|HULA VALLEY "RECLAMATION"
One of the myths well rooted in Western public opinion is that Jewish pioneers, by their know-how and hard work, transformed the uncultivable mountainous, swampy and arid lands of Palestine into fertile and productive fields.
In 1945, according to British Mandatory statistics, the cultivated area of Palestine was 9,200,000 dunums, and the Golan Heights, according to a 1946 survey, comprised about 800,000 dunums cultivated land. In the present decade, the total cultivated area in "Greater Israel" (Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan) is about 6,000,000 dunums, more than a third less than before the establishment of the State. In Israel proper, less than 4,000,000 dunumd are under cultivation.
The diminution of arable land, the increase in the consumption
of animanl-protein foods, and the reduction of its cultivated fields oblige
Israel annually to import most of its staples and other foods.
The Hula Valley is the most fertile valley of Israel, with abundant and easily exploitable water. Before the creation of the state, its main geographical feature was a small 30,000 dunums lake. During the winter rainy season, the tumultuous water of the Jordan River swelled Hula Lake to 60,000 dunums. This lake played a crucial role in decanting and purifying the Jordan's muddy waters and in regulating its flow, acting like a sponge to retain excess water during floods and giving it back progressively during the hot summer. A rock stopper at the southern end of the lake played the main regulatory role. The water which poured out from the lake into the Jordan, and afterward into the Sea of Galilee, was remarkably pure, changing the Sea color with the color of the sky and allowing visibility of the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.
Due to the regulatory role of the rock stopper, the flow of the Jordan River was relatively important - even during summer months. In 1953-54, for example, the flow just south of Hula Lake was 39 million c.m. in August, (the yearly annual flow being 757 million c.m.). Some of the years in the present dacade, however, have witnessed almost no summer flow.
The Hula Lake region plays a very important role as a stop-over point in the seasonal migration of tens of thousands of palmipeds and other birds between the tundras of northern Russia and Africa. This point alone should have been a serious argument for not disturbing the region's ecosystem. If we want to preserve the Earth's fauna and flora, preservation of aquatic habitats is of utmost importance. The swampy region of Hula was not only a rare ecological paradise for the inhabitants of the country, but above all, an ecological region to be preserved for all humanity.
Hula Lake and the swampy area around it used to be rich in animal and plant species from tropical Africa and the surrounding Middle East countries as well as from temperate climates. Professor Zohari named Hula "the greatest center fo hydrophylic plants in the whole Near East". For their survival, most of the plant and animal species required a certain hydrological equilibrium, particularly water quantities during the hot season.
Agricultural development possibilities of the Hula Valley
Since antiquity, Hula Valley has been known as one of the most
prosperous agricultural areas of Palestine. Joseph Flavius, in his classical
work The War of the Jews, wrote: "This region was so particularly
privileged by nature that a very large number of plants grow there...
Nature seems to have entered in competition with different climates and
united many countries in a single place".
These possibilities were well known to Jewish Agency leaders. One of the Jewish Agency's experts, Abraham Revusky, wrote in 1944: "There is a small valley, named Hula, in the northern part of Palestine... most of which is under water and covered by swamps... When the extensive work contemplated by the Jewish concessionaries is completed, the valley of Hula will become a richly productive area where field crops stimulated by abundant water and warm sun will be harvested three and four times a year, yielding a livelihood to a considerable rural population. The Hula concession provides not only for the colonization of Jews on reclaimed soil, but for permanent settlement of the local Arab population".
Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Fund, wrote in another pamphlet: "After reclamation of the Hula swamps and the lowering of its water table... about 15,700 hectares will be available for cultivation. With each family receiving 2.2 hectares of irrigated land, the reclaimed area will be able to absorb 7,150 families, numbering 36,750 persons. With 25 percent more people supplying the other needs of these farmers, the total rural population in the Hula Valley could reach 46,000. As the region already has a population of 15,050, among them 3,355 Jews, another 31,000 persons could be absorbed by the Hula Valley".
In 1944, according to official Mandatory data, 16,400 Palestinians lived in 32 settlements in the Hula Valley. Of the 127,000 dunums at their disposal, 95,000 were cultivated. No statistical data exists concerning their crop and animal production, but the availability of water makes it likely that total production was certainly higher per dunum than in most other areas of Palestine. The same data source listed Hula's Jewish population at 3,700, with 100,300 dunums at their disposal, of which 56,000 comprised the Hula concession. Of the 47,000 dunums thus in the hands of the Jewish settlements, about 43,500 were cultivated1.
The built-up areas of the Arab villages were very modest in comparison to those of their Jewish counterparts: En Naima village, with 1,030 residents, occupied 112 dunums; Es Salihiya, with a population of 1,520 occupied 94 dunums; Hunin, with 1,620 inhabitants, occupied 81 dunums. As for the Jewish colonies: Hayelet Hashahar, with a population of 582, was established on 68 dunums; Kfar Szold, with 334 residents, occupied 40 dunums; Dafna, with 455 residents, 50 dunums. The building area of these kibbutzim increased five or sixfold after the expulsion of its Palestinians in 1948.
"Redemption" and redistribution of the Hula land
The expulsion of the Hula fellahin from their lands proved to be a very easy task for the Israeli leaders. Arab villagers were on friendly terms with the Jews in the Hula kibbutzim and moshavim. Five days before the establishment of Israel, Yigal Allon, the Palmach commander, asked Hula's Jewish settlers to spread the rumor among the Arabs of an imminent military attack that would "burn their villages", and to advise them, as good friends, to flee "before it will be too late". As Allon reported, this maneuver succeeded beyond all hopes. Almost all Hula fellahin fled, crossing the borders into Syria and Lebanon. The remaining Hula Arabs were transfered at the end of the hostilities to other Arab villages inside Israel. The ethnic cleansing of the Hula Arab population was easily achieved.
The reclamation of Hula Lake and the swamps - one of the most
serious ecological and economical mistakes of the Israeli establishment
- was hailed by Zionist leaders as one of their greatest achievements.
Two geographers, Ephraim Orni and Elisha Efrat, wrote: "A total of
about 60,000 dunums of excellent soil have been won from the former lake
and swamps, and another 60,000 have been ameliorated through lowering
of the water table... A 2,800 dunums nature reserve has been marked off
as an example of the former near-tropical flora and fauna of the Hula
Joseph Weitz's estimation for creating 7,150 Jewish farm units - based on each farmer intensively working 25 dunums, of which 22 were irrigated - looked very reasonable. Considering that all the 16,500 Arab fellahs were expelled, some 5,450 new farm units, with a population of 25,000, could have been established in the valley, especially after the reclamation. At least 70 new settlements, with 70-75 farm units each, could have been established.
The kibbutzim take over the Hula "liberated" land
None of the plans envisaged by Revusky or Weitz, however, were ever undertaken. Only five new settlements were established in the periphery of the Hula region: Hagoshrim kibbutz was established in 1949; Gonen kibbutz was created two years later on the border with Syria; Shnir kibbutz was established in 1970 not far from the Hatzbani spring, one of the three Jordan River springs situated in the Golan area; a moshav of Oriental Jews, Yuval, was created near the Lebanese border to prevent former Hula Arabs from infiltrating; and another moshav was established a few kilometers west. Not a single new settlement was established on Arab lands in the center of the valley or on the reclaimed 60,000 dunums of the swamp and lake lands. The main reason was the kibbutzim's takeover of the Hula lands.
In the fifties, the kibbutzim were at their summit of power. Though representing about 5 percent of Israel's population, they supplied more than 20 percent of the Knesset's deputies and a third of all government ministers. A large proportion of the other deputies and ministers were former kibbutz members. In fact, their power was such that the various kibbutz movements could get any law they wanted passed in the Knesset.
In the mid-1950s there were no more Ashkenazi "pioneers" for the creation of new kibbutzim. The only possible colonization would have been the creation of Oriental Jewish moshavim, as more than 200,000 Oriental Jews were living in crowded immigrant shanty towns. The kibbutzim - fearing their loss of hegemony in the colonizing movements, and with the Jewish Agency's Settlement Department and the Ministry of Agriculture entirely at their devotion, preferred the creation of capitalist Jewish latifundia on the irrigable lands off the new Jewish State. As for the "redeemed" lands of the Hula, Jordan, Beet Shean and Jezreel valleys, they were generally shared among the existing kibbutzim.
The "solution" for preventing such Oriental Jewish moshavim from being created in the Hula Valley was first to increase the area of the existing kibbutzim and second, to distribute Hula land and water to kibbutzim situated on the Galilee mountains, dozens of kilometers from the Hula Valley. Thus, Baram, Yiftah, Yaron, Manara, Misgav Am Sasa, Malkia and other Upper Galilee mountainous kibbutz settlements, sometimes dozens of kilometers away, have irrigated fields and artificial fish ponds in the Hula valley. Even a collective moshav, Ramot Naftali, and Al Rom, a kibbutz in the Golan, have fishponds there. But Oriental Jewish moshavim such as Dalton or Alma situated in the mountainous Galilee, with double the population of the above mentioned kibbutzim and with less mountainous agricultural lands, have no land in the Hula Valley. All the moshavim of the Upper Galilee share a perimeter of a few thousand dunums, cultivated by a company whose land was granted only after much protest and dealing in the 1970s.
But the kibbutzim which received most of the Palestinians Hula land and took hold of Jordan waters were those from the Hula Valley itself. Some had enough land for cultivation even before the establishment of the State; even so, they increased their arable area and water consumption.
If before 1948 many kibbutzim with hundreds of settlers were satisfied with a built-up area of 50 or 60 dunums, nowadays kibbutzim of 300-400 persons have extended their built-up areas to 400 or 500 dunums, sometimes even more. An American tourist visiting the Hula kibbutzim remarked that they had the most beautiful parks in Israel. Nobody told her that if every citizen of Israel were to share a park area equal to that of each Hula Valley resident, the doubling the irrigated area of Israel and its water consumption would be insufficient to meet the needs.
Theoretically, all kibbutzim and moshavim have water quotas. In practice, the Hula kibbutzim can pump as much water as they like from the Jordan River. In cerain dry years, when the Jordan is at its lowest, almost no water flows from the Jordan into the Sea of Galilee because users upstream have pumped the available quantities.
After the reclamation of Hula's lake and swamps and the land's being divided up among the kibbutzim, a large area remained undivided. Hula kibbutzim created a company to exploit these lands "until their distribution". Thirty years later these lands have not been distributed.
Hula's valley contribution to Israel's food supply
Considering the land reclaimed from the lake and swamps, the total area at the disposal of Jewish settlers for agricultural production should have been around 200,000 dunums. The 1981 census lists 309,400 dunums as owned by Hula settlers - 150,500 under cultivation and 142,000 in extensive pastures. Of the 132,000 dunums irrigated, cotton occupied 62.000, or almost half, while fruits destined for export took up another 19,000 hectares. In all, more than three-quarters of Hula's irrigated lands was used for export crops. Another 9,000 were for artificial fish ponds. Less than 18 percent of the irrigated area (vegetables, animal fodder, fruits) served the Israeli population and its livestock.
It is to be noted that the kibbutzim's cultivation in the Hula Valley of apples, pears, plums and grapes brought disaster to most of the deciduous fruit plantations held by Oriental Jewish minifundia moshavim in the Upper Galilee. With their small orchards planted on infertile, rocky soil and with water costing by the cubic meter - notwishstanding a subsidy - three to four times more than Hula water, they obtained at best half the yield as their Hula Valley counterparts. Hula apple orchards, set on deep, flat and fertile soils, were and are usually worked by mechanical means, and "voluteers" did the picking. Under such conditions, small Upper Galilee producers, mainly Oriental Jews, went bankrupt.
The two main objectives in the management of Hula Valley should have been obtaining maximum food production and reducing the pollution of the Jordan waters, which pour into the Sea of Galilee (since 1964, the Sea of Galillee is the main drinking reservoir for more than half the Israeli population). Up to now the kibbutzim, which control almost all Hula Valley agricultural lands and the upstream Jordan waters pouring into the Galilee, have not taken steps to meet these two objectives.
A lost paradise
The reclamation of Hula's lake and swamps was an ecological disaster and the greatest "development" mistake of the Zionist establishment. The destruction of this rare swamp paradise was followed by the disappearance of many rare animal and plant species and interfered with the seasonal migration of birds. But its most negative effect was in the destruction of the filtration and flow-regulation of the Jordan waters. Eradication of malaria from the Hula swamps was completed, thanks to the activities of Professor Mar, in 1951, four years before the swamp reclamation. Hula Lake's 3,000 hectares were almost completely dried up, but in the 1950s the kibbutzim extended their artificial fish ponds to 18.000 dunums. Exploitation of Hula turf did not prove economical, and was rapidly abandoned.
The first and very important source of pollution of the Sea of Galilee was caused by the removal of the rock stopper, which served to regulate the flow. As the river loses 270 meters in altitude over a length of just 14.5 kilometers, the Jordan waters, charged with sediments, branches and other debris, flowed uncontrolled and attacked the river banks, all the while adding more sediment to its waters. The result of this erosion can be seen where the Jordan enters the Sea of Galilee: A delta was formed, reducing year by year the Sea of Galilee area.
Very soon a new polluting source was added. Peat from the lake bottom as well s organic soils from te outlying swamps now came in direct contact with the air and, due to high summer temperatures, these soils began to disintegrate. The decay products were carried into the Sea of Galilee, increasing the plankton and thus eutrophying its waters. The situation was such that already in the 1970s many scientists proclaimed that Hula Lake or at least part of it should be re-created by building an artificial stopper to replace the natural stopper destroyed in 1954. It is now generally accepted that the filtration of the sedimented Jordan waters should be re-activated, that destruction of Jordan riverbanks upstream from the Sea of Galilee shoud stop, that the Jordan delta at the Sea of Galilee should not be allowed to expand. Only a return ot a situation similar to that existing before the reclamation can reduce the pollution of the Sea of Galilee from this source.
Artificial fish breeding and cotton cultivation: Hula valley new scourges
Most animal production in Israel depends on the importation of concentrated cereal and soybean fodder for feed. In the Hula Valley, this entails other negative aspects: The fodder must be transported more than 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean, while the finished products are transported to the Coastal Plain, where more than two-thirds of Israel's population is concentrated. All this increases the cost of production.
But the main negative consequence of animal production in the Valley is the increase in water pollution from animal wastes. Bred in the Hula Valley are 1.1 million chicken broilers; 3,000 tons of fish in artificial ponds; 150,000 turkeys; 4,000 milk cows; and 9,000 beef cattle, feeding partly on extensive pastures. As the cost of transporting manure to the fields is very high, the farmers prefer using chemical fertilizers. The unused animal wastes thus in part leach into the Jordan waters. Milk goats on the extensive pastures would have been more productive and less polluting, but there are virtually no shepherds in the kibbutzim.
Hula's chief animal production is artificial fish breeding, mainly carp. Such fish production is a heresy under Israeli conditions, i.e.: not enough sweet water to create the ponds without diminishing the supply for drinking water and other agricultural use; the fish ponds destroy some of Israel's most fertile lands; fish food concentrates must be purchased from abroad, thus deteriorating Israel's balance of payments. Moreover, on the world market Israel can buy quality frozen fish at a price very much lower than the cost of producing carps.
That fish ponds are a major source of water pollution must also be considered. First there is the fish waste; then the remains of the concentrated fodder not eaten by the fish, which rots; lastly the use of chemical fertilizers to enrich the waters with plankton, which the fish eat. Moreover, because of the relative permeability of the fish pond beds, about 30,000 cubic meters of water per hectare are returned, polluted, to the Jordan River (each hectare of pond requires 50,000 c.m. of water per year, out of which 20,000 cm are lost).
Given the above, Hula Valley fish ponds should have been abandoned long ago. But the kibbutzim's method of accounting is different: Only symbolic rent is paid for land serving as fish ponds, and water is at their disposal all the time - they have only to pump it from the Jordan or its affluents. The ponds furnish (per member workday) the highest revenue of all other agricultural branches. This is the only thing that interests the kibbutzim management. The land can be run down, the water can be wasted and polluted, the foreign-currency deficit can be increased; high profits fromthe fish ponds make short-shrift of these arguments.
The Hula Valley's main irrigated field crop was in the eighties cotton, for export, occupying more than half of all its irrigated areas. Though Israel boasts the world's highest cotton yield per hectare, this crop should have never been developed in the Hula Valley because it is one of the main culprits in the pollution of the Jordan waters.
A summer crop, cotton requires during three months double the average water quantity of most other crops. Hula's rainy season, however, is during the winter, when the cotton fields lie fallow. Most of the rain water is thus lost. Moreover, as the kibbutzim do not practice crop rotation - i.e., cotton is cultivated year after year on the same land - the soils are mined of vital elements and thus require larger and larger amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, whose residues drain into the Jordan and then into the Sea of Galilee. Notwithstanding the fact that cotton occupies the field only 80 days, no other crop is cultivated, as cotton strongly impoverishes the soil.
Cotton is intensively cultivated because it furnishes the highest per workday revenue (apart from the artificial fish ponds). All other objections are thrown aside by this fact. Indeed, the profit calculations of cotton-producing kibbutzim are skewed by the above-mentioned symbolic leasing, subsidized water, and the fact that a part of the labor force is made up of "volunteers".
Subtropical fruits, mostly avocado, constitute the valley's other major export crop, taking up about 20,000 dunums. Fruit destined for domestic consumption occupies about 16.000: two-thirds in apples and one-third in pears, plums and grapes. Because insects proliferate in this hot climate, very large quantities of carcinogenic pesticides are applied.Their residues, too, leach via Jordan waters into the Sea of Galilee drinking supply. Only for this reason the cultivation of apples in the Hula Valley should have been banned.
An external labour force
Most of the workers in the Hula kibbutz enterprises are not kibbutz
members. A high proportion of kibbutz members work outside the region
or are managers of the kibbutz-held industries situated either in the
kibbutzim or in the Oriental Jewish development towns. According to kibbutz
statistics, 40 percent of the kibbutzim workforce, generally women, work
in the kibbutz services, while about a third of the male members have
jobs outside - as government civil servants, army officers, Histadrut
employees, etc. More than half the total revenues of the kibbutzim come
from industrial and tourist enterprises as well as outside employment.
"Volunteers" provide another important source for the kibbutzim workforce. Well established organizations in European capitals recruit students and unemployed youths according to the seasonal needs of the kibbutzim.
After 1967, a new workforce was available to the Hula kibbutzim:
the Druze who were not expelled from the Golan Heights. Nowadays as well,
many Shia Moslems from the "security zone" in South Lebanon,
occupied since 1978 by Israel, travel to work in Hula Valley kibbutz enterprises.
hanks to the volunteers, the Oriental Jews, the Golan Druze
and the Lebanese, industrial and tourist enterprises were established
in the development towns and in the Hula kibbutzim: at least five plastics
manufacturing plants, five metal-products manufacturers, one paper plant
and a building-materials firm. Some kibbutzim, meanwhile, have on site
two or even three manufacturing plants. All these industries, by the way,
add to the pollution of the Jordan waters.
Questions for the Future
The Hula Valley could have been transformed into one of Israel's richest agricultural regions. In addition to growing rice and wheat, the cultivation of alfalfa would have provided a nutritive animal fodder while at the same time - by virtue of its being able to "fix" nitrogen - reducing the level of chemical nitrates and thus the pollution of the Jordan waters. Other, more ecological ventures could also have been undertaken to increase Israel's food supply and reduce dependency on imports.
Yet today Hula Valley's contribution to the feeding of Israel's population is marginal. The rural population of the Hula Valley is nowadays about half that of the Arab and Jewish population in 1945, and it is dwindling because Hula kibbutzim are unable to recruit new members and because many kibbutzim youth do not return after their military service.
If the Sea of Galilee will continue to be the main source of drinking water for two-thirds of Israel's population, then radical changes must be made in the management of Hula Valley. Construction of an artificial stopper and re-creation of a new lake must be considered; all artificial fishponds must be eliminated; cotton growing must be replaced by other less water-polluting crops; deciduous fruit plantations, especially apples, should be eliminated or at least strongly reduced; sewage waters from development towns, kibbutzim and other rural settlements must be purified before they rejoin the Jordan (it should be noted that it was only in 1984 that Kyriat Shemona got its first sewage system).
All water-polluting industries - chemical, plastics, metals, etc. - should be banned, not only from the kibbutzim but also from the development towns of Kyriat Shemona and Hatzor. Every new anticipated economic venture in the Hula Valley should undergo an environmental assessment, specifically concerning pollution of the Jordan waters. Similar assessments should also be made for the kibbutzim downstream of Hula Valley, especially around the Sea of Galilee3.
But the question is: Will the Hula kibbutzim ever accept changes that would improve water quality and reduce the cancer-causing risks for millions of Israelis but which at the same time would strongly reduce their annual incomes?
1) These data differ little from the Jewish Agency's 1941 census. The total population was 3,200 - 1,500 families in 12 kibbutzim and four other settlements. The total area at their disposal was 8,100 hectares, out of which 4,900 were cultivated but only 460 irrigated, among them 100 hectares of fishponds. In 1948, when Israel was created, the Hula Valley had 13 kibbutzim, two moshavim and two moshavot on its borders.
2) Hula Valley's rural population in the beginning of the 1980s was approximately 11,500 persons, with 9,000 living in 16 kibbutzim, 1,100 in four moshavim, and 1,400 in two moshavot (Metullah and Yessod Hamaala). The urban population of its two development towns was 22,000, more than twice the kibbutzim population they serve.
3) After the kibbutzim of the Hula Valley, these are the main polluters of the Sea of Galilee. In addition to the same polluting causes of the upstream Jordan waters - artificial fish ponds; cotton cultivation; fruit tree plantations; polluting industries; non-purification of settlement sewage waters - these kibbutzim add a new one: the transformation of the eastern and western shores of the Sea of Galilee (drinking water for more than half the population of Israel) into seaside resorts, which can concentrate more than 100,000 vacationers during the holiday seasons.