• Issue: October 1977
  • Designer: A. Glaser
  • Stamp size: 30 x 25.7 mm
  • Plate no.: 522 - 523
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

The Arava

The Arava, a strip of land 165 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide, links Sedom on the southern edge of the Dead Sea to Elat on the Red Sea. Hot, dry and dusty, this rock-walled ravine, geographically part of the Great Rift Valley and included in Israel's Negev, runs between Israel on the west and Jordan on the east. Curious rock formations lend interest to this desolate region, where the annual rainfall is barely 50 mm. and where human habitation is a rarity. Natural vegetation is sparse, usually limited to the occasional thorny acacia and stunted, low shrubs growing along the wadis.

Climatic conditions, poor soil, difficulty of access and remoteness from the amenities of modern life have held back the development of the Arava. However, the security position and Israel's chronic lack of land gave an extra impetus to local settlement. Looking eastwards to the steep, red sandstone scarps on the Jordanian side, not a single village can be seen, but on the Israeli side, with its gentler hills of sandstone, porphyry and crystalline deposits, some ten settlements have sprung up since 1948.

A helpful factor was the discovery of a number of springs running the length of the Arava-brackish at the northern end near the Dead Sea, then becoming sweeter as they approach the waters of Elat. Perhaps the most difficult place for permanent living was Neot Hakikar, close to Sedom, where a special date palm thriving on saline water was evolved.

Neot Hakikar was founded in 1961, while its nearest neighbour, Hatzeva, was set up in 1966 near the ricit oasis of Em Husub, with its remains of a Roman fort. Expert opinion holds that beneath Em Husub is an underground lake - an emergency reservoir as yet untapped. Phosphates have been found near Em Yahav in the Central Arava, while further south is Beer Me nuha, an oasis and road junction, formerly a labourers' work camp.

As the springs become less salty, agriculture improves, so that the Southern Arava has several settlements ,the newest being Kibbutz Ketura, established by American youngsters in 1973. Grofit, ten years older, today boasts four-storied houses and hundreds of dunams of green plantations, while veteran Yotvata, founded in 1951 on the ancient water source of Em Radian, was one of the stopping-places of the children of Israel on their journey through the wilderness. An Israelite citadel, a Roman fortress, a temple to Diana, pagan goddess of hunting, were unearthed there.

Excavations revealed that copper mining flourished in Timna around 4000 BCE; was renewed by the Egyptians from about 1400 to 1250 BCE, then again by the Romans and Byzantines. Directly south is Beer Ora farm established in 1950 on the spring called in Arabic "the Well of Darkness", from its high magnesium content, which caused sickness. Here were found Roman-Byzantine melting plants connected with the Timna copper mines.

Elot, 3 kilometres north of Elat, is now fifteen years old and, like Hatzeva, Grofit, Yotvata and the others, has become one of the thriving growth points of the barren Arava. With the help of Government agencies and the Jewish National Fund, who laid the infrastructure of roads, soil reclamation and basic buildings, the Arava Valley has fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy that: "The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" (Isaiah 35, 11.

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Caesarea, on the shore of the Mediterranean midway between Tel Aviv and Dor-Tantura, combines history with interest and beauty. Situated on a series of small bays capable of sheltering fishing boats or caiques, Caesarea's story begins in the third century BCE, or even earlier, when it was a Phoenician port called Straton's Tower-a regular supply stopover for maritime traffic running from Egypt to Syria.

Straton's Tower enjoyed the placid life of a fishing village until 96 BCE, when the Hasmonean ruler, Alexander Yannai, annexed it to his kingdom. Thirty-three years later it was incorporated into the Roman province of Syria, and a generation afterwards, in 22 BCE, Augustus Caesar returned it to Herod the Great, founder of the Herodian dynasty.

Josephus Flavius, in his "Antiquities of the Jews," book 15,9, records how Herod "planned a magnificent city there, and adorned it with sumptuous places. He built a theatre of stone, and in the south quarter, an amphitheatre holding a vast number." Cleared and repaired, the amphitheatre, which stages the productions of the Israel Summer Festival, accommodates an audience of thousands. Innumerable pink and grey granite pillars, statues and fragments of carved white marble scattered among the ruins speak eloquently of Herod's majestic city, named Caesarea in honour of the Roman emperor.

After Herod's death, Caesarea developed virtually into a Roman town. Continual clashes between the Roman overlords and the influential Jewish community of Caesarea culminated in the revolt of 66 CE, which spread like wildfire throughout the country. Jerusalem and the Temple fell in 70 CE, when Rome made Caesarea its capital for the province of Judea. Simon bar Kochba's unavailing rebellion of 132 to 135 CE had its reverberations in Caesarea, too, for Rabbi Akiva and his companions, supporters of Bar Kochba, were martyred in the city's dungeons.

As Judea's capital, Caesarea prospered, and in the following centuries Talmudic sages-Rabbi Asi, Rabbi Abahu and many more-lived side by side with famous Christian scholars. When, at the height of its splendour, the city was invaded by the Moslems, it continued to flourish and was a large town until King Baldwin of Jerusalem captured it in 1101 and turned it into a fortified citadel. For 165 years it was one of the main Crusader coastal strongholds, with a dry-moat, a huge wall and gates, churches, streets and houses, still visible today. Beybars, the Mameluke sultan, attacked and destroyed the city in 1265, leaving it in ruins.

For nearly 700 years Caesarea was deserted, its fields and orchards desolate, and its broken aqueducts creating disease-ridden marshes. Only during the past few decades has there been a re-awakening. Kibbutz Sdot Yam was founded there in 1940, the townlet of Or Akiva in 1951, then villas, a golf course and luxury hotel, while the restoration of the Crusader town was another attraction.

Now visitors from Israel and abroad stream in to play golf or enjoy the sandy beaches; to wander through the Crusader town and along the Byzantine market-place with its Greek inscription and porphyry statues; to trace the Roman aqueducts and listen to music in Herod's amphitheatre, or just to gaze across the water to Herod's man-made haven for ships, where "on either side of the harbour-mouth rose three colossal statues standing on pillars." (Josephus Flavius, "Wars of the Jews," book 1,12.).

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