Rehabilitation of the Hula Valley

Photograph: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The Hula Valley is located between the Golan Heights, the Naftali Mountains and the Bekaa Valley. It is 30 km. long and about 6–7 km. wide. Its abundance of water and animals already attracted humans in the Stone Age. Its location near the Via Maris, which passed along its western edges, and near the Jordan crossing where Bnot Ya'akov Bridge is today, gave it economic and political importance.

Draining the Hula Valley

Over the years, as a result of volcanic eruptions in the Golan, the southern part of the Hula Valley became blocked with lava, and a lake, a marsh and a semi-marshy area were formed in the valley. Over the years, the land of the valley, which was formerly used for agriculture and settlement, became marshes that were unfit for farming. The non-marshy lands were frequently flooded with groundwater near the surface as a consequence of land subsidence.
When Jewish settlement in the Hula Valley was renewed at the end of the 19th century there was a need to drain the marshes. The drainage project was delayed until after the state was founded, and in 1951 KKL-JNF began to execute what was considered to be the biggest Zionist project so far: draining the Hula Lake and its marshes, which covered approximately 40,000 dunams. Draining the Hula also affected another 18,000 dunams that were flooded in winter.
The main aims of draining the Hula were to add agricultural settlements; to prepare land for agriculture; to stop the loss of the water that evaporated from the lake (according to estimates, 28 million cubic meters each year); to dig out the marshy peat and sell it as organic fertilizer and as fuel.
Draining the Hula was carried out by deepening the river bed of the Jordan to the south of the valley and excavating two canals that drained the water from the lake and the marshes. The original course of the Jordan that flowed in the valley was abandoned over the years and blocked. At the request of nature lovers, KKL-JNF left an area of approximately 3,000 dunams as the first nature reserve in Israel.
Following draining, 65,000 of agricultural land was added to the Galilee, a considerable achievement. From other points of view, it emerged that draining was less useful than expected, and also caused real environmental damage. One of the most severe problems is damage to the quality of the water that flows into the Sea of Galilee. Nitrogenous compounds, used to fertilize the fields, drain from the Hula Valley into the Sea of Galilee and affect the quality of the water in the lake.
Draining the Hula Valley, 1955. Photograph: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.

Rehabilitation of the Hula Valley

Before it was drained, the Hula served as the natural sedimentation basin of the Sea of Galilee against the sediment of the Jordan. Moreover, the peat land was discovered to be particularly problematic. There was no demand for the dried peat, and the organic material in it was inflammable and cause fires that lasted for months. If that was not sufficient, the dry peat tends to shrink and sink. From drainage until the beginning of the 1990s the peat land in the Hula subsided to a depth of more than three meters lower than its original height.

In 1994, KKL-JNF undertook to improve the situation. Its people deepened the original course of the Jordan in the Hula Valley and reflooded an area of 1,000 dunams. The water that reaches the lake stays in it for a time before it continues to the Sea of Galilee, and over time the organic materials that remain in it subside. Creating the lake is also good for nature conservation. Another significant body of water was added to the Hula, and is used by migratory birds. In the near future, KKL-JNF will flood another area in the Hula, which will serve as an additional barrier in order to maintain the quality of the water of the Sea of Galilee.

In the rehabilitation project, KKL-JNF has turned an area covering 75 square km. from an ecological hazard into an area in which a wide variety of plants and animals flourish and has turned the Hula Valley into a tourism center with birdwatching sites, canals filled with fish, recreation areas in nature, land animals and birds, which offers abundant opportunities for touring by car, by bike or on foot.

Photograph: KKL-JNF Photo Archive