Afula, with some 50,000 residents, is something of a sleepy, backwater town. But times are changing, because with the renewed railway line come new possibilities and real-estate developers are viewing it much more positively.It is not a historic city in the way that Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and Tiberias are, but it has its historical antecedents. Afula derives its name from the nearby Arab village of al-Fule, and some archeologists say it may have its roots in antiquity. It may have been a fortified village during the Israelite period, and those who offer that hypothesis claim that the name Afula is rooted in the Canaanite-Hebrew word “ofel” meaning fortress or tower.The theory has substance, because in 1226 the Syrian historian and geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi wrote about a town in the same area that was then called Jund Filastin. Al-Hamawi wrote that a Crusader castle existed at the site.The first excavations at Tel Afula near the center of the town were in 1948, and besides the Crusader fortress they found proof the area had been continuously inhabited from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine period. It was resettled during the Ottoman period and it has remained inhabited ever since.Afula has great historical importance for the Zionist movement, because the Jezreel Valley was one of the first areas it designated for Jewish settlement.In around 1909 or 1910, Yehoshua Hankin, who was one of the major buyers of land during that time, made his first significant purchase in the valley. He bought some 10 sq. km. and founded the settlements of Tel Adashim and Merhavya. The town of Afula itself was founded in 1925, and was planned as the market town for the Jewish settlements in the Jezreel Valley and the surrounding areas. It was built on agricultural land bought by the an American Zionist organization from the Sursuk family of Beirut. The location of the town was chosen because of its proximity to the Jezreel Valley Railway. A railway was built during the Ottoman Empire from Haifa to Tzemah, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and on to Damascus.Afula was founded in the same way as cities including Rehovot, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva and Hadera. But while they developed into very large towns Afula did not. This is mainly due to the fact that most of Israel’s population is concentrated in the Center and not in the area around the Jezreel Valley. These days Afula’s northern-central position is serving it well; its road links to the soon-to-be-reopened Jezreel Valley Railway and the relative low real estate prices are creating interest with potential buyers from as far away as Tel Aviv and Nahariya. This trend has been going on for a while, and in the past five years new families have made it their home.Nadav Barzilay, the CEO of the Barzilay real estate group, said, “The new realestate trends in Israel are having a very positive effect on the real-estate scene in Afula. Families are more willing to live in what can be termed peripheral areas. Afula is perfectly situated. It has excellent road links with the North and with the Center, and consequently any one living in Afula can easily work in Tel Aviv, Haifa or the tourist center at Tiberias.“We believe that Afula will develop greatly and our company is part of a consortium that is building 270 apartments from six up to 10 story buildings.”From a real estate perspective, Afula, although it’s a small town, is divided into four areas. There is the town of Afula that can be called the historic area. Afula Illit and Givat Hamoreh were built about three to four kilometers to the east of Afula proper to house immigrants and are considered the less “posh” parts of town.The fourth area is the Jezreel Quarter. It is a new modern neighborhood that when completed will have 4,000 dwellings for some 16,000 inhabitants. It is being built on the area between Afula and the outlaying suburbs of Givat Hamoreh and Afula Illit. When completed the inhabited areas of the municipality will have territorial continuity for the first time in more than 60 years.Real estate prices in Afula are low, but there are big differences between the different areas of the town.An average three-room second-hand apartment of say 75 sq.m. costs NIS 350,000 in Afula Illit, NIS 400,000 in Givat Hamoreh and NIS 600,000 in Afula proper. In the new Jezreel neighborhood there are no three-room apartments.All buildings are new with four- or fiveroom apartments and penthouses. In Afula Illit and Givat Hamoreh there are blocs of three and four stories. In Afula proper the stock of housing is more varied: apartment buildings semidetached dwellings and single family homes, many built during the ’30s and ’40s. When one of the latter comes onto the market and the plot is say 1,000 sq.m., the price can reach NIS 2 million.Hen Kakon, the proprietor manager of the Yad Nadlan real-estate brokerage firm, said, “Afula is expanding and prices are creeping up. For the first time in many, many years real-estate developers are showing interest in the city, and more than interest, because they are building new projects especially in the Jezreel Quarter.”Recent Transactions • In the Givat Hamoreh neighborhood, a three-room, 67-squaremeter apartment on the first floor was sold for NIS 300,000. The apartment has no terrace, no parking and no elevator • A three-room, 70-sq.m. apartment was sold for NIS 550,000. The apartment was in need of redecorating, has a large terrace but no parking.• A four-room, 85-sq.m. apartment on the fourth floor was recently sold for NIS 650,000. The apartment does not have a terrace and there is no private parking, but the building has an elevator.