The Jezreel Valley (Hebrew: עמק יזרעאל‎, Emek Yizre'el; Arabic: مرج ابن عامر‎, Marj Ibn Amer; in the Douay-Rheims, Jezreel is spelled Jezrahel) is a large fertile plain and inland valley in the south of the Lower Galilee region of Israel. The West Bank cities of Jenin and Tulkarm border the Jezreel from the south. Samarian highlands 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; Arabic: 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.[1]. The word Jezreel means "God sows" or "El sows"[2]. 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[3]), the Zirin Valley (Arabic: سهل زرعين‎, Sahel Zir'in), and the Meadow of Amr's son (Arabic: 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. About two million years ago, as the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Great Rift Valley rose, this connection was lost, and periodic floods from the Mediterranean Sea ceased. This resulted in the Dead Sea no longer having a connection to the ocean, and over time, due to greater evaporation than precipitation plus surface water inflow, it has become 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 (Hebrew: עפולה‎, Arabic: عفولة‎), also known as the "Capital of the Valley" (Hebrew: בירת העמק‎) 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.[4] It is regarded to have been the Biblical city of Ophrah, which the Book of Judges identifies as the home of Gideon.[5] 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[6], but was later the location at which the Israelites, led by King Saul, were defeated by the Philistines[7]. 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[8][9]. 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).

As recounted in 2Kings 9:1-10, after Jehu kills King Jehoram, he confronts Jezebel in Jezreel and urges her eunuchs to kill Jezebel by throwing her out of a window. They comply, tossing her out the window and leaving her in the street to be eaten by dogs. Only Jezebel's skull, feet, and hands remained.

Modern history

Ottoman rule (19th century)

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."[10] Laurence Oliphant, who visited the 'Akko Sanjak' valley area in 1887, then a subprovince of the 'Beirut Wilayah',[11] 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."[12]

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[13] and the Jewish National Fund.[14]

British Mandate, 1918-1948

Following these sales, the 8 000 Arab 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),[15] however the new owners decided that it would be inappropriate for these farmers to remain as tenants on land intended for Jewish labor, 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.[16]

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 September 1921.

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."[17]

Israel, 1948

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

Airport Controversy

In 2006, the Israeli Transportation Ministry along with the Jezreel Valley Regional Council announced plans to build an international airport in the Jezreel Valley area, near Megiddo. Environmentalists and preservationists reject the plan. As of June 2009, strong opposition has mounted forcing the government to further examine construction plans. [18]

See also


  1. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  2. ibid
  3. Jewish Encyclopedia
  4. Israel Handbook by Dave Winter, Footprint Travel Guides, ISBN 0658003682 ([1]
  5. "Judges of the Jezreel Valley". GemsinIsrael. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  6. Judges 6:3
  7. 1 Samuel 29:1-6
  8. 1 Samuel 28:4
  9. 1 Samuel 31:1-6
  10. The Lands of the Saracen, by Bayard Taylor
  11. "Palestinim, Am Behivatsrut," by Kimmerling, Baruch, and Joel S. Migdal - Keter Publishing, ISBN 965-07-0797-2
  12. Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim (1971). (Ed)., The Transformation of Palestine. Illinois: Northwestern Press. p. 126.
  13. pg. 49
  14. Via Maris, by Avi Hein (Jewish Virtual Library)
  15. Buying the Emek by Arthur Ruppin, 1929 (with an introduction)
  16. *Nevill Barbour: Nisi Dominus: A Survey of the Palestine Controversy. George G. Harrap, London 1946, pp. 117-118
    • Polk, Stamler, Asfour: Backdrop to Tragedy: The Struggle for Palestine. Beacon Press, Boston, 1957, pp. 237-238.
    • The above two books are quoted in David Gilmour: Dispossessed: the Ordeal of the Palestinians. Sphere Books, Great Britain, 1983, pp. 44-45.
  17. PALESTINE. Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development. By SIR JOHN HOPE SIMPSON, C.I.E.
      • Chapter 1.3: Palestine: The Country and the Climate; 3)The vale of Esdraelon,
      • Chapter 5.3: Jewish Settlement on the Land; 3)The effect of Jewish settlement on the Arab
  18. [2]

External links

32°35′47″N 35°14′31″E / 32.59639°N 35.24194°E / 32.59639; 35.24194Coordinates: 32°35′47″N 35°14′31″E / 32.59639°N 35.24194°E / 32.59639; 35.24194

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