It is an elongated depression located in modern-day Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. This geographic region includes the Jordan River, Jordan Valley, Hula Valley, Lake Tiberias and the Dead Sea, the lowest land elevation on Earth. The valley continues to the Red Sea, incorporating Arabah and the shorelines of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Despite the continued efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry this area is one of the most contested issues in the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In May 2011, Netanyahu addressed Congress. He was warmly welcomed. London’s Guardian called it a “love-in.” He received 29 standing ovations.
Jerusalem must remain Israel’s exclusive capital, he said. Loud cheers followed him saying:
“Israel has no better friend than America, and America has no better friend than Israel. We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism.”
“Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967,” he stressed.
“Places of critical strategic and national importance (will) be incorporated into the final borders of Israel” under any agreement with Palestinians.
“Israel would never cede the Jordan Valley. Israel would never agree to withdraw from the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement signed with the Palestinians.”
“And its vital – absolutely vital – that Israel maintain a long term military presence along the Jordan River.”
The Jordan Valley in the Bible
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan and Jericho, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan you shall drive out all the inhabitants from before you and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places. And you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land, and dwell in it; for I have given you the land to possess it.” (Numbers, chapter 33, 50-53). The Jordan Valley is cited in scripture from the earliest days of the Israelites, before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Israel to inhabit the Promised Land, and throughout history up to the present day. The Book of Joshua describes how the Israelites arrive at Gilgal, after having crossed the Jordan River. Prof. Adam Zertal, of the Haifa University Department of Archaeology has unearthed structures in the shape of human feet believed to have been erected by the Israelites upon their initial entry to the Land of Canaan and manifest the biblical notion of claiming ownership of the land by setting feet on it. Since 1990, five sites shaped like human feet have been excavated in the Jordan Valley. All five date back to the early Iron Age (12th to 13th centuries B.C.E.), and their shapes indicate that they were used during ceremonies as communal gathering places. The concept of the Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem on three major holidays (known as “aliya la’regel” or ascending on foot) also originates from the foot-shaped sites in the Jordan Valley and Mount Ebal.
The Sartaba Mountain
Josephus described the Alexandrion Fort as: “a wonderful fort atop a high mountain”. The impressive remains of the Alexandronian Fortress depict a significant chapter in the life of the Hasmonean dynasty in the region. This site is also the place where bonfires were lit by the Second Temple court in Jerusalem, as a beacon to the Babylonian Diaspora, announcing the beginning of the new month.
The Sartaba Mountain looms above the center of the Jordan Valley, on Israel’s eastern border. The fort was the most important of the Hasmonean strongholds located on the top of Sartaba Hill and named after Alexander Yanai (76-103 BCE), or possibly after his wife Shlomzion Alexandra who became queen after his death (67-76 BCE). The hill juts out sharply and rises to a height of 377 meters above sea level, about 650 meters above the Valley. Its cone-shaped outline is visible to people traveling along the Valley road and can be seen from afar.
The Sartaba Horn overlooks the eastern Trans-Jordan junction near Nablus, and this gives it its strategic importance. In the past this pass connected two international routes – the King’s Way on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the Sea Route along the shores of the Land of Israel. This branch ran from Nablus and the Tirza River to the Adam Junction (from there via the Yarbuk Valley to the ridge of the mountain, east of the Jordan River). This is the route taken by Jacob when he returned from Laban the Aramite to the Land of Israel (Genesis, Chapter 32).
The Jordan Valley in Modern History
In the midst of World War I, the British forces meet the Turkish/German armies at the “Uja line” in the Jordan Valley. Pre-Independence the Palmach forces, attack the bridges over the Jordan River. In the 1967 Six Day war the Israel Defense Forces reached the Jordan River and blew up the bridges preventing enemy troops from crossing. From that time, Israel’s eastern border was stabilized and the region became the “Land of Pursuit”.
The settlement movement in the Jordan Valley began immediately after the Six Day War, as part of the overall plan to settle the region. The plan, devised by Yigal Alon who served as Minister of Absorption and Deputy Prime Minster from 1967-1969, tried to provide a solution for two important problems that arose in Israel’s new situation following the war.
The first problem was to set a secure border along the Jordan River and to generate strategic control along the Jordan Valley, on Israel’s eastern border. The second problem was to deal with the new situation in which there was a large Arab population in Samaria under Israel’s control.
Minister Alon suggested establishing two rows of settlements along the border parallel to the Jordan River as the Jordan Valley had no Arab inhabitants at the time (except for Jericho and the area of the Adam Junction). The first row was set up on the level terrain of Kikar Hayarden alongside the Jordan River by what is known today as the “Valley Road” or “Gandi’s Road” – part of Route 90 stretching from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat. The second row was to be built in parallel, to the west, along the foothills of the Samarian Hills that drop down into the Valley.
The Settlement Division of the Jewish Agency joined by the various agricultural movements and the IDF Nahal units and acted to create the “security belt” proposed by Alon. The first community to be established was Mechola (January 1968) as the community connecting the Jordan Valley to the Bet Shean Valley. The pioneers who settled in Mechola worked to develop a viable agricultural economy combined with military activity, patrols and guard duty. Using this model, the rest of the communities were established in the region. The community of Massua whose name translates as “Torch” followed and was established at the foothill of the Sartaba Moutain, thereby connecting the valley to one of its historical highlights, the torch lighting ceremonies during the Second Temple period. After Massua, Kibbutz Gilgal, whose name symbolizes the first site of Israelite habitation upon entering the Land of Israel, was established. The establishment of the rest of communities followed, totaling 21 communities.