Old Mishmar HaYarden– An Excursion

A general view of the cemetery. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
A general view of the cemetery. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

The remains of this community founded during the First Aliya still stand silently in the shade of a grove of trees near Gadot Junction, overlooking the River Jordan.

  • How to get there

    From Rosh Pina, drive northwards for about three kilometers along Route no. 90, then turn eastwards at Mahanayim Junction onto the road (Route no. 91) that leads to Bnot Yaakov Bridge (Gesher Bnot Yaakov). The site is situated at Gadot Junction (Route no. 918), about 200 meters past the entrance to Kibbutz Gadot.

    The remains of this community founded during the First Aliya (i.e., the first major wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine, between 1882 and 1903) still stand silently in the shade of a grove of trees near Gadot Junction, overlooking the River Jordan. A monument immortalizes the memory of those who died defending the site during Israel’s War of Independence.

    In 1884, Mordechai Lubovsky, who until then had been living peacefully in Boston, decided to immigrate to the Land of Israel. He bought a large plot of land near the River Jordan and built a farm on it, which he named Shoshanat HaYarden (“Lily of the Jordan”). This daring attempt at settlement did not go well, and the farm was abandoned. A faint remnant of it can still he seen today adjacent to the Jordan River Rafting site.

    Lubovsky’s bold initiative did not go unnoticed, however, and others attempted to succeed where he had failed. In 1890 Moshe David Shuv of Rosh Pina acquired most of the property, and ten laborers’ families from Galilee communities settled there and founded Mishmar HaYarden. With the help of the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), which was founded by Baron de Hirsch, the small community thrived and grew to seventeen families.

    The community covered an area on both sides of the main highway (today Route no. 91). The southern side of the highway, where the military police had a base until not so very long ago, is now earmarked for conservation and the construction of a museum of the history of the site. Until its completion, we shall have to make do with a visit to the remains of the community’s northern street.
  • Geographic location-

    northern Israel - Upper Galilee
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    2 km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

    Wheelchair adapted
  • Season-

  • Duration-

    1-2 hours
  • Features-

    Views and landscapes; picnics; history and art; disabled accessible
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.

Visiting the ruins of the community

We start our tour at the western end of the village, adjacent to Route no. 918. The walls of a small house that once belonged to a farming family have survived only to the height of the second course of basalt bricks, at best. Nearby, a wooden sign bearing the KKL-JNF symbol shows us the disposition of twenty-six buildings, four of which were used for public purposes, while the remainder served as dwellings.

Near the farmer’s house is a large open area that contains a stone memorial to those who fell in the hard-fought battle against the Syrians during Israel’s War of Independence. The Syrians initially attacked the community on June 6th 1948, but were forced back. When they attacked for the second time, six days later, they seized control of the settlement after a fierce battle from house to house, in which eleven residents of the community and three defenders were killed. Nine of the settlers managed to flee for their lives, while twenty-nine others were taken captive by the Syrians and did not return to Israel until thirteen months later.

Karmi Grabovsky was among the fallen; he was killed before his mother’s eyes. The Yizkor memorial site, which commemorates those who died in Israel’s wars, relates that Karmi fought to his last bullet, after the Syrians had already stormed into the community and had started to torch the buildings.

In the book Three Days in Sivan, which was written by his family, his mother Rivka recalls:

“Karmi was sitting on a metal drum behind a balcony… the Syrians thought that one of their own people had taken up a position there and they began to move towards him. That was when Karmi let fly with a salvo of shots that brought some of them down. I begged him, ‘Let’s get out of here, they’ll catch you,’ but he insisted, ‘I’m not moving until the reinforcements arrive.’”

Rivka tried to flee to Ayelet HaShahar, but she was captured and held prisoner.

The distressing story of the fall of Mishmar HaYarden is a source of contention. Members of the IZL (Irgun Tzva’i Le’umi) and residents of Mishmar HaYarden claimed that the reinforcements allocated to them – the 23rd battalion of the Carmeli Brigade – were delayed by the Oded Brigade HQ for political reasons.
Members of the Oded Brigade denied these claims, and asserted that the Carmeli battalion, which had moved into the sector from the Western Galilee front, had not had enough time to reorganize.

In the wake of the armistice agreements, Mishmar HaYarden reverted to Israeli control, but the community was never rebuilt. Kibbutz Gadot and Moshav Mishmar HaYarden were established at the site.

The memorial pillar at the side of the memorial plaza quotes the opening words of the poem Mishmar HaYarden, which was written by Naftali Herz Imber after his visit to the community: “Flow on, O Jordan.”

Hertz Imber is best known as the composer of HaTikva, which became Israel’s national anthem.

The Silhouette Trail

KKL-JNF has constructed a path that leads from the memorial plaza, turns eastwards and passes close to the remains of the buildings. The cypress trees here are worth a look, as KKL-JNF planted them between the housing plots after the War of Independence. A few of the large eucalypts beside the road may likewise be remnants of the original avenue planted along Mishmar HaYarden’s main street.

The silhouette cut-outs along the trail portray figures and events related to the history of Mishmar HaYarden, from its earliest days, through the British conquest in the First World War, all the way to the War of Independence. To the east of the memorial, within the fenced compound, is the arched entrance to the cellar of the community’s first public building, which served as a school, a synagogue and a clinic before the community’s last surviving combatants holed up there in the War of Independence. The path leads us to the recreation area created by KKL-JNF in the shade of a large eucalyptus tree. About fifty meters further on are benches that overlook the landscapes of the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. The recreation area is dedicated to the memory of journalist Yitzhak Ziv-Av, who for many years was chairman of KKL-JNF’s Land Development Authority.

The cemetery

To get to the cemetery we need to drive eastwards from Old Mishmar HaYarden in the direction of Bnot Yaakov Bridge (Route no. 91). The road curves round to the right, and about 450 meters from the bend a short dirt road ascends to the right and leads us to the cemetery parking lot.

Adjacent to the cemetery, beside the entrance, at a spot that provides a wonderful view of the Jordan River and the slopes of the Golan Heights, stands a large rock that commemorates the first pioneers to settle in Galilee.

The cemetery is full of graves from the First Aliya period, including those of Shoshanat HaYarden settlers. Every grave tells a story, though some of these stories remain unknown. The graves of three children who died on the same day remind us of the constant battle the Mishmar HaYarden pioneers waged against malaria.

A large tomb belonging to Haim Grabovsky and his son Menahem touches the heart particularly. On a summer’s day (July 26th) in 1938, after Arabs had destroyed the water facilities within their community, the two men drove their wagon down to a spring beside the River Jordan. On the way back, Arabs who were lying in ambush opened fire upon them. Haim pushed his son off the wagon and shouted to him to hide. Although injured by the gunfire, he continued to fight and even managed to break a rifle belonging to one of his attackers. Hearing the shots, other members of the community rushed to spot and found the son dead and his father mortally wounded. The father managed to gasp out the name of one of the murderers before he died on the way to hospital in Tiberias, still believing that he had managed to save his son’s life. Haim Grabovsky’s second son, Karmi, fell in the heroic defense of his home during the War of Independence.