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The Galilee Information Center

About the Galilee

 History

Golan

The region is called "Golan" after an ancient city built at its northern part in the time of Joshua. The main city of the Golan Heights in the past was Gamla, which was conquered by Aspasian, Caesar of Rome. Jewish settlements were founded in the region thanks to the initiative of Baron de Rothschild approximately one hundred years ago, but were abandoned as the Heights came under Syrian possession following the agreement between France and Britain. After the War of Independence, the Syrians used the Heights as positions for snipers that were shooting toward the Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley.

In the following years the Syrians constantly harassed fishing in Lake Kineret and the cultivation of the fields in the moshav of Almagor and the kibbutzim of Gonen, Mishmar Hayarden, Tel Katzir and Gadot. The IDF replied with retribution operations that inflicted heavy damage to the Syrian positions but did not succeed to stop the acts of murder and sabotage.

The Golan Heights were conquered by Israel during the Six Days War in 1967 and became subject to Military Law.

Galilee

Approximately one third of the region's cities are very ancient and two of them - Zefat and Tiberias - are among the four sacred cities that had Jewish population throughout all the historic periods. In the days of the First Aliyya the settlements of Rosh Pina and Yesod Hamaala were founded, followed by several other settlements whose establishment was financed by Baron de Rothschild and Baron Hirsch.

Emek Yizrael

Emek Yizrael (Izrael Valley) was an important region throughout most of the historic periods thanks to the comfortable passage it provided from the coastal region to the Jordan Valley. This route was a continuation of the "Sea Road" since 15 century BC. In Biblical times the road passed near the cities of Megiddo and Yizrael and the Valley was the scenery of the story of Deborah the Prophet and Sisra. In Hellenic times the Valley lost its importance as a result of the development of the "Coastal Road" on the expense of the "Sea Road" and it seems that in Roman times the area began to be covered by marshes. This expansion of marshes and frequent inundations in the Valley reduced the population of the region and the only areas that remained populated and cultivated were those at the fringes of the Valley. Renewed settlement of the region began in the midst of the 19th century. The first Jewish settlement in the Valley was Merkhaviya, founded in 1911 on the ruins of the deserted Arab village of "Pula". The first settlers had to begin the difficult task of drying the marshes.

During the Canaanite and Israeli periods the Valley had several proliferating settlements. At the beginning of the new Aliyya the Valley of Yizrael was in fact one big swamp. The main causes are thought to be the floods by the Kishon River, one of which drowned the chariots of Sisra in biblical times. Marshes and fevers deterred the Arab landowners and eased their purchase by the Jews, especially Yehoshua Khankin. Some of the Arab villages still can be found at the slopes of the surrounding mountains, while the Jewish settlements cause the Valley itself to blossom.

Kineret

People began to dwell by Lake Kineret already in prehistoric times. In the caves of Nahal Amud one can still find many remnants of the prehistoric man, dating back to Paleolithic times, including the famous "Galilee Man" skull. When Israel was divided between the tribes of Israel, Lake Kineret and its shores were included in the domain of Naftali. In the period of the Second Temple many settlements popped up around the lake, the most important of which was Tiberias, which still exists. Jewish settlements around the Lake remained even after the fall of the Second Temple, and some of them still feature interesting ruins of ancient synagogues. Under the Muslim rule, the Caliphs built winter palaces around the Lake to take advantage of the comfortable climate of the area. Ruins of such a palace can be found between Genosar and Tabkha Beach, at Tel Kinarot: this is a palace whose construction was initiated by the caliph Al-Walid in the 8th century AD. The Arabs call Lake Kineret "Bahr al Maniya", (the Sea of Maniya") after this palace. The lake is a popular pilgrimage site for many centuries, being known as the place where Jesus walked on water.

At the beginning of the Jewish settlement toward the end of the 19th century, two colonies were founded at the eastern side of the lake, but were abandoned. The JNF bought its first lands at the shores of the lake, and these lands served to found the Kineret Group - the first agricultural economy and Dgania - the first kibbutz.

During the War of Independence an important battle took place at the entrance to kibbutz Dgania, and the kibbutz still displays the Syrian tank that broke into the area of the kibbutz but was defeated by a brave soldier. Only following the Six Days War, when Israeli troops conquered the Golan Heights, the Lake was finally freed from the fear of Syrian shelling and the fishermen could sail safely to do their work.


 Geography

The northern part of the Land of Israel is also its most fertile part, despite being just little more than one tenth of its overall territory. The custom division into areas is done in such a way that the mountains of Galilee are separated from the mountains of Samaria by the extensive Valley of Yizrael, which is one its kind in Israel. The Beit Kerem Valley divides Galilee into the Lower (southern) Galilee and the Upper (northern) Galilee. The former is found entirely in the territory of the State of Israel while the latter stretches northwards up to the Litani River in Lebanon. Uper Galilee stretches to the north of the Beit Kerem Valley, while the Lower Galilee rises along a steep slope above the Valley of Yizrael. The lake of Kineret is located between Galilee Mountains in the west to the Golan Heights in the east.

Golan Heights

Golan Heights are the most northern and eastern part of the State of Israel, and the only region of the state located to the east of Jordan River. The boundaries of the area stretch from Mt. Hermon and Saar Creek in the north, through the Roked and Elan Creeks in the east, to the Yarmuk Creek in the south and the Hahula Valley in the west. The overall territory of the Golan is 1190 sqm; the length is 78 km and its maximal width is 24 km.

When one speaks about the Golan Heights one usually thinks about two very different areas: the first one is the Golan, which is a plateau, i.e.: a high area which has a relatively flat surface. Golan Heights are made of basalt rock that was formed during volcanic eruptions that took place many years ago, and even today it is possible to find inactive volcanoes in the region, such as Mt. Peres, Mt. Yosipon and Mt. Bental. These basalt rocks are very prominent with their black and dark color and porous surface, created with the cooling of the lava and evaporation of the fumes from the stones.

The western part of the Golan is characterized by steep slopes continuing downward the valleys of the North. The slopes are intersected by many creeks flowing into the Kineret. North of the Golan is Mt. Hermon, all of which is built from limestone made from the shells of ancient marine creatures, that accumulated on the bottom of the ancient Tethys Sea.

The shells accumulated on the sea's bottom for millions of years and created the limestone. Sometimes limestone is dissolved in water and these processes leave behind unique formations known as Crust Panorama Formations. At Mt. Hermon one can see these forms in caves, rock lumps (the rock was exposed in the form of lumps and sometimes even looks like giant statues), underground burrows and dolines (when an underground burrow collapses, a sort of small crater - known as "dolina" is created on the surface above it). Some people even perceive Mt. Hermon as a sponge made from many underground burrows, which can absorb large quantities of water thanks to the multiple cracks, and indeed, a lot of water percolates into the underground water reservoirs under the mountain, and flowing from the many springs at its feet.

Galilee

The mountains of the Upper Galilee rise in a steep slope that emphasizes the fact that the peaks of the Upper Galilee are higher than those of the Lower Galilee, even though the aerial distance between them is just 11 km. The highest mountain of the Upper Galilee is Mt. Miron. Upper Galilee is the most mountainous area in Israel, a fact that enabled several Jewish villages to survive there until the ending of the Middle Ages. Galilee stretches from the seashore and Sulam Tzor (The Ladder of Tire) to the depression of Jordan. It is dotted by extinguished volcanoes and occasionally shaken by strong earthquakes. In 1759 and 1837 such earthquakes destroyed the cities of Zefat and Tiberias.

Emek Yizrael

Emek Yizrael (Valley of Yizrael) crosses the whole mountain formation and connects the lowland of Haifa Bay with the Valley of Beit-Shean. The overall territory of the valley is app. 900 km2. In the past the Valley of Yizrael served as the main road from the coastal area to Damascus, Tadmor and the Euphrates Valley, playing considerable importance for the states to the south and north of Judea.

Lake Kineret

Lake Kineret (Tiberias) lies between the Jordan Valley at the south and Upper Jordan River at the north, which is also its main water source. The lake is located a little more than 200 meters under sea level. Except River Jordan the lake receives its water from the creeks in the surrounding mountains.

The shores of Kineret also have several springs, some of which are thermal ones - for example the baths of Tiberias. The water level of the Lake changes according to the seasonal quantity of rains and the quantity of the water pumped from it, but in overall it is on constant decline. The reason for this is that Lake Kineret, which is the largest water reservoir in Israel, provides the same quantity of pumped water every year, while the quantity of the entering water might change sharply from year to year. And so for many years more water was pumped from the lake than that which flowed into it, causing the lake to retreat and the water level to decline.


Demography

Galilee Bedouins

Present Bedouin settlements in the Galilee include spontaneous settlements established by their residents in a gradual process of transition from nomadic way of life into permanent settlements in shacks or stone buildings, and the planned settlements, established by the state. Some of the spontaneous settlements received official government recognition, and as a result enjoy organized infrastructures and vital services.

Along the years the Galilee Bedouins gradually abandoned nomadic way of life based on grazing and pillage in favor of permanent settlements and reliance on other way of making a living. The process was facilitated by several factors:

Already during the British Mandate the Bedouins found themselves under strict supervision of the authorities, intended to affect their transition to permanent settlement. The geographic proximity to the industrial foci at the Bay of Haifa and the natural geographic and climatic conditions in the region made the need to wander with the herds obsolete and sped up the settlement process. The relatively reduced size of Bedouin population in the Galilee and its composition, which includes descendants of many different tribes, as well as its geographic distribution, weakened its military and political power. Permanent settlement enabled mixed marriages between the Bedouins and the local fallahs, enhancing their adoption of land cultivation aspects even further.

Another factor was the expansion of Jewish and Arab settlement in the Galilee turned most of the grazing grounds into economical areas, urban areas and industrial zones.

Chircassians in the Galilee

Only two settlements survived from the Adjai Settlement - Rikhaniyya and Kfar-Qama. The Adja people received their lands from the Ottoman authorities. At the beginning they tried to live from livestock, but their Bedouin neighbors caused too much trouble, forcing the residents to transpose quickly to field crops accompanied by hunting, as well as to organization of constant protection for the settlements. The collisions with Bedouins were often quite violent, until the Bedouins finally accepted the fact that they must live alongside the Adja. Today Kfar-Qama has a status of local authority.

Druzi in the North

The current Druzi population in Israel is app. 100,000 people, living in 18 villages scattered across the Galilee and the Karmel (2 villages), one city (Shefar'am) and four villages at the northern part of the Golan Heights. Druzi population in the Galilee exists since the first days of the Druzi religion in 11th century AD. The residents of Druzi settlements on Mt. Karmel came from Lebanon and Syria, a fact still prominent in their accent.

The Druzi in Israel are a part of the larger community whose main centers are in Syria (Druzi Mountain at the south of Syria) and Lebanon (Mt. Shuff). There are Druzi communities in Jordan, North America, Latin America and other places around the world as well.

The Druzi in Israel do regular military service in the IDF since 1956 and since 1957 they are recognized as a distinct ethnic group. In 1962 the first Druzi Sharia Court was established in Israel and the first Druzi cadies were appointed.

Despite the cultural and economic changes in Israel and among the Druzi themselves, they're remain a village community where the main elements are still the clan and the family. The Druzi do not cultivate lands and their most prominent occupation in the present is service in various security branches of the Israeli armed forces.

Jews in the Golan

The current population in the Golan is app. 35,000, 18,000 of which are Jews, scattered across 32 rural settlements (including - Mavo Hama, Afik, Keshet, Avney Eitan, Ramat Magshimim and Nave Ativ) and one urban settlement - Katzrin, covering the whole area of the Golan Plateau.

Chircassians in the Golan                        

The Adja people came to the Golan following the encouragement and under the guidance of the Ottomans, who wanted to use them as a defensive wedge against the Bedouins. The Adja people, who found the Golan Heights virtually free of existing population, erected 12 villages which soon turned into vibrant successful settlements. The violent struggle which soon erupted between them and the Bedouins ended in Adja victory and in establishment of peace between the two groups.

The Adja people, known for their basalt-built houses and red rooftops, underwent rapid development with the ending of the French Mandate, but after the conquering of the Golan Heights by Israel in 1967 all of them left the area and settled in the vicinity of Damascus and in its suburbs.

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