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Hula Valley, seen from the Golan Heights.
The Hula Valley ( , Emek HaHula) is an agricultural region in northern Israelmarker with abundant fresh water. It is an important bottleneck site for birds migrating along the Syrian-African Rift Valley between Africa, Europe, and Asia

Lake Hula (the Biblical Lake Merom) and its surrounding swamps were drained in the 1950s as an attempt to alter the environment to suit agricultural needs. Though initially perceived as a great national achievement for Israel, with time it became evident that the benefits from transforming the "wasteland" of Lake Hula and its swamps were limited. In the past few years, following nearly 50 years of an unsuccessful struggle to utilize the drained valley's resources, the Israeli government has finally recognized that successful development can endure only if a balanced compromise between nature and development is reached. Thus, a small section of the former lake and swamp region was recently reflooded in an attempt to prevent further soil deterioration and to revive the nearly extinct ecosystem.

Topography

The Hula Valley lies within the northern part of the Syrian-African Rift Valley at an elevation of about 70 meters above sea level, and covers an area of 177 square kilometers (25 km by 6-8 km).

On both sides of the valley are steep slopes: the Golan Heightsmarker to the east and the Upper Galilee's Naftali mountains to the west rise to 400 to 900 meters above sea level.

Basaltic hills of about 200 meters above sea level along the southern side of the valley intercept the Jordan Rivermarker, and are commonly referred to as the basalt "plug" (actually a temporary geologic base level), as they restrict water drainage downstream into the Sea of Galileemarker.

Climate

The Hula Valley has a Mediterranean climate of hot dry summers and cool rainy winters, although its enclosure within two mountain ranges leads to more extreme seasonal and daily temperature fluctuations than in coastal areas.

Annual rainfall varies greatly between different parts of the valley and ranges from about 400 millimeters in the south of the valley, to up to 800 millimeters in the north of the valley .

More than 1,500 millimeters of precipitation falls on the Hermonmarker mountain range, only a few kilometers north of the valley, mostly in the form of snow, feeding underground springs, including the sources of the Jordan Rivermarker, all eventually flowing through the valley.

The wind regime is dominated by regional patterns in the winter with occasional strong north-easterly wind storms known in Arabic as Sharkiyah.

Names

Lake Hula was historically referred to by several different names. The 14th century BCE Egyptians called the lake Samchuna, while the Hebrew Bible records it as Merom. In the 1st century CE, the Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus termed it Semechonitis, while in the Talmud it is called Yam Sumchi - i.e. Sea of Sumchi. Currently the lake is called Buheirat el Huleh in Arabic and Agam ha-Hula in Hebrew, stemming from the Aramaic Hulata or Ulata.

The "Waters of Merom" has sometimes been used erroneously in scientific literature, although that term refers specifically to springs on the western side of the valley.

History

Prior to its drainage in the early 1950s, Lake Hula was 5.3 kilometers long and 4.4 kilometers wide, extending over 12-14 square kilometers. It was about one and a half meters deep in summer and three meters deep in winter.

The lake attracted human settlement from early prehistoric times. Paleolithic archaeological remains were found near the Bnot Yaakovmarker ("Daughters of Jacob") bridge at the southern end of the valley. The first permanent settlement, Enan (Mallaha), dates from 9,000-10,000 years ago and was discovered in the valley.

The Hula Valley was a main junction on the important trade route connecting the large commercial centre of Damascusmarker with the eastern Mediterraneanmarker coast and Egyptmarker.During the Bronze Age, the cities of Hazormarker and Laish were built at key locations on this route approximately 4,000 years ago. At the end of the 13th century BCE, the Israelite tribe of Dan destroyed the city of Laish and built in its place a new city which they named Danmarker, and for about 400 years, the Israelites ruled over the Hula Valley until it was captured by the Assyrian armies of Tiglath-Pileser III and its inhabitants were driven away. The Bible records the lake "Merom" as the site of a victory of Joshua over the Canaanites.

Throughout the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Arab periods (fourth century BCE to eighth centuries CE) rural settlement in the Hula Valley was uninterrupted. During the Seleucid Empire, the town Seleucia Samulias was founded on the lake shore.

Traditional crops were rice (as early as the Hellenistic period), cotton and sugar cane (Brought by the Arabs following their conquest in 636), sorghum and maize.Water buffalo were introduced in the eighth century supplying milk and serving as beasts of burden.

The first modern Jewish settlement in the Hula Valley, Yesod HaMa'alamarker on the western shore of the lake, was established in 1883 during the first aliyah. In total, by 1948 there were 12 Jewish and 23 Arab settlements in the Hula Valley. Following the establishment of Israel and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Arab Muslim and Christian inhabitants partly fled and partly driven away.

The drainage of the lake

view of the Hula national reserve from Keren Naftali
The draining operations, carried out by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), began in 1951 and were completed by 1958. It was achieved by two main engineering operations: The deepening and widening of the Jordan River downstream; and two newly-dug peripheral canals diverting the Jordan at the north of the valley.

As concern was voiced by scientists and naturalists who opposed the project because they viewed the swamps as an ecological treasure that must be preserved for future generations, a small (3.50 kmĀ²) area of papyrus swampland in the southwest of the valley was set aside and in 1963, became Israelmarker's first nature reserve. Concern over the draining of the Hula was the impetus for the creation of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

Agamon Ha-Hula

Agamon Ha-Hula ( ,literally: "little Hula lake"), located in the southern part of the Hula Valley, in the area that once served as the transition between Lake Hula and the surrounding swamps, was created as part of the rehabilitation program of the valley. This new lake is shallower and much smaller than the original lake. It has an irregular shape, covering an area of one square kilometer with mostly less than one meter depth of water. Several smaller islands were created in the middle of the lake, to provide protected nesting sites for birds.

Image:Agur-feeding01.jpg|Large flock of Common Cranes with some coots and mallardsImage:Hulah Valley, Israel, Buffalo.jpg|Water buffalo are kept as livestock in the swamps; their grazing also helps maintain habitat diversity.Image:Hulah Valley, Israel, Swamp Turtle.jpg|Swamp turtlesImage:Wheat-haHula-ISRAEL2.JPG|Wheat in the Hula valley, 2007

See also

Species that became extinct by the draining of the lake:

References

Sources




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