Off the Beaten Track: Jezreel Royal Gardens

A new column: Travel expert Joe Yudin introduces "the road less travelled" as well as some new discoveries at more well-known sites.

Jezreel valley hike 311 (photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Jezreel valley hike 311
(photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Joe Yudin owns After exiting Wadi Ara on Route 65, pass Megiddo Junction and continue east on Route 65 to the next Junction and take a right. You will pass the “Tanachim” Moshavim which are agricultural communities settled by North African refugees in the early 1960’s as the French pulled out of their colonies and the Jews had to flee for their lives with nothing but the shirts on their backs.
Here you can still find whole communities speaking their native dialects of Tunisian-French, Moroccan-Arabic and even pockets of Kurdish-Aramaic. If you are lucky enough to know a family who lives here, I urge you to spend a weekend here and experience the food & culture of these communities before they completely assimilate forever. I’m telling you, you haven’t had couscous or kubbot unless you’ve eaten at someone’s house at Moshav Nir Yafe or Moshav Parazon. These families should open restaurants.
Continue about 9 kilometers on this road (Route 675), pass Yizrael Junction and then turn left at Kibbutz Yizrael and turn right quickly to Tel Yizrael. Park in the lot and have a fantastic snack under the large tree where a Druze family will bake you a Druze pita on the spot and grease it up with your choice of chocolate, labene or humus with a side of olives. 
Photo: Joe YudinThis valley is named after the ancient city of Jezreel, which sits on the high ground on the ancient road between Megiddo and Beit Shean, which linked all three main highways between ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. A spring lies a kilometer below the tel in what is today a eucalyptus grove. Archaeologists have excavated the tel and have found the remains of a large iron age, Israelite fortress almost 15 acres in area, surrounded by a dry moat.
On the opposite side of the parking lot you will see a sign mapping out this area. Pass the War of Independence war memorial to the Palmach soldiers and you will notice ancient remains protruding from the mound. You will also see various water cisterns, ruins, a church and even a tiled wine press from Roman, Byzantine, Crusader and Arab periods if you explore a little. The views of the Jezreel Valley from this trail are breathtaking. You can recount the stories of Deborah, Gideon and Saul all from this viewpoint and signs quoting the various stories from this period are posted all along the way. Where the green trail intersects the blue trail you can see Navot Junction past the eucalyptus grove where the trail leads to a beautiful pool and spring. Behind you lays the city probably built by the Israelite King Ahab and his wife Jezebel in the ninth century B.C.E.
We find the story of Ahab, Jezebel and Navot in the First Book of Kings, chapter 21:
And it came to pass after these things, that Navot the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab, king of Samaria.  And Ahab spoke unto Naboth, saying: 'Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house; and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.'
Well Navot wasn’t selling. He wanted to leave the fields, probably the most fertile in all the Land of Israel, to his sons. This was enough for Ahab, but not for his foreign wife Jezebel who worshiped the gods of Baal. She spread rumors about Navot and his sons, leading to their execution without an honorable burial. Elijah the Prophet was not a happy camper. He went down to Navot’s fields where Jezebel and Ahab had taken possession for their gardens, cursing them both, leading to Ahab’s death and a curse on his house resulting in decades of war and famine on all of Israel. Eventually, Jezebel’s evil ways caught up with her. The people of Jezreel stormed the palace, and she knew that her time had come. She sat at her window here overlooking the gardens below and slowly “painted her eyes, and attired her head” before being thrown from the window meeting the same fate as Navot and his sons.
Follow the red trial to the spring in the eucalyptus grove. Relax, go for a dip, have a picnic. Explore the water system with water shoes and flashlights. The water here is crystal clear and the kids will love splashing around. If you haven’t left another vehicle here, return back up the trail to your car.
Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.