Tag Archives: Israel

Biodiversity at Jerusalem Botanical Gardens

A human is like a tree, like a human the tree also grows, like a tree a human life can be cut down and I don’t know…

…כי האדם עץ השדה  כמו האדם גם העץ צומח  כמו העץ האדם נגדע  ואני לא יודע

I feel my lifeblood being sapped by the ongoing rocket/missile exchanges between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas. Israel is trying to protect us by getting rid of Hamas’ rockets and weakening Hamas. Hamas is trying to get Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, to improve Palestinians’ living conditions in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hamas is also trying to make life so stressful and unbearable that we lose hope, with the aim, clearly outlined in their charter (1988), of uprooting us from this land.

This week I visited the Jerusalem Botanical Garden on the edge of the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University, a tranquil retreat in the midst of the city, welcoming to all (explanatory signs are being put up in English, Hebrew and Arabic). Their vision statement makes it clear:

Just as biodiversity is a key to a healthy natural world, so human diversity is a cornerstone of a healthy society. We promote and encourage both.

The 30 acre park is divided into six geographical zones, European, North American, South African, Australian, Asian and Mediterranean and has more than 10,000 species of plants. I was delighted to find Sternbergia, a young sycamine sapling and not only the five species of oak trees indigenous to Israel but some 75 different oaks of the 700 species that exist in the world growing at the botanical gardens, a refuge for endangered species. More than just replicating the flora of Eretz Yisrael the botanical gardens teach respect and awe for the biodiversity of our world. There is an African savannah grass maze for children to explore, there is a section on herbs and medicinal plants, a path of Biblical plants, water plants and plants of the desert.

Jerusalem has two botanical gardens (the first planted in 1931 on Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University), two university campuses and two Hadassah hospitals. History explains why – the institutions on Scopus were cut off from Israel for 19 years when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the war in 1948. An Israeli convoy under Red Cross auspices delivered supplies and exchanged personnel every two weeks.  Scopus and Jerusalem were only reunited by Israeli paratroopers during the Six Day War in 1967.

In 1947 Tuvia Kushnir, a brilliant young man, was studying and researching the plants of Palestine (under the British mandate, before the State of Israel was declared) at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Tuvia discovered a rare flower, the Galilee fumitory (Fumaria thuretii Boiss) near Kibbbutz Eilon in the Upper Galilee, the southernmost extent of its range. The flower was not seen again for 60 years until Prof. Avi Shmida and other botanists discovered 80 individual plants of Galilee fumitory in April 2012. Tuvia was one of the first iris researchers in Palestine and identified an iris that bears his name Iris tuviae (also known as the King Uzziae iris). And Tuvia identified a kind of crocus that grows only in the desert that was named after him, Colchicum tuviae.

On January 15th, 1948 Tuvia was part of a group of Haganah soldiers given the task of carrying supplies to the defenders of Gush Etzion (on Friday two rockets fell in the Gush, the first fired towards Jerusalem), 4 kibbutzim south of Jerusalem that were under blockade by Arab forces. They set out at 11pm on foot from Har Tuv, making a detour past the British police station so as not to be detected (it was a capital offense to carry arms) and past Arab villages. Three soldiers turned back when one soldier twisted his ankle and was unable to continue leaving 35, the march of the lamed-heh (two Hebrew letters that have the value 35). Towards dawn the group was discovered near the Arab village of Tsurif, the alarm was raised and hundreds of Arabs from the neighboring villages attacked the convoy. Though the British heard the shots they did not investigate until all was quiet. The Israeli soldiers fought until they had no more ammunition – all were killed including Tuvia. When the British arrived on the scene they found the bodies horribly mutilated making identification very difficult. Rabbi Arye Levin performed the rare Goral Ha-gra ceremony, a mystical procedure devised by the Vilna Gaon where the rabbi opened a Tanakh and was drawn to read certain verses which gave hints to the identity of the bodies.

2:15pm Jerusalem time  I’m at home writing this post. By the time we hear the siren there are about 15 seconds until we hear a distant boom. Channel 2 reports that the rocket fell somewhere near Bethlehem, about 6.5 km south of where I am sitting.

At the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens work has begun on a Children’s Discovery Garden that will offer Jewish, Muslim and Christian young people an opportunity to explore and discover the wondrous natural world, to learn that diversity is important and in the process meet each other. Discovery and play will be used to show how plants adapt to their environment and the interaction between the two. Activities will include a canopy walk in the treetops and a descent down to a roots exhibit. Perhaps plants which are apolitical, are concerned less with borders and which speak to us all can show us the advantages of diversity and living together.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

The traditional view based on the Biblical account is that in the 10th century King David ruled over a United Monarchy consisting of Judea in the south and Israel in the north. By the 9th century it had split into two kingdoms, Israel that continued to exist until the Assyrian conquest in 722BCE and Judea that continued until the Babylonian destruction in 586BCE. In contrast the Minimalist school refuted the idea of a United Monarchy and saw David as a mythical figure. The kingdom of Israel established itself first, in the 9th century (low chronology) and a monarchy developed in Judea only after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in the late 8th century. With the discovery of the House of David stele at Dan the Minimalists had to grudgingly concede that David could exist but was a minor chieftain who ruled over a limited area, not an extensive kingdom ruled from a centralized location. With the discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site in the Elah valley Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University is convinced that he has uncovered a Judean town that is dated to the 10th C. To build fortifications like those at Khirbet Qeiyafa, requiring moving 200,000 tons of stone, could not have been a local initiative but would have required a centralized government.

The site is small, 23 dunam enclosed with a casement wall situated on a hill overlooking the Elah valley with human occupation for about 20 years. Garfinkel suggests that the site was destroyed by Phillistine Gath/Tel Safi a larger town only 12 km to the west (Prof. Aren Maier who heads the excavations at Safi concurs); the Bible describes numerous border disputes in the Elah Valley region during the 11th-10th century BCE. There are only 3 building strata layers: 1) the late Roman/Byzantine period, 4th to 6th century when it included a fortress or caravansery at the center of the site, 2) late Persian or early Hellenstic period (ca. 350-270BCE) and 3) the lowest stratum directly on the bedrock dated to Iron Age IIA, existing in the late 11th to early 10th century. The dating is based on pottery and artifacts correlated with the results of radiometric (Carbon 14) dating of 4 burnt olive pits that yield a calibrated date of 1051 to 969BCE with 77.8% probablity which supports the ‘high chronology” of the biblical traditionalists.

Features and artifacts unearthed at the site suggest that it was a Judean settlement.

  • The structural style of the casemate walls was classically Judean, matching similar construction at the ancient excavated sites of Beersheva, Tell en-Nasbeh, and Tell Beit Mirsim.
  • Thousands of animal bones were found (goats, sheep and cattle) but no pig bones, found commonly at nearby Phillistine sites like Ekron and Gath/Tell Safi.
  • Pottery found is different than that at nearby Gath. Fragments of an almost complete pottery baking tray hinted at a culture that was unlike that of the nearby Phillistine sites.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is the only archaeological site discovered in Israel so far that has two gates. Garfinkel says, “Even cities three or four times its size, such as Lachish and Megiddo, have only a single gate.” Based on location, dating and the two gates Garfinkel identifies it as Shaarayim (Hebrew for two gates) mentioned 3 times in the Bible.

  • In the city list of the tribe of Judah it appears after Socoh and Azekah (Josh 15:36). Socoh is located 2.5 km to the southeast of Khirbet Qeiyafa and Azekah 2 km to the west.
  • After David killed Goliath the Philistines escaped through the ““road of Sha’’arayim”” (1 Sam 17:52).
  • In the city list of the tribe of Simeon, Sha’’arayim is mentioned as one of the cities ““until the reign of David”” (1 Ch 4:31––32).

It’s exciting to have the opportunity to attend an annual archaeology conference reporting on the latest research about Israel 3000 years ago. But more than that it’s possible to visit and explore the actual sites. After hearing Garfinkel’s interpretations I drove to the site to see for myself (I do guided tours of Khirbet Qeiyafa). Notice the drainage channel in the Southern gate (and our golden retriever, Sumsum, who likes to go on tours).

Prof. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, a proponent of the Minimalist school, also gave a paper at the conference but disappointingly, he didn’t comment at all about Garfinkel’s claim. Instead, he presented a critique of Eilat Mazar’s conclusions about the Large Stone Structure and her dating of the building to the 10th C. Finkelstein argues that

  • the remains of what is called the Large Stone Structure are not one building.
  • Similarly, the Stepped Structure is not monolitic but contains segments from Iron age IIA and Hellenistic periods. There is no connection today between some of the Iron Age IIA components of the Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Structure. The only physical connection is between the walls and the top section of the Stepped Structure which is from the Hellenistic period.
  • Some of the massive walls may be from Iron Age IIA, (he uses low chronology, 9th century) but others are from the Hellenistic period.

Finkelstein concludes that no experienced archaeologist would claim to have uncovered a monumental building from the 10C BCE based on the archaeological evidence.