By Marilynn Ahlin
Marilynn Ahlin is a free-lance writer presently living in Jerusalem. She is currently working on a book chronicling many of the miraculous ways in which God has and is fulfilling His promise to once again establish His people in their land. It is not without sacrifice.
Note: Marilynn’s book Journey Into Zion is now finished. For a copy contact her at email@example.com
STOCKADE AND WATCHTOWER LEAD IN
I’m up before the dawn, my rented Mazda packed up for an early start, hoping to miss the commuter traffic going north, that it won’t be as life-threatening as I have perceived it in the past. Driving in Israel is still an intimidating experience for one used to Seattle where the drivers take turns at four-way stops. Not so here! I’m learning to be pushy, lean on my horn, make U-turns almost anywhere, and, to pray fervently! Today I’m going to see my friend Dorit, her husband Dov and their three kids. Dorit is my one Israeli friend whom I’ve known since before I moved here. Meeting her in Seattle was surely a “divine appointment. I am looking forward to spending a four day holiday with the family in Nazrat Ilit (Jewish Nazareth), built on a hill just above the ancient city where Jesus grew up.
I make it out of town, turning west toward the Sea, then north, bypassing Tel Aviv and the pretty Mediterranean cities along the way, some ancient, others new and modern. A few miles before Haifa I turn east on a road known in Hebrew as “Vady Milek” or in Arabic as “Vady Mileh.” The words Milek and/or Mileh, mean salt. This road follows the same route used in bible times to transport salt to cities inland. The salt was taken from the sea at the fortress of Athlit on the Mediterranean Sea, evaporated down to crystals and then carried by caravan on this ancient byway, now well paved. To this present day salt is still being taken from the sea at Athlit and evaporated down, though by more modern methods. Heading east through the valleys of Manasseh and Zebulun, I see Mt.Tabor in the distance and I know I’m getting close. Soon I’m going through old Nazareth, and then up, up to the top of the mountain, covered with hundreds of apartments, forests of pine and large parks. But now, I’m lost. I think this is the most confusing city in Israel. I make several wrong turns and, finally, one last intersection before looking for a phone to call Dorit. I turn against my instinct, right instead of left, and oh joy, there is Dorit’s little shopping mall, and I see their big apartment building. I feel as though I should get a medal. Soon I’m being engulfed by many hugs.
Dorit is a born historian and tourist. Her desire to share the history of this land is only equaled by my eagerness to learn it all. She says this next day will be different though, that this time we are all just going to a park in the Beit She’an Valley—no Bible history, or Roman history or Crusader history, nope, just a beautiful park—maybe Israel’s best one.
One day later, we are on our way. We head into the valley, following the Hassi River, passing several small Kibbutzim on our way. We turn into a long drive, and we have arrived. There is grass everywhere, beautiful waterfalls, and little dams in the river that create swimming holes with banks of huge rocks to climb and dive off. All this on a hot summer day is just too wonderful. I’m in heaven as I float around in the cool water, playing with the three kids, eating Dorit’s good picnic lunch. Then I look up and see a tower and what seems to be a sort of fort about 200 meters away, just behind some trees. “Dorit, what’s that?” I say. “Oh, just one of Israel’s pioneer villages that helped to change the boundaries of our country. Now it’s a museum.” I’m hooked. A half hour later, notebook and camera in hand I’m climbing the ladder to the tower, looking at every detail. What a wonderful piece of history, just sitting here. Dorit has that little “I knew it” smile. As I read and look and write, I find myself back in an earlier time, 1936, trying to make a home, work the land, and stay alive.
To my dear friend Dorit, along with all of her family who have given so generously of their time and energy to this “sojourner” with the notebook and pen, I owe the deepest gratitude. Thank you.
STOCKADE AND WATCHTOWER SETTLEMENTS
Reclaiming the Land
After Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933, there was a marked increase in Jewish immigration to Israel. This angered the local Arab population, who did not want Jewish communities to be strengthened or to spread.
In April, 1936, Arab attacks were made against Jews living in Jaffa. This marked the beginning of three years of riots in Israe ldirected primarily against Jewish settlements, but also against the British Mandatory forces. The riots became known as “The 36-39 Events” (in Hebrew, me’oraot), which was an early version of the Intifada, or Arab uprisings, experienced in Israel from 1987-1993, and again in the year 2000 to the present time. These early attacks spread, with violence, burning and killing all over the land. The armed gangs were directed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini. Husseini was an avowed Jew hater, and admirer and friend of Adolf Hitler. The attacks were especially prevalent in Samaria and the Galilee, wherever there were isolated Jewish settlements.
Instead of discouraging Jewish settlement, the riots had the opposite effect. Because the rioters were also wreaking havoc amongst the British forces as well as the Jews, the British reinforced their troops. At the same time, the British allowed small groups of trained Jewish police units to operate under the supervision of British forces. The soldier placed in charge of training these small units, or Notrim, was Capt. Charles Orde Wingate, an ardent Bible-believing Christian, supporter of Zionism, a lover of Israe and friend to the Jews. While in the past, the Jewish settlers had not been allowed to arm themselves, limited use of weapons was now permitted for protection.
Earlier, in 1929, various entities, including the Jewish Agency, the Haganah (Jewish underground military organization), the Jewish National Fund and the Agricultural Center had started working together to expand the proposed Jewish state by buying as much land as possible for the purpose of creating new Jewish settlements. However, by the time of the 1936-39 Arab riots, the threat to the fledgling Jewish state was as great from Britain as from their Arab neighbors. Indeed, the British “Peel Commission” was about to exclude the whole of the beautiful, fertile Beit She’an Valley from the proposed Jewish state.
As soon as the attacks began, the Jewish settlement leaders began to meet to look for ways to extend and strengthen the settlements against siege. It was exceedingly difficult to build a defensible settlement before it would be attacked, with much loss of life
One night, during the inception of these “events,” the fields of Tel Amal-Nir David on the banks of the Hassi Rivulet in the Beit She’an region were set afire and destroyed. The members of the settlement of Tel Amal had been staying at nearby Kibbutz Beit Alpha while awaiting the opportunity to build their own settlement. After the burning of their fields by local Arabs, a meeting was immediately called to discuss measures for protecting themselves from further attacks. A committee was formed, headed by members Shlomo Gur from Tel Amal and Chaim Sturmann from Kibbutz Ein Harod. Its purpose was to explore better methods of setting up new settlements wherein they would be less vulnerable to attack, especially during the building of the settlement.
The problem was to find a way to construct a settlement so quickly that the construction would be complete before it was discovered by the raiders. A plan was devised to build the complete settlement in a 12-hour span of time. To accomplish this they would prefabricate the whole structure in nearby settlements and transport it all to the desired location. They would raise it within one night or day, within the 12-hour limit. By the time the settlement was discovered, it would be defensible.
The settlements, called “Stockade and Watchtower Settlements,” (in Hebrew, Homah U-Migdal) would all be constructed of the same design: 35 X 35 meters square, a dining-kitchen area, 3 or 4 huts for living areas, shower room, wash area and a place for animals. In the center would be a 12 meter high tower. Surrounding the buildings would be a double wooden plank wall with 8 inches between the inside and outside walls, which would be filled with gravel, making it bullet proof. Also, the pioneers devised special hiding places called “slicks” for storing illegal weapons for such time as they might be needed.
A unit of the newly formed “Notrim” would be assigned to each group of settlers to protect them as they were setting up the stockade and tower.
Tel Amal would be the first of these new prefabricated settlements to be erected. In his diary, Yehoshua Lurie, a Tel Amal pioneer, relates the events occurring before and during the hectic, difficult erection of this very first settlement:
November, 1936. – Last night there was a stormy meeting. The kibbutz members refuse to accept the delay. Some see only one option: to erect the settlement in one day, surprise the Arabs and create a fact, even at the cost of human lives.
And meanwhile, the rainy season approaches. Once the road is waterlogged, we shall not be able to transport the building materials. A decision must soon be reached.
According to the latest plan, a stockade must be built in a single day with small living quarters within its walls, and a tower with a dynamo-powered searchlight in its center. Preparations will take awhile, but we must tackle it immediately and vigorously.
The Havarim (Kibbutz members) are sitting up at night, carefully scrutinizing every detail. They have prepared a prefabricated double-wooden wall, into which gravel will be poured, making it bullet proof. Within the fortification, huts will be built to serve as living quarters, and a 12 meter wooden tower is being prepared, with a dynamo and a searchlight still to be purchased…
November 30th – Everything was set for today, but pouring rains turned the countryside into a quagmire and have ruined our plans. The trucks, loaded with gravel brought by rail, were not offloaded because of the mud, and had to be railed back to Haifa. The gravel was offloaded at Shaffa Station. Everything remained stuck in the mud. Everyone is walking around grief-stricken. The whole project has been postponed for ten days.
A bright sunny morning dawned. Along the road, at the foothills of the Gilboa among the vineyards of Beit Alpha, the procession moved at a slow pace, step-by-step, acknowledging the seriousness of the moment…And so, silent and exhilarated, the settlers reached the site with their load. Everyone knew his job. There was no need for a commander—offloading, digging the holes, inserting the poles, joining the prefabricated parts. Wall is joined to wall and then clamped tight—the stockade stands erect! Suddenly, the noise of an approaching tractor: the tower has arrived. It lies horizontal on the platform…Cables are tied to it; dozens of hands, supporting and pushing, hoist it.
The large wooden structure is raised very slowly and carefully…And as dusk falls, the stockade is completed, the huts are ready, and the searchlight at the top of the tower beams into the darkness.”
It is interesting that the first settlement at Tel Amal was never attacked, although five of its members were later killed in the nearby fields.
After Tel Amal was erected, 56 more identical settlements were constructed and put into place in the ensuing three years, thus changing forever the map of Eretz Israel and establishing, among other areas, the Beit She’an Valley as part of the new state.
These new settlements were created as far north as Metulla and as far southwest as the area of Ashkelon. There were also six settlements erected east of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River.
Almost all of the settlements were subjected to frequent raids, but none was ever abandoned. With one exception, the stockade and tower at Tel Amal, all are thriving communities to this day. Tel Amal, however was dismantled and moved to the nearby Gan Haslosha National Park, where it is now a historical museum. The nearby Kibbutz Nir David was established on the Tel Amal site. It has been a thriving kibbutz for three generations of families.
One can wander through the structure and imagine what it might have been like to live and work there during those tumultuous pre-state days in this land. It is maintained as though the workers might be coming in from the fields at any moment.
Climbing the tower, one looks out at the Gilboa mountain range with Mt. Gilboa looming above, barren and desolate. This mountain is in stark contrast to the rest of the range which is covered with trees and where wild flowers grow in profusion.
King David cursed this mountain in his grief over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. It was here that the King and his sons were killed, their bodies hung upon the walls of Beit She’an, the Philistine city located on the top of the mountain which has been recently excavated by Israel. Though the society for the restoration of the land has tried to develop this mountaintop area, it will not grow any good thing to this day. As he looked upon this mountaintop David said, “Oh mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain nor fields that yield offerings…for there the shield of the mighty was defeated…”
(2 Samuel 1:21)
Today Tel Amal stands as a reminder of the determination and resolve of these early settlers in overcoming all odds, the resolve that so many centuries ago King David exemplified, following his God, carving out a homeland in this same land, given by eternal covenant to his people: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt (Nile) to the great River, the River Euphrates… ” Genesis 15:18.
Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the god of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you, and I will be their God.’ (emphasis added) Genesis 17:3-8.
He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.” Psalm 105:8-11
Bibliography: Museum brochures and documents from Tel Amal Museum at Gan Ha Slosha, Israel
King James & New International Version Bibles
By Marilynn Ahlin