jezreel, valley of

Jezreel Valley

The Jezreel Valley (עמק יזרעאל, Emek Yizrael) is a large fertile plain and inland valley in the south of the Lower Galilee region of Israel. It is bordered to the south by the West Bank and Mount Gilboa, to the north by the Lower Galilee, to the west by the Mount Carmel range, and to the east by the Jordan Valley.


The Jezreel Valley takes its name from the ancient city of Jezreel (known in Arabic as Zir'in; زرعين) which was located on a low hill overlooking the southern edge of the valley, though some scholars think that the name of the city originates from the name of the clan which founded it whose existence is told in the Merneptah stele.. The word Jezreel means God sows or El sows. The phrase "valley of Jezreel" was sometimes used to refer to the central part of the valley, around the city of Jezreel, while the southwestern portion was known as the valley of Megiddo, after the ancient city of Megiddo, which was located there.

Over time, different civilisations have named the valley differently. As such this area has also been known as the Plain of Esdraelon (Esdraelon is the Koine Greek rendering of Jezreel), the Zirin Valley (سهل زرعين, Sahel Zir'in), and the Meadow of Amr's son (مرج بن عامر, Marj Ibn Amer).



The valley once acted as the channel by which the Dead Sea, located southeast of the valley, connected to the Mediterranean Sea. Two million years ago, as the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Great Rift Valley rose, this connection was severed, and periodic floods from the Mediterranean Sea were interrupted, resulting in the Dead Sea no longer having an outlet, and becoming heavily saline.

Biblical history

In addition to the settlements of Jezreel and Megiddo, the valley has played host to a number of other important historic places. The largest modern settlement in the Jezreel Valley is the city of Afula (עפולה, عفولة), also known as the "Capital of the Valley" where archaeological excavations have indicated near continuous settlement of the place through the Ghassulian culture of the Chalcolithic Age (c. 4500-3300 BCE) to the Ayyubid periods of the 11-13th centuries. It is regarded to have been the Biblical city of Ophrah, which the Book of Judges identifies as the home of Gideon. The valley formed an easier route through the Levant than crossing the mountains on either side, and so saw a large amount of traffic, and was the site of many historic battles; the earliest battle for which, the Battle of Megiddo, has a surviving detailed account to prove that it was fought in the valley. Due to the surrounding terrain, Egyptian chariots were only able to travel from Egypt as far as the Jezreel valley and the valley north of Lake Huleh.

According to the Bible, the valley was the scene of a victory by the Israelites, led by Gideon, against the Midianites, the Amalekiltes, and the Children of the East, but was later the location at which the Israelites, led by King Saul, were defeated by the Philistines. According to textual scholars, the account of a Philistine victory at Jezreel derives from the monarchial source, in contrast to the republican source, which places the Philistine victory against the Israelites at Gilboa. In Christian Eschatology, the part of the valley on which the Battle of Megiddo was fought is believed to be destined to be the site of a final battle, between good and evil, known as Armageddon (a word derived from Megiddo).

Modern history

Ottoman rule, 1800s

In 1852 the American writer Bayard Taylor traveled across the Jezreel Valley, which he described in his 1854 book 'The Lands of the Saracen; or, Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily and Spain' as: "one of the richest districts in the world. Laurence Oliphant, who visited the 'Akko Sanjak' valley area in 1887, then a subprovince of the 'Beirut Wilayah', wrote that the Valley of Esdraelon (Jezreel) was "a huge green lake of waving wheat, with its village-crowned mounds rising from it like islands; and it presents one of the most striking pictures of luxuriant fertility which it is possible to conceive.

In the 1870s, the Sursock family of Beirut (present-day Lebanon) purchased the land from the Ottoman government for approximately £20,000. Between 1912 and 1925 the Sursock family (then under the French Mandate of Syria) sold their 80,000 acres (320 km²) of land in the Vale of Jezreel to the American Zion Commonwealth for about nearly three quarters of a million pounds, who purchased the land for Jewish resettlement and the Jewish National Fund.

British Mandate, 1918-1948

Following these sales, the 8 000 Arab-Palestinian farmers who lived in 22 villages working for the absentee landowners were evicted. Some farmers refused to leave their land, as in Afula (El-Ful), however the new owners decided that it would be inappropriate for these farmers to remain as tenants on land intended for Jewish labour, and they also followed the socialist ideology of the Yishuv, believing that it would be wrong for a (Jewish) landlord to exploit a landless (Arab) peasant. British police had to be used to expel some and the dispossessed made their way to the coast to search for new work with most ending up in shanty towns on the edges of Jaffa and Haifa.

Following purchase of the land, the first modern-day settlements were created after the American Zion Commonwealth founded the modern day city of Afula and the swamp was drained. The first moshav, Nahalal, was settled in this valley on 11 September1921.

After the widespread Arab riots of 1929 in the then British Mandate of Palestine, the Hope Simpson Royal Commission was appointed to seek causes and remedies for the instability. The Commission's findings in regard to "Government responsibility towards Arab cultivators", was that the Jewish authorities "have nothing with which to reproach themselves" in the purchase of the valley, noting the high prices paid and land occupants receiving compensation not legally bound. The responsibility of the Mandate Government for "soreness felt (among both effendi and fellahin) owing to the sale of large areas by the absentee Sursock family" and the displacement of Arab tenants; noted that, "the duty of the Administration of Palestine to ensure that the rights and position of the Arabs are not prejudiced by Jewish immigration. It is doubtful whether, in the matter of the Sursock lands, this Article of the Mandate received sufficient consideration.

Israel, 1948-

Today the Jezreel Valley is a green fertile plain, covered with fields of wheat and barley, as well as great grazing tracts for multitudes of sheep and goats. The area is governed by the Jezreel Valley Regional Council.

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