by Yael Adar
For years it has been a place of strategic importance on the Syrian-African Rift. Now it is a tourist attraction on the bank of the Jordan River. In April 1948, this was the first settlement to withstand an attack by the Arab Legion. In May of that year – it was also the focal point of an Iraqi attack. On site, three old bridges are visible, as well as an old British police station, historic railway tracks, and an old Khan (inn) from the Middle Ages. The latest addition is a fully functional reconstruction (with water, music etc.) of the old Naharyim power plant. The place is Old Gesher.
While Gesher’s tourist attraction offers quite a bit in the way of (Zionism) history – its latest addition, the Naharayim reconstruction is truly unique. It provides a glimpse into one of the first large scale economic endeavors, in the pre-state era.
Old Gesher is located in Israel’s Jordan Valley, near the current kibbutz Gesher, (not to be confused with kibbutz Gesher Haziv). The old site has been transformed into a place that tells the story of the establishment of Jewish settlements in this part of the country, since the beginning of the last century (and particularly during the War of Independence). There are many such places in places in Israel. However, this one stands out.
Close by, the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers meet. A unique agreement with the Emir Abdullah of Transjordan was reached in 1927. It enabled Pinchas Rutenberg, founder of the Palestine Electric Company, to build the company’s main power station at nearby Naharayim (which means "two rivers").
The agreement gave the PEC (which later became the Israel Electric Corporation, Ltd.), rights to use 6,000 dunams of land under Transjordanian control. As part of the project three dams were built and in 1932, the Naharayim plant began supplying electricity on both sides of the border, until it was blown up in 1948.
Old Gesher’s story is well worth hearing first hand, and a guide on site does a good job of explaining the events of 1948. The settlement of 120 people was under attack and 50 children were holed-up in a six by two meter bunker, for 30 hours until they were eventually evacuated in the stealth of night. Initially, they walked for four hours to a nearby settlement and were later taken to safety, in an abandoned monastery in Haifa. Ultimately the original settlement of Gesher was destroyed.
In addition to the guide and the Naharayim reconstruction, a 15-minute audio-visual program does a good job of telling the story of settlements in the area. In the small museum one can get a sense of what the settlers went through in 1948. The bridges and Khan are visible (but not accessible).
The oldest of the bridges is a Roman bridge that is about 2000 years old. Another bridge, known as the Train Bridge, is a Turkish bridge built in 1904. It was one of the largest bridges of its era (at that time it served the train from Haifa to Damascus). The British built the third bridge in 1925. Old
Gesher is both an interesting and educational site. It’s a great place to stop off, on the way to Tiberias or a good place to venture beyond the Jezreel Valley.
Those interested in seeing both the reconstruction as well as the real Naharayim (which was inaccessible for 46 years) may also schedule a visit at the Island of Peace by calling in advance.
The area is operated by kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov and according to the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, "the area is under Jordan's sovereignty with Israeli private land ownership rights."
Old Gesher is located off Route # 90 roughly half-way between Tiberias and Beit Shean.
Old Gesher 04/675-2685, 04/675-8783 TEL 04/670-9387 FAX
Visiting Hours: Sunday - Thursday 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Friday 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM, Saturday 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, by prior appointment.
Entry fees apply.
For reservations to the Island of Peace: TEL 04/ 670-9143 TEL FAX 04/ 675-1777