JNF gifts state with Elah Valley park

In honor of Israel's 60th birthday, Olmert is presented with 50,000 dunam Adulam Park between Kiryat Gat and Beit Shemesh.

olmert adulam 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of JNF )
olmert adulam 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of JNF )
The Jewish National Fund and the Antiquities Authority presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a new national park on Tuesday as a 60th birthday present to the State of Israel. The 50,000 dunam, or 5,000 hectare, Adulam Park between Kiryat Gat and Beit Shemesh in the Elah Valley contains many Second Temple period antiquities and a brand-new single-track mountain bike path. JNF and the Antiquities Authority renovated several of the sites in the area, including Etri and Burgin, in what was the Second Temple period equivalent of today's Dan region because it was so heavily populated. JNF head Efi Stenzler, Antiquities boss Shuka Dorfman and Olmert signed a framed copy of the park's founding declaration at a dedication ceremony held at Horvat Etri on Tuesday. The site was uncovered in 2000-2001 by archeologists Amir Ganor and Dr. Boaz Zissu of the Authority. "Despite all your other concerns, you found time to put the environment on the national agenda," Stenzler told Olmert. Olmert affirmed the importance of connecting to the roots of the Jewish people. "We are slowly but inexorably moving toward renewing our connection with the past," he said. "This is a reminder that cannot be erased of our history here. There can be no doubt that this is our country." "If anyone doubts it, we'll bring them here to see how Jews of old lived. And they lived not so differently than we do now," the prime minister added. The Etri ruin is identified with the ancient Jewish settlement of Kfar Etara mentioned in the The Jewish War by Josephus, who lived in the Second Temple period. Ganor and Klein believe that Horvat Burgin is in fact Kfar Bish, which is mentioned in both the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud, as well as in Josephus's writings. Kfar Bish was one of the principal settlements of the Second Temple period, according to the Authority's Web site. "There is no worthier gift for Israel's 60th anniversary and in fact no worthier gift at any time," the prime minister told the dignitaries, guests and schoolchildren sitting under a canopy overlooking the site. Olmert was presented with a wooden JNF donation box. "I am proud to say that I have an original blue box," he said. The park is at the heart of one of JNF's biosphere initiatives. By declaring the area a park, any building plans were headed off. However, instead of a secluded site for tourists run by environmentalists and cut off from the local populace, a biosphere initiative involves local residents in the planning stages. Industrial initiatives are developed according to green principles, as are educational programs for local schools. Ganor, who also heads the antiquity theft prevention unit at the Authority, told The Jerusalem Post after the ceremony that the area used to be plagued by thieves. "It was one of the most problematic areas because the Green Line is only about two-and-a-half kilometers away, until the West Bank separation barrier was built," he said. Ganor deplored the destruction the thieves brought to the sites they plundered. "Scavenging thieves destroy the whole preservation process," he told the Post. "They're looking for portable property like coins, and many of the underground passages were filled with them." The new 28-kilometer bike path winds through the park and is intended solely for riders - something relatively new in Israel, where bikers, hikers and off-road vehicles usually vie for space on the same trail. The park will be opened to the public in a gala event on Independence Day, May 8.