Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Crown of Israel’s Jezreel Valley

Today the city of Afula, with a population of 49,000, sits as the crown and virtual capital of the Jezreel Valley in north-central Israel. Many identify modern day Afula with the Israelite town of Ofel mentioned in Scriptures, home of the Judge Gideon (Judges chapters 6-8) and in connection to the prophet Elisha, found in Kings II (5:24). Excavations in modern day Afula indicate continuous habitation in Ofel since the time the Israelites inhabited it in Biblical times. An 1887 population list indicates that 630 Muslim inhabitants were living in “El Afuleh.” Reports from 1900, when the Jezreel Valley railway was being built, described Afula as having 50-55 huts with 20 inhabitants.

With the return of Jews to pre-State-of-Israel Palestine in the early 20th century, Yehoshua Hankin initially purchased 10 square kilometers (10,000 dunams) of land in Al-Fuleh, where two moshav settlements, Merchavia and Tel Adashim, were established. During World War I, British General Edmund Allenby’s 4th Cavalry Division of the Desert Mounted Corps captured Afula from the Ottoman Turks during the Battle of Sharon in September, 1918. The 1922 British census identified 563 inhabitants of Afula, mostly Muslims, and a few dozen Christians (62), Jews (28) and 2 Bahai. 

The modern city of Afula was founded on March 31, 1925, corresponding to the 6th of Nissan, when the American Zionist Commonwealth purchased the Afula valley from the Sursuk family of Beirut. About ¼ of the Arab families accepted compensation for their land and voluntarily relocated. The rest were evicted. Jews began moving in there in large numbers as continued development occurred. By 1931, the population increased to 874, 786 of whom were Jews. By 1945, Afula consisted of 18,277 dunams and its population of Jews grew to 2,300 with 10 Muslims.

Afula has been a dangerous hotspot, due to its proximity to the populous Arab towns of Nablus (Biblical Sh’chem) and Jenin. Jewish militias in 1945, 1946 and, shortly before the 1948 war, sabotaged the railway, disabling travel from Nablus and Jenin into Afula. Only in 2011 was a train restored connecting Haifa to Beit She’ean, with a station at Afula. Passengers were able to make the trip on Israel Railways beginning in October of 2016. Subsequent terror attacks have occurred in Afula, and and Hezbollah rockets twice hit Afulah in July of 2006, during the Israel-Hezbollah war.

Israeli air conditioning behemoth Tadiran has its factory base in Afula, as do plastic manufacturers Keter Plastic and StarPlast. HaEmek Medical Center was the first regional hospital in the country and continues to serve the Afula population and beyond. Afula also serves as the home town for a professional Israeli basketball and football (soccer in the US) team as well.

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