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Hidden Gems

The Hankins’ house perched above Gideon's spring at Ma'ayan Harod. Photos by Stephen Kliner

How do you relate a history scanning nearly 4,000 years or more in the space of a day?

Step forward Stephen Kliner, our licensed tour guide, on our ESRA Netanya day out to the Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee. From the moment we stepped on to the coach, Stephen regaled us with historical facts in chronological order, mingled with appropriate anecdotal stories.

It was a beautiful March day as we headed north on Routes 2 and 65, following the line of the ancient Via Maris. From the earliest of times these roads connected Egypt to Syria, the route of much trade and warfare.

The bus driver stopped right on Megiddo junction to allow Stephen to point out the site of the ancient city of Megiddo, first mentioned in an Egyptian inscription in 1479 BCE. This Tel was the site of many civilizations and battles, having been inhabited from 7000 to 586 BCE. According to Christian tradition (Book of Revelation), this will be the site of the apocalypse where "all the kings of the world will fight the ultimate battle", from where the English word Armageddon is derived. The Tel was first excavated in 1903 in primitive fashion by Gottlieb Schumacher, who destroyed a lot of the evidence. Since then, with more care and precision, layer upon layer of civilization, maybe as many 26, have been "peeled off". Adjacent to the Tel is the 3rd Century CE camp site of the Roman 6th Legion (Legio Ferrata – Ironclads) and on the other side of the road, the 3rd Century CE site of the earliest example of a Christian domus ecclesia (precursor to the church) found on the site of the existing Megiddo Prison, which is shortly to be relocated. 

Arrow slit at Belvoir constructed of local basalt and limestone from nearby Gilboa.

A little later we turned right towards the Gilboa Mountains, passing the Tanakh settlements dating from the time of the Judges when Bnei Israel were settling the Promised Land. We soon arrived at Ma'ayan Harod, where we climbed a little and reached the house of Yehoshua Hankin, which now houses the Hankin Museum. One of the great early Zionists, Hankin was a modest man who scoured the country looking to purchase land on behalf of the Zionist Organization in Ottoman Palestine (later JNF), and any other Zionist organization that had the funds to pay. He bought large tracts of land in the Jezreel Valley and throughout Palestine on which many kibbutzim, moshavim and the cities of Hadera, Rehovot and Afula were built. The house we visited was built for his wife Olga. Although she was twelve years his senior they were apparently a great love match, but unfortunately, she never lived to see the completion. A little lower down from the house there is a mausoleum housing their graves, in front of which are written in stone all of his land purchases. 

ESRA tour members in front of the Hankins’ tomb

We then descended further, arriving at the spring of Ma'ayan Harod, which is mentioned in the story of Gideon's test - the selection of soldiers before going into battle. As written in the Old Testament, 32,000 men answered Gideon's call to arms, but after a preliminary selection he was left with 10,000. The Lord said to Gideon "Take them down to the water and I will sift them for you there… Then the Lord said to Gideon 'set apart all those who lap up the water with their tongues like dogs from all those who get down on their knees and drink'. Now those who lapped the water into their mouths by hand numbered three hundred. Then the Lord said to Gideon 'I will deliver you and I will put Midian into your hands through the three hundred lappers; let the rest of the troops go home'." (Judges 7.4-7).

Our next stop was the sixth century CE synagogue of Beit Alpha, and its beautiful mosaic floor. We saw the film detailing how it came about; a story/legend where for a considerable sum less than the original estimate, the mosaic was laid with errors and misplaced drawings, but still a sight to behold and in excellent condition.

We were soon on the road again towards the Galilee, stopping for lunch in a pretty picnic spot within the National Park of Kochav Hayarden, where we found shade to eat our packed lunches on this very hot March day. A good hour's sustenance and break.

We then toured the Crusader Fortress of Belvoir in the National Park. I would rather state "Tres Belvoir" of the Jordan Valley - what a view! Purchased from the Velos family and built by the Hospitaller Knights in 1168, using local volcanic basalt stone (which was extracted from around its perimeter, thereby at the same time creating a deep surrounding moat), only to be destroyed by Saladin in 1189 after withstanding a siege of one and a half years. Stephen led us around this very large site, explaining all the different areas including the entrance, the various towers and gates, the Water Cistern, the Barbican, and the Courtyard. While mainly constructed of basalt, some of the arches were of limestone brought from Gilboa and Ma'ayan Harod which we had visited earlier. One of the archaeological sites of Israel! 

Tour guide Stephen Kliner

Driving on to our last stop we passed by the southern corner of the Kinneret, Degania Alef and Bet and other places of prehistoric interest. We then arrived at Kfar Kama, a Circassian village, where the local guide related their unfortunate history (some of it similar to our own legacy). The Circassians came from the NW Caucasus and settled in Kfar Kama in 1878 and nearby Rehania, following the 1864 Russian genocide, when half of their people were killed. They are Sunni Muslim and around 4,000 live in Israel today. Although they participate fully in Israeli life, including the army, they marry amongst themselves and tend to live only in their two villages where they maintain their local customs and lifestyle. He showed us around the museum and in great detail explained all of this. Very different lifestyles and customs indeed. Fascinating!

So, there we were, a very full day and the ambitious program completed successfully.

Well done, Stephen! 



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Monday, 27 March 2023

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