All at once, tragic, beautiful and a symbol of both pure evil and pure goodness, Naharyim is a tiny strip of land situated between the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers which is a must see on any visit to the northern part of the Land of Israel. The little strip of land is often referred to as the island of peace because it sits smack dab between Jordan and Israel.
The area was under Israeli control until the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1994 and Israel ceded the area to Jordan. However, in a twist worthy of King Solomon, the Jordanians agreed to lease it back to the Israelis so that the Israeli residents there could continue to cultivate the land.
Naharyim, which means “two rivers,” since the area is located right between the Yarmuk and Jordan rivers, first came to prominence when Pinchas Rothenberg under the British Mandatory authorities, built a power plant in the area in 1934. The plant provided electrical power to both the future Kingdom of Jordan and to the future State of Israel; however, it was destroyed in 1948 during fierce fighting between Jewish forces and invading Arab armies.
Israel eventually took control of the area and it became an extension of the nearby Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov. The members of the Kibbutz worked the land and the area was fairly unremarkable, save for the occasional visit of families or school groups enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
In 1994 however, the land became the spotlight of international fame when it was ceded to the Jordanians in a peace treaty signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Jordanian King Hussein. Naharayim was then nicknamed the “island of peace” because of the extraordinary arrangement reached between the two nations, whereby Israeli citizens could continue to visit on the land while Jordan would hold technical sovereignty.
The tragedy of Naharayim occurred 3 years after the land was ceded to the Jordanians. A group of Israeli schoolchildren were visiting the land and receiving a lecture from their teacher about how the area was a symbol of peace when the unimaginable happened — a Jordanian soldier of Palestinian descent opened fire on the school girls, killing seven before he could be subdued.
Out of this tragic event however, grew closer ties with the Kingdom of Jordan when the late King Hussein made an unprecedented visit to Israel to personally apologize to the families of the children and to offer his condolences.
If you go
Today, visits to Naharayim must be arranged through Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov and security arrangements have been put in place to ensure that no tragedy like the one with the school girls is ever allowed to occur again.
The Power Plant – Experience Mesopotamia Bridge, Tourism site of Kibbutz Gesher
A visit to the area is not complete without visit the Mesopotamia bridge at Kibbutz Gesher and seeing the working model of the power plant, rebuilt in a small scale model to demonstrate what it once was like. The model is intended only as a demonstration and not a practical electrical generation plant.
There is also a light and sound “show” which is put on as part of the experience which is perfect both for children and adults visiting the area to get a better idea of what it was like to be there when the power plant operated. There is a visitors “trail” which will allow you to see the old dams and bridges along with the turbine room so that you can see all the details of what the working power plant was like.
Mesopotamia bridge experience
04-6752685 / 04-6753336 Tel
Don’t Forget the Views
Of course, the real treat here isn’t the power plant but simply the breath taking views — Naharayim boasts a beautiful boardwalk from which the three bridges in the area and the banks of both the Jordan and Yarmuk river can be seen (along with both the border of the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan).
Other things to see include the museum of the Israeli war of Independence, in which Kibbutz Gesher took a central part and the memorial to the seven young victims of the 1997 tragedy.
In addition to these, be sure to ask your guide about things to see in Kibbutz Gesher itself as well as about nearby Bet Shean, an ancient city which existed at the time of Jesus where a number of archeological digs have been found which show what life was like at the time of the Roman occupation and the birth of Christianity.
The Crusader fortress of Belvoir is situated closeby as well and is a worthwhile visit. The reconstructed fortress is the most complete Crusader fortress in the country and the only one that has been completedly excavated. The pentagonal fortress has a 20-meter wide, 12-meter-deep moat surrounding it and also surrounds a stronghold tower (donjon). Phone 04-6581766 for more information or click here.
Where to Stay
Kibbutz Ashdot Yaacov offers a number of well appointed guest rooms that are perfect for individuals traveling on their own as well as larger group stays. The kibbutz is located in the Jordan Valley region, 5 minutes from Sea of Galilee, 15 minutes drive from Tiberias and Hammat-Gader, and it is an excellent vantage point for touring all over the North of Israel, The Galilee and Golan Heights, Beit Shean Valley as well as the main Christian shrines, including the Yardenit Baptismal site. Numerous recreational activities are available nearby including birdwatching, mountain trekking, biking and more.
The guesthouse includes a total of 43 rooms, 32 of which are designed for 2 people and 11 are family units. The guesthouse is managed by Yonatan Alter, one of the most well regarded figures in Israel’s hospitality industry. Yonatan will organize agricultural tours to the date farms and to the nearby Naharayim center and Island of Peace, along with other nearby attractions. For additional information regarding special events at Ashdot Yaakov contact Yonatan@nehara.co.il
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Eric Hammer and Elisa Moed for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.