The Hula Valley is a region of great environmental, economic and agricultural importance to Israel. In the 1950s, the Hula swamps were drained in order to combat malaria and to create much-needed agricultural land. More recently, the need has been recognized to balance this approach with the need to recreate the rich ecosystem that once flourished in the region. The result is an internationally acclaimed wildlife park which has brought eco-tourism to Israel's northern region.
The draining of the Hula Valley, 1955. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Hula Lake Park today. Photo: Avi Hirschfield, KKL-JNF Photo Archive
For many years, the Hula Valley was neglected because of its swamps and the danger of malaria. The lake and the swamps covered a third of the area, and another third had groundwater very close to the surface, so farming was not possible. At the end of the nineteenth century, with the Jewish repatriation of the Hula Valley, it became necessary to drain the swamps, which was postponed until after the establishment of the State of Israel.
In 1951, KKL-JNF started draining the Hula swamps. It was the first national engineering project undertaken by the State of Israel, and when it was completed, the local communities had 60,000 dunams of additional land, which they used for agriculture, mainly crops, orchards and fishponds.
The valley turned from a region plagued by malaria into a flourishing place that attracts visitors. At the same time, however, it created an environmental problem: Fertilizers and pesticides flowed unchecked into Lake Kinneret, threatening the quality of its water.
KKL-JNF responded by creating a 250-acre (100-hectare) lake in the Hula Valley that filters the water flowing from the valley to Lake Kinneret and renewed the stream of water in the original Jordan River flow channel. Hula Lake once again became a refuge for birds and Israel’s foremost natural site.
The importance of the Hula Valley restoration project and the recent rehabilitation of part of the lake are no less of a feat than the draining of the swamps sixty years ago. The KKL JNF restoration project has turned the area, which covers 75 square kilometers, from an ecological disaster into an area flourishing with a great diversity of vegetation and wildlife. It has turned the Hula Valley into a great attraction for tourists, with bird watching sites, waterways full of fish, recreational areas in natural surroundings, animals, birds and a great selection of possibilities for outings on bicycles, in vehicles and on foot.
KKL-JNF, with help of its friends worldwide, has developed an internationally acclaimed bird watching park. Twice a year, no less than five hundred million birds pass through the area, water fowl, birds of prey and songbirds, over 390 species. You can see the birds there, as they migrate from Europe to Africa and back, as well as water buffaloes and wildcats, if you stay overnight, that wake up early for preying. You can also enjoy the lush flora, the unique indigenous fauna and participate in ringing birds.
A twin site treaty for the promotion of the Hula Lake, in Israel, and the Oak Hammock Marsh, in Manitoba, Canada, both major bird-conservation sites, was signed in 2010. The agreement was designed to formalize cooperation on site development, scientific research, educational activities and management challenges.
Hula Lake Park also won international recognition in 2009, when BBC Wildlife declared it one of the most important observation and photography sites in the world. It was ranked ninth out of a selection of twenty outstanding sites all over the world chosen by 300 experts including scientists and photographers.