we talked. Hearts poured out what had been stored in them for a long time.

A little before evening, we came back feeling slightly calmer and called again an asepha for everyone and, after a beautiful discussion, we decided to continue our weekly asephot on Shabbat. On Monday, we went out again to work; this time full of energy and enthusiasm.


Whole generations have passed since this letter was written – generations of struggle, for the body and for the spirit. Throughout, the members of Kibbutz Degania have tried to put abstract ideals and principles into practice and to create a new way of life. The Degania of today is more than 70 years old. Some of the children you may see today on the lawns, are the great-great-grandchildren of the founding members.

The Beginnings of Self-Defense

When the young chalutzim of the Second Aliyah came to Israel in the first years of the century, they were determined that Jewish settlements must be guarded by Jews themselves. The image of the Jew as a defenseless individual always dependent on others, which had developed during centuries of life in the Exile, would have to change. From now on, Jewish settlements would no longer be guarded by local Arab horsemen.The Jews would defend themselves.

Thus, in 1908, a group of the newcomers set up the Hashomer (Watchman) Association to guard the settlements. Taking their job in earnest, these shomrim (watchmen) proved, quickly and in no uncertain terms, that the Jew could guard himself.


What a strange group of people the early shomrim were! Photographs show them sitting calmly on horseback, richly decorated in a mixture of styles and looking like a cross between a Cossack and an Arab. Indeed, they perceived themselves as such: a mixture of the Cossack, the fighter that some of them knew from their lives in Russia, and the Arab, whom they saw as the incarnation of what their Jewish forefathers must have looked like thousands of years before.

The watchmen often lived under very hard conditions, moving around from place to place every few months, in accordance with the demands of their jobs. Even for the most dedicated, it was a difficult life. But the shomrim kept going, as they were serving an ideal in which they believed.

The first night I came to guard, I was told that guarding is not a joke, and you must keep all your wits about you if you don’t want to get a bullet in your head and meet sudden death. This was not the most encouraging advice – but it was very much in the practical spirit of Hashomer. And what’s more – it was correct.

Guarding, especially in the Galil, was really no joke, and every slight lack of care could cost you your life. A person needed a lot of spiritual resources in order to become used to the demands of the night-guard. The nights were long, awfully long, full of splendor and beauty but also full of ambushes, and danger from every side. The silence of night became thickened with many different noises of animals, reptiles and insects, the rustle of leaves and grasses, and all of them mixed together forming a strange and threatening harmony.

The twinkling of stars up above, and the glimmering of fox’s eyes down below, and you, alone and lonely. And you have no idea whether behind that looming rock there is not an enemy who has managed to hide, and if the next step won’t be your last. The responsibility you have as a guard for those souls exhausted from their day’s work, sleeping their sleep, confident in your watchfulness, brings down upon you great courage but also great tension.

After a long circuit around the boundary of the settlement, you come with great relief to a secure corner to take a breather, and you feel how good it is to lay against a stone knowing that a bullet cannot reach your back. You think with sadness of home, and the pain you have caused your parents. You see the laces of your loved ones in the night before you. Your thoughts wander to the rooms of your parents’ home, full of warmth and love. How good it was there … and suddenly a noise! You clutch the rifle to your chest, listen hard and peer into the darkness. A small animal scuttles across your path and then, again, silence. Another moment of rest before you ‘sail’ out again on another long and tiring circuit.

Sometimes, I dream of leaving this life, and returning to work the land. But I hear, time and time again, the words of the leader of Hashomer, Israel Giladi, ringing in my ears. ‘(Many will be found to work the land. But only a few to guard. There is too much danger – but what will our work in Israel be worth, a we continue to rely on others to guard us? We have to take responsibility for our own security.” That is what Giladi had told me, and he was right. Our lives and property were at the mercy of others.


Yitzhak Oz

After a few years, some of the shomrim decided to establish a settlement for themselves, and groups of the shomrim and people close to them prepared to ‘settle down’ during the last days of the First World War. In 1916, they established Kfar Giladi in the extreme north of the ‘Galil Finger,’ the long narrow projection of land at the north-east corner of the country.

Towards the end of the First World War, it became increasingly clear that the Ottoman Empire would fall. The British and French, who had allied during World War 1 and were two of the great European imperial powers, saw a chance to extend their influence and control over territory which the Ottomans would surely lose. Thus, during the war, the British and the French signed a secret agreement dividing spheres of influence in the Middle East. But when the agreement became a reality at the end of the war, the line dividing the two spheres separated the Galilee Finger from the rest of Eretz Yisrael, leaving it in the French controlled area while the rest of the country was under British rule.

The French, in fact, never gained full control of the Galilee Finger, for the local Arabs began to fight against them. The Arabs accused the Jewish settlements of being in league with the French, despite the settlers’ repeated declarations that they were completely neutral in the struggle. Bands of Arabs began attacking the four Jewish settlements in the area, including Kfar Giladi and Tel Chai, in 1919.




Israel Sites – Castel – Har Meoz


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Castel – Har Me’oz (Getting Israel Together)






Mount Castel rises to the height of 790 meters above sea level, and is situated beside the road to Jerusalem, 2 km. from the Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim and some 10 km. before Jerusalem. The source of the name is from the Roman period, when there was a fortress (castilium). In the Crusades period a road fortress was erected on the ruins of the Roman fortress. Later an Arab village perched on the hilltop, that commanded the main road to Jerusalem.

When it was captured by the “Hagana” in 1948, the road to the capital was opened. And this is the story of the battle that was fought there:

In March 1948 the war intensifies in the Castel – Zuba region. Mt. Castel is the vital area. The mountain and the village on it are in Arab hands. The “Hagana” forces hold the Zuba quarry to the south and the Motza and Arza at the foot of the hill to the east. On April 1st the Arabs attack the quarry and for two days a battle rages in the area. On the night of April 2-3 the “Palmach” force (a pioneers army unit within the “Hagana”) conquers the Castel. The mountain is handed over to a company from the “Moria” battalion. Local Arab forces launch counter-attacks, which continue for three consecutive days. The small force on the Castel becomes steadily weakened. On the evening of April 5th the enemy captures the entire Castel heights. With an intense effort a platoon is put together from the “Etzioni” brigade and goes up to the Castel as a reinforcement. It barely suffices to replace the fallen and wounded and take place of exhausted fighters.

The “Jihad Elmukaddas” command conducts the largest “Phazaa” (call to arms) in the war of independence. Thousand of armed villagers swarm to the battle area. On April 6th the Arab commence attacking the Castel. The assault goes on into the darkens and continues the following day. On April 7th. the Arab commander Abd Elkadir El Husseini arrives the Castel, to take personal command of the battle. On arriving he launches an attack. After a heavy barrage of fire the assault begins at 23.00. Towards 03.00 the Arabs captured several houses in the village and reach close to the command post. They are thrust back with grenades. At dawn Abd Elkadir and two of his men advance towards the “Etzioni” command post. They are discovered. A company sergeant major kills Abd Elkadir with a burst from a sub-machine gun. On the morning of April 8th, heavy fire is opened on the Castel from three directions. The Arabs believing that their commander has been taken prisoner, launch a massive assault in an attempt to release him. The defender’s situation is critical. A “Palmach” platoon is assembled and sets out to their aid. At 13.30 the Arabs conquer the southern part of the village. Simultaneously the reinforcement arrives. The advance party reaches the Castel command post. Now the position at the house of the “Mukhtar” (village head) falls. Some of the defenders fall back. The “Palmach” force covers the retreat of the infantry and then retreats itself. During the retreat the company commander and his deputy order: “The privates will retreat. The commanders will stay behind to give them cover”.

The Arabs do not exploit the success of their victory, most of them go to the Old City of Jerusalem to attend the funeral of their commander (Abd Elkadir Elhuseini).

Toward dawn on the 9th of April a company from the 4th “Palmach” battalion captures the Castel.

Today the Castel is a national site. The National Parks Authority, together with the committee for commemoration of the Castel Battles, prepared the site for visitors and constructed a model of the battles with signboards explaining the story.

In cooperation with the Jewish National Fund, an approach road and a carpark were laid out, and trees planted on the site.

Our gratitude to the Authority for Nature reserves and National Parks for their permission to use the text from their folder for our “Live” site.
The pictures by: Pinhas Baraq





Israel Sites – Caesarea


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 A city on the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa, was originally known as Straton’s Tower.


It was an ancient town and was named after Straton, who ruled Sidon in Lebanon during the fourth century b.c.e. The Hasmonean king, Alexander Yannai, captured it in 104 b.c.e. and incorporated it into the Hasmonean kingdom. However, it did not remain under Jewish rule for very long. The city was captured by the Roman commander Pompey and later fell under the rule of Cleopatra.

Caesarea came under Jewish rule again only when the emperor Augustus returned it to Herod, who greatly enlarged the city and renamed it Caesarea in honor of the emperor (in approximately 13 b.c.e.). Herod surrounded the city with a wall and built a deep sea harbor, and although the population of Caesarea was half gentile and half Jewish, Herod favored the non- Jewish inhabitants and encouraged the city to become a leading center of Hellenistic culture. Later it became the seat of the Roman procurators who ruled Erez Israel.

It was in Caesarea that the clashes between the Jewish and the gentile population sparked the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 c.e. which ended in the destruction of the Temple. During the war, when Vespasian arrived to subdue the country and conquer Jerusalem, he made Caesarea his headquarters, and when he became emperor, raised it to the status of a Roman colony. Some 60 years later, when the Bar Kokhba revolt broke out (131–135 c.e.), the Roman general Severus also made Caesarea his headquarters. After the revolt was suppressed, Rabbi Akiva and other sages were martyred in the city.

During the third century c.e. Caesarea became a center of Christian learning and at the same time, one of the great talmudic centers in Erez Israel. The Jerusalem Talmud speaks frequently of “the sages of Caesarea,” and reference is also made to a synagogue there where the prayers were recited in Greek.

When the Byzantines divided Erez Israel into provinces (358–429 c.e.), Caesarea became the capital of the first province (Palaestina Prima) and reached its greatest extent; it was surrounded by a semi-circular wall and was served by two aqueducts. In 640 c.e. it was the last city in the country to fall to the Arabs.

Under Crusader rule, the town again rose to importance. It was splendidly reconstructed with strong fortifications, a new harbor and a beautiful cathedral. However, the Crusaders’ presence affected the Jewish community adversely so that by 1170 only 20 Jews remained there. Today Caesarea has become a central tourist attraction with modern hotels and the only golf course in Israel. But the past is still an integral part of the city since there are relics from practically every period of its history. The remains of towers, temples and fortresses as well as statues, mosaics and hundreds of inscriptions are being constantly uncovered in excavations and are helping archaeologists to investigate Caesarea’s rich and picturesque past. In fact, the impressive Roman theater has been reconstructed and is used for special concerts and musical recitals.

Entry taken from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM

by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter

Israel Sites – Bet Guvrin National Park


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Bet Guvrin National Park






Upon entering the park you might wonder why we brought you here – aside from a beautiful view there doesn’t seem to be anything here. But, that is precisely the beauty of this site – underground is where you will find everything of interest. Archaeologists have found caves and water cisterns that date as far back as the 3rd Century BCE! So far they have found over 20 oil presses, a number of water cisterns that served private homes, burial caves, columbariums (that’s where you raise pigeons) and hundreds of storage caves.

This area encompasses the ancient cities of Maresha and Bet Guvrin and was obviously once a major metropolis. The cities developed alongside the rivers and the valleys were suitable for cultivation. The cities of Bet Guvrin and Maresha both served travelers going between Jerusalem and Hebron and the coastal plain. Maresha is mentioned in the Bible in the time of Judah and subsequently fell into the hands of each new ruler. Excavations have produced remains from the Persian, Hellenist, Roman, Crusader and Arab empires.

Bet Guvrin seems to be a little more “modern” and dates back to the Second Temple when it flourished as a Jewish center until the Bar Kochba revolt. In the 3rd and 4th centuries the city was reestablished and Jewish life flourished. The remains of A Jewish cemetery and a synagogue from the Roman and Byzantine empire have been found. In addition remains of churches have been found from the Byzantine period.

Today not far from these remains stands Kibbutz Bet Guvrin established in 1949 immediately after the creation of the State.

The Dig


Throughout your travels around Israel you may wonder how we know so much about ancient history. The truth is we get most of our information from archaeologists and books. Archaeologists study the history of a place and then search the area for remains of prior eras. A “dig” can last for years in one place until the archaeologists feel that they have uncovered enough information – coins, remains of buildings, documents, pottery… You’d be surprised at how much a piece of pottery can tell you – what type of people lived here, Jews, Arabs, Bedouins; What century they lived there; Was the community poor or wealthy; and more….

On a “dig for a day”, Israel experience participants participate in an ongoing dig and try their hand at finding some hidden relics.








Israel Sites – Beit Shearim


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Beit She’arim











An ancient city in the Lower Galilee, near the modern town of Kiryat Tivon on the Nazareth-Haifa road. Although settlement at Bet She’arim apparently started in Bible times, the city is first mentioned at the end of the Second Temple period.


During talmudic times, important scholars lived there. Bet She’arim reached great prosperity in the late second century when Rabbi Judah ha- Nasi went to live there and made it the seat of the Sanhedrin. From the beginning of the following century, it became the central burial place for Jews of Erez Israel and the Diaspora. The city was destroyed by Romans during the suppression of the Jewish revolt in 352 c.e. However, a small settlement continued there during the Byzantine period.

The city of Bet She’arim extended over the summit of a hill — an area of 25 acres, 450 feet above sea level. It was surrounded by a wall, two sections of which have been discovered. Remains of large buildings, including a large synagogue, have been found, as well as a glassmaking shop and about 1,200 bronze coins struck in the first half of the fourth century. An oil press used mainly in the Byzantine period was found nearby.

Rock-cut catacombs that were prepared to provide burial places for sale to people outside Bet She’arim were found in all these areas. The soft limestone rock of the area was easily carved, and many simple decorations were found on the walls of the burial chambers. Most favored were religious symbols and ritual objects, especially the seven-branched menorah and the Ark of the Law, with columns and steps. Also the shofar, lulav, etrog and an incense shovel of the Temple were depicted. Heavy ornamental stone doors were decorated to imitate wooden doors, complete with panels, nailheads and knockers. Among others, many rabbis and sages were buried in these chambers. Two-hundred and fifty epitaphs in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were found, and one of them reads: “He who is buried here (is) Simeon, son of Johanan, and on oath, whoever shall open upon him shall die of an evil end.”

Entry taken from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.


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