Ḥuleh Valley

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ḤULEH VALLEY , region in upper eastern Galilee; a section of the Syrian-East African Rift, at least since the Tertiary period, hemmed in on three sides by steep hill and mountain slopes: viz., the Naftali Ridge of Galilee in the west, the Hermon Massif in the north, and the Golan Plateau in the east. In the Quaternary, volcanic lava consolidated into the Rosh Pinnah Sill in the south, sealing the valley's only water outlet and transforming it into a closed basin. Alternating peat and chalk layers found in the former swamp area give evidence that the outlet was plugged by a basalt barrier at least twice. As a result, the shallow Lake Ḥuleh was formed by waters stagnating in front of the sill. The country's climate of dry summers and rainy winters, along with the drainage of great quantities of water toward the Ḥuleh Valley from the west, north, and east, explains the formation of the Ḥuleh swamps stretching north and northwest of the lake. However, after the last blocking of the outlet, the lake and swamps slowly contracted, as the water, eroding the lowest spot in the southern sill, deepened and widened the outlet anew. While historians assume that permanent and seasonal water bodies covered considerable parts of the Ḥuleh Valley even in the Roman and Byzantine periods, leaving only its circumference for human habitation, the lake covered, in the 1940s, 5 sq. mi. (14 sq. km.) and the swamps about a sixth of the valley's 68 sq. mi. (177 sq. km.). Seasonal inundations and waterlogging, however, affected the soils of a far larger area, permitting regular farming only on a fraction of the valley's total expanse. Malarial conditions from the swamps affected the Arab villages in the valley, which had, as a result, the highest mortality rate and the lowest living standard in Ereẓ Israel at the end of the 19th century.

It was clear that the deepening and widening of the southern Jordan outlet would constitute a decisive step toward reclamation of the lake and swamp areas. The Turkish government which had declared the lake and swamps jiftlik (i.e., crown, and since the Young Turkish revolution in 1908, government property) was interested in enlarging the cultivable area there in order to increase its income from leasehold fees and taxes. At the end of the 19th century, the *Gesher Benot Ya'akov (Benot Ya'akov bridge) was lengthened by an additional span to permit a freer flow of water from the lake. This resulted in a certain shrinkage of the swamp. Shortly before World War i, a concession for draining the Ḥuleh swamps was granted to two Beirut merchants. These rights were upheld under the British Mandate, although the merchants did not undertake the drainage. In 1934, the Palestine Land Development Corporation (pldc) acquired the Ḥuleh Concession which comprised 21 sq. mi. (56 sq. km.). However, to make the project efficient, drainage operations had to be extended beyond the Concession boundary to the north and south. To this end the Jewish National Fund made efforts to acquire additional land in the Ḥuleh Valley in the ensuing years, and new settlements were established there. The drainage project was undertaken by the jnf only in 1951, in the State of Israel, and concluded in 1958. The Construction Aggregate Company of Chicago contributed to its technical execution. The project consisted of three stages: (a) straightening and deepening the Jordan course between the lake outlet and a point south of the Benot Ya'akov Bridge; (b) digging three main canals through the Ḥuleh Valley – two, from north to south, to replace the natural river beds (whose level, higher than the adjacent fields, aggravated the danger of inundation by winter floods), and a third canal connecting the north-south canals, to isolate the peat area from its northern side and prevent the danger of underground peat conflagrations; and (c) constructing a network of secondary drainage canals and irrigation installations. The Syrians interfered with the execution of the project by repeatedly opening fire on work crews along the Jordan course and by obtaining from the un a stipulation that the dredged earth and stone be deposited on the western river bank only (although the eastern bank was Israel territory as well).

The project's effectiveness can be summed up as follows: Over 20,000 acres (8,000 ha.) of highly fertile land were reclaimed for intensive cultivation, with additional expanses ameliorated through lowering of the water table; large amounts of water, formerly lost from the lake and swamp surfaces through evaporation and evapotranspiration by the swamp

vegetation, were made available for local irrigation, and added to the supply entering the National Water Carrier in Lake Kinneret, and the menace of malaria was finally eliminated.

Of the reclaimed land, about 15,000 acres (6,000 ha.) were allocated to Ḥuleh Valley kibbutzim, moshavim, and to villages on the surrounding hill slopes and in mountainous Upper Galilee, to consolidate their economic foundations, while 5,000 acres (2,000 ha.), mostly peat soil, were taken under cultivation by the Ḥuleh Valley Authority, a company set up by the Ministry of Agriculture, with the participation of the *Jewish Agency and the jnf. The crops grown on this land – wheat, cotton, groundnuts, corn, alfalfa and other fodder plants, flowers and bulbs, vegetables, and deciduous fruit – afforded record yields. The Ḥuleh Valley Authority took over the task of experimenting in peat soil cultivation and of

providing employment to laborers, mainly from nearby *Kiryat Shemonah. It encountered grave problems, e.g., subsidence in the fields' level after the water was drained from the spongy peat; salination of the soil caused by underground irrigation from deep ditches, which brought salt-saturated water to the surface through capillary action. The Authority thus incurred considerable losses. When Kiryat Shemonah's employment situation improved, manual labor could be reduced through an increase of mechanization. In 1970, the Authority was dissolved and the lands were earmarked for allocation to settlements of the Ḥuleh Valley and Upper Galilee. An area of approximately 750 acres (300 ha.) was set aside near Yesud ha-Ma'alah as the Ḥuleh Nature Reserve, where the former semitropical water flora and fauna are preserved.

[Efraim Orni]