Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Journey to the Jordan 2: The Original Beit HaArava

The plains of the Jordan Valley are referred to as the "Aravah," rooted in the word, "Maarav," west, as they are the immediate western side of the Jordan River. From Mitzpeh Yericho, in the distance, one can see the reconstituted agricultural kibbutz of Bet Haarava.

The green fields of Bet HaArava.

The soil here is fertile but loaded with salt from the evaporating Dead Sea, and must be washed clean before anything can be grown. The weather is also violently, mercilessly hot during the summer, and it is an incredibly inhospitable environment. Beit HaArava was originally established by Jewish refugees who had been members of Zionist youth movements, who fled Nazi Germany in 1939.

Immigrant families landing in Beit HaArava.

Scouting out the western shores of the Dead Sea.

Kibbutz life

Established adjacent to the Jordan River, along the northern tip of the Dead Sea, Beit HaArava was a productive settlement, and was also involved in the first attempts at extracting minerals from the Dead Sea through evaporation.

Building evaporation ponds.

Completed evaporation ponds.

Mining the Salt

Of course, in 1948, Beit HaArava was to be first in line to be struck in the invasion of the Jordanian legion. The leader of Beit HaArava, however, managed to make a deal with King Abdullah of Jordan that the settlement would not be touched. He then drove to Tel Aviv to tell Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, that Beit HaArava would not need to be evacuated. Unfortunately, he arrived on May 14th, 1948, the day of the signing of Israel's independence declaration. Ben Gurion was a bit busy that day. So he headed back and was kileld in a car accident. Ben Gurion, not knowing of the deal, ordered the settlement's evacuation. Only five soldiers stayed behind to fight the invading Arabs, and were killed in its defense. The Jordanians, under the command of the British General Glubb Pasha, had the decency to bury their victims.

Beit HaAavah is significant to Tanach because it appears in the book of Yehoshua as defining the border of the tribal region of Binyamin (Benjamin):

In chapter 18:

"And [the border of the tribe of Benjamin] passed along toward the slope opposite Aravah northward, and went down unto the Aravah; And the boundary passed along to the slope of Beit Choglah northward; and the end of the boundary was at the north bay of the Yam HaMelach (the Salt Sea, the Dead Sea) at the south end of the Yarden; this was the southern boundary... This was the inheritance of the children of Binyamin, to its boundaries all around, according to their families. Now the towns of the tribe of the Bnei Binyamin according to their mishpekhot were Yericho, and Beit Choglah, and the valley of Ketzitz, And Beit HaArava"

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