Israel's Good Name

Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

Waterfalls of Nachal Iyun

In Galilee, Israel on January 25, 2015 at 4:40 AM

Last week my sister and I took a day trip to the tip of the Upper Galilee, to the nature reserve of Nachal Iyun. One of the streams to feed into the famed Jordan River, Nachal Iyun emanates from springs in the Marjaayoun Valley in Lebanon, just north of the town of Metula. The Lebanese town and valley Marjaayoun means “meadow of springs” in Arabic, making Nachal Iyun meaning “stream of springs” and so it is. The Israeli part of the stream, and its series of waterfalls, curls around Metula bordered by the Israel-Lebanon border (the “Blue Line”) before petering out near Kiryat Shmona.

Anemone with bee

Anemone with bee

On our drive up we passed by a sizable collection of police, military and firefighting crews who had blocked off the opposing side of Road 90. Later I learned that there were terrorists spotted in Lebanon trying to place mines along the border. Just another day in Israel… But that didn’t stop up from enjoying some homemade herb biscuits with butter and cheese en route. We found the park, parked and began our hike of the nature reserve.

The view to the Naftali Mountains

The view to the Naftali Mountains

But what’s a nature hike without a sprinkling of regional history? The area of Iyun, and even the stream itself, are mentioned several times in the Bible and subsequent books by the Sages. First, the retelling of scuffles between the divided Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judah. King Asa of Judah, great-grandson of King Solomon, gave Iyun (as well as Dan and other Naftali cities) to King Ben Hadad of Aram Damascus as a bribe to turn the Aramaeans against the Kingdom of Israel under King Baasha. Later, it’s mentioned as the border of Galilee in regards to religious commandments applicable only to the Holy Land. In more modern times, the bridge over the stream connecting Israel and Lebanon was blown up by the Palmach, one of eleven bridges targeted in the “Night of the Bridges” operation. These days there remains a threat from the Hezbollah terrorists who have control over southern Lebanon; in 2005 they diverted the stream within Lebanon and today water is supplemented from the neighbouring Snir Stream.

Looking up through the chimney of HaTanur Waterfall

Looking up through the chimney of HaTanur Waterfall

After a short walk we reached the first of the four waterfalls: HaTanur Waterfall. A towering 30 metre (~100 foot) waterfall crashing into the soft limestone, the name HaTanur has three possible origins: a long Arab skirt, an chimney oven and a fast flowing current. We stood at the base and enjoyed the mist and the cold air, although it tended to make photography difficult.

It's me!

It’s me!

Taking the winding trail-steps up the side of the gorge far above the falls, we passed by Metula’s cemetery with some gravestones from the late 1800’s. Reaching HaTanur Waterfall Lookout, we walked onto a platform jutting out over the edge of the slope to see the falls below.

HaTanur Waterfall from above

HaTanur Waterfall from above

We continued on along the rim of the gorge until we reached very unusual steps leading down to the second waterfall: Cascade Falls. This two-stepped waterfall is on a much smaller scale, 9.5 and 5 metres (31 and 16.5 feet), with a bit of an unimpressive vantage point. In the winter months some 0.3-1.5 cubic millimetres of water flow through the stream each second but we visited not long after a pretty big storm so I’d imagine we were seeing a bit more. Just a few hundred metres further on the trail of the two-kilometre gorge we reached the beautiful Mill Falls, the third waterfall.

Mill Falls

Mill Falls

An impressive 21 metres (69 feet) tall, Mill Falls is named after the remains of an old mill of which a tall wall and an uncovered arched structure can be still seen, built against the rock wall. I haven’t found any information about this mill which is a bit strange. Walking up the trail-steps to the Mill Lookout we watched water from the adjacent Ein Sucra spring trickle down a trough parallel to the trail. With the noise of the crashing water slowly fading behind us, we climbed in elevation once again heading for the final waterfall. At one point fairly close to the border we spotted a Lebanese shepherd and his goats grazing on the far ridge. We discussed whether or not he might be a Hezbollah spy – a pretty realistic assumption. Last time I encountered a Lebanese herd was when I was up in the Gladiola Outpost at the top of nearby Mount Dov and a wayward Lebanese herd found its way into the outpost and panicked when they tried to get back out. Two goats fell down a small cliff and some got cut up on the razor wire – it was quite a mess. You can see a picture of it HERE.

Lebanese shepherd with his goats

Lebanese shepherd with his goats

Shortly thereafter we entered a different park of the reserve, the Founders Grove with its tall trees and bubbling brook atmosphere. We spotted European robins flitting in the bushes and turtles basking in the sunlight. We then came to the end of the trail and the fourth waterfall: Iyun Waterfall.

Iyun Waterfall

Iyun Waterfall

Although it doesn’t quite look it in the above photo, this waterfall is 9.2 metres (30 feet) tall and the water up top was used by the British in the 1940’s. With that we turned around to hike back to the car (there is no long circular path). Being as though we were now facing the opposite way this time, we saw things at a different angle. It was only on the way back that I noticed the Dove Cave between the Cascade Falls and HaTanur Waterfall. In addition, we spotted deep wild boar tracks in the mud. But best of all, the magnificent view – this is looking at HaTanur Waterfall Lookout with the Gafni Lookout below:

Looking out at the lookout

Looking out at the lookout

Finished with the hike we got into the car and stopped off at Rosh Pina for some super-thin authentic Sicilian pizza before driving home.

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Joseph’s Pit

In Israel, Samaria on January 11, 2015 at 4:30 AM

After visiting the ancient capital city of Sebastia (also known as Shomron, or Samaria), we drove north headed towards Jenin in our armoured convoy. I was participating in an educational and recreational day out for sergeant commanders of Kfir’s “Netzach Yehuda” Battalion and we were headed for the second stop of the day, Joseph’s Pit. But along the way we had a bit of excitement – entering one Palestinian village we were attacked by handfuls of Arab youth throwing huge rocks, molotov cocktails, fireworks and even small explosive charges. It was a very intense experience and kind of thrilling, mostly because I was driving a large armoured truck weighing approximately 13,000 kgs (28,660 lbs) with bulletproof windows and all. In this picture that a soldier from the command jeep in front of me took, you can see a large rock hitting the metal grate at my front windshield during the onslaught:

Driving the Safaron through a Palestinian village

Driving the Safaron through a Palestinian village

I have uploaded footage from this experience, filmed by the lieutenant in the passenger seat, onto YouTube. It’s no high-definition GoPro video but here it is: http://youtu.be/BFvL0v4XDtE (at 00:09 you can hear the explosion of the TNT charge that was thrown at my right rear tire area). After the excitement in the village we continued north on Road 60 until we came to the turn-off for Tel Dotan and Joseph’s Pit, just past the village of Araba. Driving on the incredibly bumpy dirt road, we approached the hill that is Tel Dotan.

Tel Dotan

Tel Dotan

Unfortunately, we were slightly pressed for time and weren’t able to fully visit the site. So we started with Joseph’s Pit – or shall I say, one of three possible pits – directly beside the dirt road.

Deep inside the first pit

Deep inside the first pit

To review the Biblical story, Jacob and his family had moved to the Holy Land and continued in their shepherding lifestyle. Joseph was sent by Jacob to locate his brothers who had gone out grazing from Hevron to Shechem; he found them at Dotan some twenty kilometres north of Shechem. It was there that they cast him into a pit and then sold him to Ishmaelite traders who took Joseph down to Egypt where he eventually rose in power to become a viceroy. Now, I have heard but cannot verify that there were two pits in the story and that one was filled with snakes and scorpions – the pit that Joseph spent the night in. So here and now there are three pits to choose from, although it’s possible that these aren’t the pits in question at all.

The second pit

The second pit

We had all gathered around these two pits and it was announced that we were waiting for the battalion commander to swing by with his command jeep to give a few words. Seizing this opportunity, as I’m not really involved in their command pyramid, I decided to go check out the third pit alone. Located inside an old stone house of sorts, the third pit is a the furthest from the dirt road, not far from the base of the tel.

The house containing the third pit

The house containing the third pit

I entered the old structure, seeing traditional vaulted rooms, arched doorways and the lone stone staircase built on strong arches. I wonder about the site’s history, but haven’t found anything online about it, especially because according to the Muslims (and agreed upon by the Crusaders), the site of Joseph’s Pit is in the Galilee next to Kibbutz Amiad just a few kilometres north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The Muslim version is known as Jubb Yussef and a small kahn was built at the site somewhere between the 1200’s and the 1500’s to host pilgrims and passing travelers.

Inside the house

Inside the house

Inside the rooms, there were also more modern machinery – what looked like a pump of sorts; an assortment of pipes and a motor. I looked around for the pit, treading carefully, and then spotted light streaming in from a breach in the wall. Peering into the light, I looked down to see the third pit.

Peering into the third pit

Peering into the third pit

To recap, one of these pits are believed to have taken part in the famous Biblical story although it’s not certain to be any of them. After my look around I headed back to the group and we said goodbye to Jabo our tour guide as he got into the battalion commander’s jeep and headed out. We boarded and departed from the site in our convoy formation, heading back to the outpost of Mevo Dotan – a Jewish town built and named after the ancient region of Dotan – for a continuation of the day’s events. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to visit Tel Dotan, but as it is located in Palestinian controlled land, only time will tell.

Sebastia

In Israel, Samaria on January 4, 2015 at 5:49 AM

Two weeks ago I found myself in Netanya’s Central Bus Station and had a while to wait for my bus to Outpost 105, bordering Tul Karm, where I was to drive a Safaron. Not familiar with Netanya in the slightest, I glanced at a map and saw that some archaeological ruins were in walking distance. Trudging along, with my heavy backpack and gun, I walked over to what was labeled as “Umm Khalid”, passing an ancient sycamore tree (estimated to be around 1,000 years old). The ruins I came upon is the Crusader Castle of Roger the Lombard, located on top of a little hill looking out over the surrounding cityscape.

Ruins in Netanya

Castle of Roger the Lombard in Netanya

Catching the bus, I made it to Outpost 105 and began driving the Safaron with Kfir’s “Netzach Yehuda” Battalion (and later, Artillery’s “Sky Rider” Unit – which operates surveillance drones). Several days later I participated in an early morning educational and recreational drive with the battalion’s sergeant commanders in the Palestinian area southwest of Jenin. It was early morning when our armoured convoy reached our first destination, the ancient ruins of Sebastia, approaching from the Roman Colonnade with its remains of some 600 monolithic columns flanking us. A soldier in the command jeep in front of my Safaron took this photo and sent it to me:

Safaron driving past the pillars of Sebastia

My Safaron driving past the Roman Colonnade of Sebastia

Also known as the city of Shomron, or Samaria, the ruins are from an array of eras starting with the Kingdom of Israel some 2,900 years ago. Located just a few miles away from Shechem (Nablus), King Omri moved his capital from Tirzah (in the mountains of the Jordan River Valley) to a safer area inland, property which he purchased from a man named Shemer (the origins of the name Shomron). When we parked at the graveled expanse beside the Roman Forum and Basilica, we were introduced to our mustachioed tour guide Jabo and then we began morning prayers. After breakfast we all gathered around Jabo as he gave us an introduction of the site and opened up a Bible to read us passages about ancient Shomron.

Jabo reading ancient texts

Jabo reading ancient texts

We started with the Roman ruins directly before our eyes, noting the Forum, the Basilica and the Tribunal where court cases were held. Unfortunately, although Sebastia is an official national park, the land is mostly controlled by the Palestinians and thus maintenance is at a minimum – resulting in a ridiculous amount of litter including countless Alfa Cola bottles. Additionally, Israeli (and Jewish) visitors can only safely visit by making arrangements which are coordinated with the army, who accompany the scheduled tour. Thankfully, we are the army so we had no issues with scheduling visits, we just drove up.

Roman Basilica

Roman Basilica

To the southern end of the pillared area Jabo pointed out the excavated wall and gate from the original Kingdom of Israel. Stopping abruptly, Jabo called out greeting to an older Arab man opening up his shop. Their Arabic exchange was short and we continued on, passing over partially uncovered length of metal which Jabo explained was part of the old Hedjaz Railway (in fact, the local station is just down the hill). We walked along a bend in the short trail, taking in the views of the Samarian countryside.

Refreshing views

Refreshing views

We regrouped at the Byzantine Church built some 1,600 years ago and then restored in the Crusader era and dedicated to John the Baptist following his beheading. In the main room there is an underground crypt where relics were once stored. A much larger church built by the Crusaders at John the Baptist’s grave, located in the bordering village of Sebaste, was eventually partially destroyed and turned into a mosque.

Byzantine church's southern narthex

Byzantine church’s southern narthex

Passing three semi-recent Christian graves, we reached the excavated ruins of the ancient palaces of the Israelite Kings Omri and Ahab. Seeing the mass of uncovered stone walls reminded me at once of Tel Dan, with its rich Canaanite and Israelite Kingdom history. Archaeologists found scores of ceramic pieces with ancient Hebrew writing on them, Phoenician ivory and other important artefacts which help tell the tale of the palace that once was.

Ruins of the Israelite palace

Ruins of the Israelite palace

We climbed the mound in the above picture’s background and looked down on the Temple of Augustus built by Herod in honour of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The Emperor, born Gaius Octavius, was the heir to Julius Caesar and was referred to as Augustus/Sebastos (Latin/Greek for the Roman imperial title meaning “majestic”, respectively). So, during the Roman era the name “Shomron” was changed to “Sebastia” in honour of the Roman Emperor. The temple was a grand building with a huge staircase and immense columns and statues, but it wasn’t enough so Herod built another temple at Banias and another at Caesarea.

Roman Temple of Augustus

Roman Temple of Augustus

Atop the mound we scoured the horizons as Jabo pointed out innumerable interesting features and sites. One that struck me as fascinating was the placement of the surrounding Arab villages. They are all at the same altitude, roughly, having been built partially up the hill. Jabo explained that this was due to the underground water tables and their placement, something I didn’t fully understand. However, just southeast of Sebastia there is a little village called al-Nakura which bears a strange similarity to Israel’s Rosh HaNikra with its soft white rock and grottos. This al-Nakura is home to an 85-metre (280-foot) deep tunnel which was dug by Herod to provide water for Sebastia, as the city had no fresh water source of its own. Also, there is a house visible on a hill to the east which was built by a Crusader named Stephan. Fascinating stuff, I say! Continuing on, we came across the mess of Israelite fortress walls and a Hellenistic tower, built in Macedonian fashion.

Fortress walls and Hellenistic tower

Fortress walls and Hellenistic tower

Below these walls, and slightly northwest, is the Roman theatre built some 1,800 years ago comprised of 24 rows and has an external circumference of 65-metres (215-feet). The sergeant commanders and their officers posed with Jabo as I took their photo seated in the theatre:

Commanders from

Commanders from “Netzach Yehuda” Battalion

We hurried back to the armoured vehicles and took off in a convoy to our next destination, Joseph’s Pit, but there were complications along the way…