Friday, June 13, 2008

Golan Heights 3: The Beit Shean Valley

And now back to my posts of Machon Meir's trip to the Golan Heights. Previous posts in this series:
Golan Heights 1: On the Road Again
Golan 2: Flowers in the Jordan Valley
Continuing on our journey through the Jordan Valley, we come to a massive checkpoint at the "Separation Barrier," back into pre-67 "Little Israel."

The separation barrier / security wall/ whatever you want to call it is a strange monument to the importance of image. Large sections have yet to be built, and last we've heard from news reports, the construction had been so bogged down by legal delays that funding had run out. Vast sections of desert remain unguarded. Meanwhile, on the main transportation arteries running through Judea and Samaria (the West Bank,) the barrier has a look of real permanence. Large sliding gates, severe tire damage spikes, areas for search, and the like seem to indicate that this crossing is secure.
Of course, I've been at this same crossing point at night, and I saw a soldier wave a passing vehicle aside for a security check. The vehicle floored it, burst through the checkpoint, and was on its way. The guards just looked at it, shrugged, and waved the next car over. God knows what was in his trunk.

The kibbutzim (agricultural collectives) in the area have specialized in using the plentiful runoff water in the region for fish farming.
Fish ponds
More fish ponds.
Binyamin, deep in study.

To our left is Har (Mount) Gilboa, where Shaul, the first King of Israel, met his end fighting the Phillistines who were encamped at Beit Shean.

Looking to the east, we see a break in the mountains, where the Yarmouk river

Foreground: Crops in the Beit Shean Valley (in the territory of the tribe of Issachar.) Across the way is the Yarmouk valley. The hills to the left (north) are half of the territory allotted tribe of Menasheh (Manasses,) today known as the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967. To the right (south) is the tribal region of Gad, now ruled by the Kingdom of Jordan.
The spot we're standing in is in the area of Issachar on the above map, to the far east, looking eastward.

This intersection between the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers was also critical not only as a biblical division of territory, but also 1,908 years later, when this was the scene of an epic battle. The Byzantines, who had inherited the holy land, along with all the other territories of the East after the split of the Roman Empire, had expended their energy fighting endless battles against the Persians. Weakened by this incessant warfare, they were caught by surprise as a small force of Muslims under the command of Khālid ibn al-Walīd, sucessor to Muhammad, who, in an upset victory, defeated the ruling Byzantines and expelled them from the holy land forever in the year 636 CE. The Byzantine Empire itself had been horribly oppressive towards the Jews of Eretz Israel since the adoption of Christianity, and the new Arab Muslim overlords were welcomed.

While, at first, the Arabs ruled as a Muslim minority over a plethora of religions, the Arabs began a gradual process of colonization which continues to this very day, bringing in their foreign language (Arabic,) religion (Islam,) and customs from their far-off homeland in the Arabian Peninsula. Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattāb then built the Al-Aksa mosque on the ruins of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The term Al-Aksa is a cognate of the Hebrew word "Ktzeh" (edge, extremity) and means, "The Farthest," in Arabic. At that time Jerusalem marked the farthest extent of the Arabs' conquest from their native homeland in the Arabian Peninsula.

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