Leaving Pekiin bright and early (after another splendid breakfast), we travelled north east to where the hills of the Galilee meet the plains (and formerly the swamps) of the Hula valley. Following a fascinating journey right along the border fence (somewhat unnerving to have Hizbollah sites pointed out to us from the bus), we arrived at our first site, Tel Kedesh.
Identified with Kedesh in the Galilee as mentioned in the bible, this is another of Israel’s many archaeological mounds. In fact, we spent our time at the base of the tel, site of a late Roman period cemetery and the ruins of a temple. Brazenly ignoring the signs saying ‘danger of collapse, do not enter’ (something we are not encouraged to do with our tourists, by the way!) we were able to see what remained of the entrance to the temple; our guide took the opportunity to explain to us about Roman ritual practices.
Jumping forward 2000 years, our next stop was at the Koach Fortress (formerly known as the Nabi Yusha fortress). This was a British built fortification to help prevent smuggling of arms in through Lebanon. In 1948, when they left, it became an important strategic position for the Arabs and Jews struggling for control of the land. The Arabs took it first but after three painful attacks the units of the Palmach won control. It was renamed the Koach Fortress as the Hebrew letters of the word koach have the numerical equivalent of 28, the number of soldiers who died in the attempts to take it.
It was to be a day of battle stories as our next site was Tel Chai, site of one of the most famous battles in Zionist history. Here, the one-armed commander Josef Trumpeldor led a group of young pioneers in defending their homes in an atmosphere of post WWI chaos in the area; Arab militias were fighting the French and the Jews were caught in the middle. Their end came in a bloody battle which cost Trumpeldor his life; the story goes that his famous last words were to the effect of “it is good to die for the Land of Israel”.
After hearing the story of the battle and visiting the original structures of the Tel Chai farm, we popped up the road to the HaShomer cemetery in Kfar Giladi. As well as housing the grave of those who died at Tel Chai, and the official memorial, here are buried or commemorated all the members of the Hashomer movement. This was effectively a Jewish militia founded to protect the nascent settlements of the Zionist movement; it was eventually absorbed into the Haganah in 1920. We heard some of the stories of its founders and important members, and enjoyed the beautiful view over the Hula valley.
After a relatively sombre morning, it was nice to lighten things up a bit with a stroll in the Nachal Ayoun nature reserve. A short walk took us to a view of the Tanur waterfall (so called as there is an oven (tanur is Hebrew for oven) shape eroded into the rock at its base.
Still, time was pressing, so we pushed on north to Mt Tzefiya (Mt Look-out) in Metulla. Situated right on the Lebanese border, we were able to enjoy a view far beyond Israeli territory. The stark contrast of the relatively barren Lebanese landscape with the greenery of Israel was striking, apparently a testament to the British introducing conservation laws (which were later kept by the Israeli government); something not effected by the French rulers of Lebanon.
We drove south, passing through the old town of Metulla, then through Kiriat Shemona, arriving eventually at our final destination, Tel Hazor. Considering that it is the largest archaeological mound in Israel, it seems remarkably unexcavated, badly signposted and undervisited. Excavations are however ongoing and over the years I am sure we will see more important discoveries there.
Of particular interest is the palace from the Canaanite period which may well have belonged to the King Jabin, mentioned in the Bible. Hazor was one of the Canaanite settlements taken by Joshua and indeed the palace shows signs of destruction, although cannot be proven that it was destroyed by the Israelites.
However, what is clear is that a later settlement, built on top of the Canaanite one, is Israelite; using the same architectural planning. There is also a ritual platform around which were found large amounts of bones – only from kosher animals.
A varied day – beginning with the Romans, zooming into the 20th century and concluding with the Biblical period! Nonetheless, highly enjoyable. Plenty to reflect on during our journey home to Tel Aviv.