Rivers of Israel

The Land of Israel’s numerous rivers sustain life—human, animal, and plant—as they channel through valleys, mountain ranges, and deserts into larger watercourses, lakes, or the sea. The main river in Israel is the famed Jordan, into which many important headwaters and tributaries flow. Most of Israel’s watercourses are perennial or intermittent streams with considerably less volume output in seasons other than winter.

From the outset of ancient Near Eastern civilization, rivers served as ready-made borders dividing nations, tribes, and clans, and many important cities, towns, and villages developed alongside them. Good rivers made good neighbors. Such definitional waters were to be shared, and egregious deviations from this principle were grounds for war. Key battles, unsurprisingly, occurred at various rivers, and fording a river signaled the crossing of a threshold, perhaps even a point of no return.

Yet the rivers of Israel played a prominent part as a precious resource not only in the lives and times of the Israelites and their myriad neighbors, but in the rich ecology and biodiversity of the country. Here is a précis offering a glimpse at the most geographically and historically significant rivers in Israel:

  1. Hermon – A stream descending from Mount Hermon through the conjunction of the Golan Heights and the Hula Valley, the Hermon courses for over 2 miles along a steep basalt gorge and through the ancient city of Paneas (Caesarea Philippi) southward to the Banias waterfall, the most powerful in Israel, and beyond. The perennial stream is sourced from the rain and snowmelt that fosters springs at the foot of the Paneas cave, and in turn supplies the Jordan River with most of its water.
  2. Snir (Hatzbani) – The longest tributary of the Jordan River, the perennial Snir stream flows through a forest of plane trees and yellowish travertine rock walls, and is subject to annual flooding. Descending from the western slope of Mount Hermon, Snir (another biblical name for Mount Hermon) runs for over 37 miles (mostly in Lebanon, where it bypasses the Druze town of Hatzbaya, hence its Arabic name Hatzbani), and for over 3 miles through an Israeli nature reserve in the Galilean panhandle (the “Finger of Galilee”). Denizens of the stream include otters, porcupines, wild boars, mongooses, badgers, river crabs, dragonflies, and damselflies.
  3. Dan – The largest tributary of the Jordan River, rising from a plentiful karstic spring in the ancient Israelite city of Dan (Tel Dan), formerly known as Laish/Leshem. Rainwater and snowmelt trickling down from Mount Hermon feed the stream, which courses for about 12 miles through a shady wetland forest of laurel and ash trees and plants such as buckthorn and marsh fern. The vicinity, within the Galilean panhandle (the “Finger of Galilee”), is also home to Near Eastern fire salamanders, otters, wild boars, river crabs, dragonflies, and damselflies. The cool stream features several rivulets that combine with the Hermon and Snir streams, and is spanned by several wooden bridges. Kibbutz Dan and Kibbutz Dafna are nearby.
  4. Iyyon (Ayun) – A stream originating in Lebanon and flowing through a gorge in the Galilean panhandle (the “Finger of Galilee”) from Iyyon (Ayun) Valley to Hula Valley, bypassing en route the ancient ruins of Avel Beit Ma’akhah and the modern town of Metulla, the northernmost in the State of Israel. In his war against King Baasha of Israel, King Asa of Judah bribed King Ben-Hadad of Aram with silver and gold to make war on Baasha in the north; Ben-Hadad obliged and attacked the northern sites of Iyyon, Dan, Avel Beit Ma’akhah, etc. During the reign of King Pekah of Israel, Emperor Tiglat-Pileser III of Assyria conquered Iyyon, Avel Beit Ma’akhah, Hatzor, and other northern towns in the Naphtali tribal territory, exiling their inhabitants to Assyria. The scenic stream includes four waterfalls: Tanur, Tahana, Iyyon, and Eshed. In the Talmud, the stream and its gorge are referred to in Aramaic as “Nekuvta D’Iyyon”.
  5. Meshushim – A perennial stream almost 22 miles in length (the longest in the Golan), coursing through a deep basalt canyon within the Yehudiya Forest amid the central Golan Heights. The stream originates at Mount Avital and terminates in Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), where it forms an estuary lagoon. The stream leads to the sizable Meshushim pool surrounded by a cliff of hexagonal basalt pillars. The area is replete with oak, eucalyptus, mastic, styrax, jujube, and almond trees, and is also noted for its population of wild boars, eagles, vultures, kestrels, buzzards, mountain gazelles, and hyraxes, among other fauna. The Meshushim, one of four streams in the Yehudiya Forest (the others being Zavitan, Yehudiya, and Daliyot) flows near the ancient Jewish town of Gamla, a prominent mountain site famous for its dramatic battle and mass suicide during the Great Revolt (66-73 CE) against the Romans, and the ancient Jewish village of Yehudiya, whose ruined synagogues remain in evidence.
  6. Kziv – A perennial stream flowing for over 12 miles through Upper Galilee from Mount Meron to Akhziv, and the longest watercourse in Galilee. The ruined Crusader fortress of Montfort, erstwhile stronghold of Teutonic knights, perches on a spur overlooking the Kziv. The stream features several springs along its course.
  7. Kishon – A river originating south of the Gilboa mountain range and flowing northwestward through the Jezreel Valley and north of the Carmel mountain range, reaching its outlet, the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Haifa. The river extends for over 43 miles. In Joshua, it is referred to as “the river before Yokne’am”; in Judges, for its role in the triumph of Devorah and her general Barak against King Yavin and his general Sisera, it is celebrated thusly: “Kings came; they fought. Yes, the kings of Canaan fought at Ta’anakh, by the waters of Megiddo; but they took no spoil of silver. They fought from heaven, the stars in their courses; yes, they fought against Sisera. The Kishon River swept them away, that ancient river, the Kishon River. O my soul, march on with strength!” The river is also cited in Psalms. The prophet Elijah subsequently had the 450 defeated prophets of Baal seized and taken down from the Carmel range to the Kishon, where they were slain with the sword. In winter the Kishon is often flooded, rendering its fords impassable. In the modern era, the mouth of the river was deepened and developed to establish an auxiliary port near Haifa Bay. In recent decades the river was chemically polluted by industrial effluents and municipal wastewater, but a major cleanup was lately undertaken.
  8. Taninim – A sparkling coastal stream running for almost 16 miles between the Menasheh Heights of the Carmel mountain range and the Mediterranean Sea, and named after the former reptile residents (in Hebrew, taninim = crocodiles) of the proximate Kebara swamp. The stream is ornamented with yellow water lilies on its surface and contains fish such as tilapia, catfish, and gray mullet, as well as Caspian turtles below its surface. An extant dam from the late Roman or early Byzantine period was built to raise the stream’s water level so that it could be channeled southward to Caesarea Maritima, which was built by King Herod the Great of Judaea and which served as the Roman administrative capital in the Land of Israel. A by-product of the dam was a small lake. Taninim is regarded as the cleanest coastal watercourse in Israel, and it delimits the southern extent of the Hof HaCarmel (Carmel Coastal Plain). The ancient remnants of a city dating from the Persian or Hellenistic eras and once known as Crocodilopolis (Tel Taninim) rest along the confluence of the stream and the sea.
  9. Amud – A stream in eastern Galilee that flows southward for over 15 miles and descends into Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) at Ginnosar Valley. The watercourse is named after an isolated limestone pillar (in Hebrew, amud = pillar) about 22 yards tall that stands upright along the streambed, beside which rises the seasonal spring Ein Amud. Amud is especially known for its adjacent caves (Dovecote, Amud, Skull/Zuttiyeh, Amira), all of which have been excavated, and which were found to contain the remains of Neanderthals and other prehistoric humans, as well as for its cliff-dwelling vultures, eagles, kestrels, falcons, and buzzards. In the stream swim Levantine scraper fish, and its springs feature river crabs, dragonflies, and damselflies. Along the stream can be found lush riparian vegetation and a diverse array of trees: oak, terebinth, carob, styrax, mastic, almond, walnut, jujube, plane, willow, and Eastern strawberry. Nearby are the remnants of a pagan temple on Mount Mizpeh HaYamim dating from the Hellenistic era, and of the Jewish village Kfar Hananiah dating from the Hasmonean era, as well as the eastern slopes of Mount Meron, on which the Mishnaic sages Shimon bar Yohai and his son Eleazar ben Shimon are entombed. Alongside the stream are the ruins of more than two dozen flour and fulling mills dating from the 1500s, attesting to early modern Tzfat’s wool industry, introduced by Sephardic Jewish exiles post-Spanish expulsion (1492 CE). The National Water Carrier traverses Amud stream in a camouflaged siphon pipe.
  10. Alexander – A coastal flood stream in the Sharon Plain, flowing for almost 20 miles from the western slopes of Samaria westward then northwestward through the Hefer Valley until reaching the Mediterranean Sea, with its estuary between Beit Yannai beach and Mikhmoret. The stream channels through eucalyptus trees, reeds, bulrushes, and brambles, and is home to an abundance of giant soft-shelled turtles, as well as specimens of tilapia, catfish, mullet, and river eel. Its riverbanks feature rich riparian wildlife, including green sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, coypus, and mongooses. The terrain near the mouth of the stream consists of kurkar (coastal limestone) ridges and sand dunes. Close by lie the remnants of a structure dating to the late 1800s, Horvat Samara. In June 1948, the Etzel vessel Altalena anchored at a nearby port before sailing onward to Tel Aviv.
  11. Kanah (Qana) – A seasonal stream and the Yarkon River’s northernmost tributary, rising from the vicinity of Mount Gerizim in Samaria and flowing southwestward into the Sharon Plain. The Kanah has its own tributary, Nahal Hadar, which courses east and south of the mound of Tel Qana, where ancient winepresses have been excavated. The Kanah served as the boundary between the tribal territories of western Menasheh to the north and Ephraim to the south. Today the stream bypasses numerous communities including Karnei Shomron, Kfar Saba, and Hod HaSharon.
  12. Yarkon – A perennial river rising from springs proximate to Tel Aphek (Antipatris) and Rosh HaAyin and winding for 17 miles westward till it spills into the Mediterranean Sea in northern Tel Aviv. Its name is derived from its greenish hue (in Hebrew, yarok = green; the name Aphek, incidentally, derives from the Akkadian word Aphek/Aphekum, meaning springs, whence the Hebrew word Apheek, meaning riverbed/streambed). The river’s source is by the narrow Aphek Passage, through which the ancient Via Maris road passed so as to circumvent the quondam marshes. The Yarkon marks the boundary between the central Coastal Plain (the Sharon Plain) and the southern Coastal Plain. It receives a number of tributaries from north and south. The stream’s water sometimes runs red due to its reddish hamra soil, and according to the Mishnah, where it is referred to as mei pugah, its water was deemed unfit for ritual service in the Temple because it was marshy. The modern Yarkon Park, through which the stream courses, is replete with oak, carob, and eucalyptus trees. Yellow water lilies grow in the pond near the stream’s source, and silver Yarkon bream swim in the stream and in a discrete pool near its spring. Other denizens of the stream include Nile soft-shelled turtles, tilapias, catfish, mosquito fish, coypus, terrapins, mallards, moorhens, swamp cats, and porcupines. Vestiges of Canaanite palaces and a Roman odeon (music theater) are found at Tel Aphek, and a 16th century Turkish fortress, Pinar Basha, crowns Tel Aphek near the stream. In the modern era, cities that have cropped up in the vicinity include Petah Tikvah, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, and Tel Aviv. General Edmund Allenby crossed the stream with his British army during his campaign against the Ottoman Turks in 1917. From the 1950s, the stream became increasingly polluted, but hydrological rehabilitation efforts have greatly improved the water quality in recent years. Since 1955, much of the Yarkon’s headwaters have been diverted via the National Water Carrier to the Negev Desert for irrigation purposes.
  13. Sorek – A stream flowing through the Sorek Valley in the tribal territory of Judah, where the Israelite judge Samson encountered the duplicitous Philistiness, Delilah. Several of its tributaries feature waterfalls. The Sorek served as the boundary between the original (southwestern) tribal territory of Dan and Philistia, and the Philistine city of Ekron and the Israelite city of Beit Shemesh were located proximate to the stream. Today the old Jerusalem-Tel Aviv railway parallels the watercourse.
  14. Kisalon – A Judean river flowing for over 12 miles through the Jerusalem hills from Mount Adar to the outskirts of Beit Shemesh in the Sorek Valley. The Kisalon features the picturesque spring of Ein Hemed (Aqua Bella), where a Crusader farm house dating from the 1100s and probably belonging to the Knights Hospitaler is preserved. Today the Kisalon bypasses Martyrs’ Forest, whose 6 million trees commemorate the Jewish victims of the Shoah.
  15. Gerar – A brook that rises from the southwest foothills of the Judean hills and courses westward through rich pastoral country in the northwestern Negev Desert and past several ancient Egyptian archeological sites dating from the Bronze Age. During the subsequent Iron Age, the Gerar brook and the royal city of the same name were under Philistine control. The Philistine ruler, King Avimelekh of Gerar, took the matriarch Sarah captive when Abraham had to sojourn in Gerar for a time due to famine; later Isaac likewise sojourned in Gerar for identical reasons, and soon dwelt in the river valley and unstopped the wells of his father Abraham that the Philistines had since filled up with earth. Here Isaac’s servants dug two new wells of living water, called Esek and Sitnah, of which the Philistines contested ownership, then a third well called Rehovot that went uncontested. The brook also flowed near the Philistine fortress of Ziklag, where David and his followers lived for a period while hunted by an unstable King Saul of Israel. Thereafter King Asa of Judah battled against Zerah the Ethiopian and his vast army and hundreds of chariots, pursuing the fleeing Ethiopians from Mareshah to Gerar, routing them and despoiling the local towns. In a hasty treaty between the Seleucid (Syrian-Greek) ruler Emperor Antiochus V Eupator (and his regent Lysias) and the Hasmonean hero Judah Maccabee, Gerar served as the southern border of the coastal region under Seleucid control. The city of Gerar has been identified with several ruins, perhaps most convincingly with the large mound known as Tel Haror/Tel Abu Hurayra. Today the Gerar brook bypasses the Bedouin town of Rahat, as well as the town of Netivot and village of Re’im.
  16. Besor – The largest stream in the northern Negev Desert, extending for almost 50 miles from Mount Boker across the Agur-Halutza sand dunes and the Gaza Strip to the Mediterranean Sea. In his pursuit of the Amalekites, who had attacked and burnt his haven of Ziklag, David left behind at the brook 200 of his 600 men, who safeguarded their possessions while the other 400 ventured off to war. The Besor has numerous tributaries and floods yearly after heavy rains.
  17. Jordan (Yarden) – The primary watercourse in the Land of Israel, formed by the confluence of a trio of headwater streams (Snir/Hatzbani, Dan, Banias) at the base of Mount Hermon. The Jordan (“the descender” or “descending from Dan”) extends for about 225 miles southward through Lakelet Hula and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and continues descending southward along a significant gradient until as a delta it empties into the north shore of the Dead Sea. Declining some 3,000 feet from its northern source to its southern mouth, the Jordan is shallow in summertime and profound in wintertime. Its usually swift current ferries considerable silt, and the salinity of its water increases as it nears the Dead Sea. Coursing through luxuriant vegetation, the river features some 31 fords, and possesses the lowest elevation of any river in the world. In the period of the conquest and resettlement of the Land of Israel, the Israelites followed Joshua across the Jordan near Jericho. When the men of Reuven, Gad, and eastern Menasheh departed from the rest of the Israelite tribes, they paused while still on the western riverbank of the Jordan and erected a large altar to serve as a symbolic “witness” attesting to the fact that they, too, had a share in the God of Israel. The Jordan was the tribal border between eastern Menasheh, Gad, and Reuven to the east (in Transjordania) and Naphtali, Issachar, western Menasheh, Ephraim, and Benjamin to the west (in Cisjordania). In the period of the Judges, Gidon adjured the Ephraimites to capture the lower fords to prevent the Midianites and their chieftains Orev and Ze’ev from fording the Jordan, and later Yiftah and the Gileadites secured the lower fords and slew 42,000 Ephraimites in battle after the Ammonites had been defeated. In time King Solomon of Israel established his brass-foundries in the thick clay by the Jordan’s riverbanks between Sukkot and Tzartan. The river’s water was deemed unfit for ritual use in the Temple due to its impurity. The prophets Elijah and Elisha both forded the Jordan dry-shod after striking it with Elijah’s rolled-up cloak, thereby dividing it. Elisha performed further riverine miracles when he directed the disease-ridden Aramean general Na’aman to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan’s waters, which healed Na’aman’s skin, and when he caused an iron axe blade to float up from the Jordan’s depths after one of his prophetic disciples had inadvertently dropped it into the river. In the Hasmonean era, Judah Maccabee and Jonathan Maccabee crossed the Jordan prior to their rescue campaign in Gilead; later, after Judah’s death, Jonathan Maccabee, Shimon Maccabee, and their force of Maccabean freedom fighters bivouacked by the marshes and thickets of the Jordan during their campaign against the formidable Seleucid (Syrian-Greek) general Bacchides, at one point swimming across the river after routing the enemy. Jesus of Nazareth was baptized in the river by his relative John. In the modern era, half a dozen bridges were erected to span the river, including: Arik Bridge, between Galilee and the Golan Heights; Jordan River Crossing/Sheikh Hussein Bridge, a border crossing, between Galilee and Jordan; Gesher Adam/Damiya Bridge, between Samaria and Jordan; and Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, another border crossing, between Judea and Jordan. The malign attempt by Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan to divert the river’s headwaters in 1965 was a contributing factor to the ensuing Six-Day War of 1967. Immortalized in the Tanakh, the Jordan has been celebrated further in many spiritual hymns and folk songs. Today the river is used for irrigation in order to grow fruits and vegetables and for recreational rafting, and remains revered by Christians as a baptismal site.
  18. Yarmuk – The largest tributary of the Jordan River, with its sources amid a lava plateau in the Golan Heights. The narrow and shallow Yarmuk flows with many convolutions southwestward, widening and deepening as it joins the Jordan several miles south of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). The river has its own tributaries, which feature numerous waterfalls. The Yarmuk served as the northern boundary of the Transjordanian geographical region of Gilead. According to the Mishnah, its water was deemed unfit for ritual use because it was “mixed”, which the medieval sage Eshtori HaParhi explained meant blended with the waters of Hamat Gader (Gadara), whose hot springs the Yarmuk skirts. In the Talmud, the amora Johanan bar Nappaha asserts that the Yarmuk is second only to the Jordan (in volume) among Israel’s rivers. In 636 CE, the Battle of Yarmuk River proved to be a decisive victory for the Muslim Arabs under Khalid ibn al-Walid against Theodorus Trithurius and the Byzantine Christians, whose Armenian and Christian Arab allies had deserted them. In 1946, during Operation Markolet (a.k.a. “The Night of the Bridges”), the Haganah bombed the Hejaz Railway bridge spanning the Yarmuk. For most of its length (approx. 50 miles) it serves as the northeastern border between Israel and Jordan.
  19. Kireet (Cherith) – An eastern tributary of the Jordan River where Elijah the prophet was divinely directed to hide and dwell, there to be sustained by the brook’s water and fed by its ravens who brought him bread and meat morning and evening. When the brook dried up during the drought which he had foretold, Elijah was directed to move on to be sustained by the widow of Tzarfat.
  20. Yabok (Jabbok) – The second-largest tributary of the Jordan River, joining the latter between Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and the Dead Sea. Stretching some 62 miles, the Yabok emanates from a spring proximate to Rabat-Ammon and divides mountainous Gilead into two. After departing Haran, the patriarch Jacob forded the Yabok en route to his long-awaited yet dreaded reunion with his brother Esav. He conveyed his household and their possessions across the Yabok, and that night at the site known thereafter as Penuel (Peniel), a future capital of the Kingdom of Israel, he wrestled with a mysterious figure until daybreak. The Yabok served as the Ammonite-Amorite frontier—the dominion of the Amorite king Sihon extended between the Yabok and Arnon rivers—until the Amorites were defeated by Moses and the Israelites in the preliminary stages of the conquest and resettlement of Canaan. It subsequently served as the boundary between the Israelite tribes of Reuven and Gad to the south and Ammon to the north, and coursed by the Israelite capitals of Penuel and Mahanaim, as well as the town of Sukkot. During the Hellenistic era, the Yabok also functioned as the border of the domain of a prominent Jewish clan, the Tobiads. Thereafter the Romans erected a bridge spanning the Yabok. In Arabic the Yabok is called the Zarqa.
  21. Heshbon – An intermittent stream in Transjordania descending westward from the vicinity of the town of Heshbon in the heights of Moab through a verdant ribbon toward the longer watercourse Wadi al-Kafrein, which it joins in the Jordan River Valley north of the Dead Sea. The stream served as the boundary between the tribal territories of Gad to the north and Reuven to the south, and as the southern boundary of the geographical region Gilead. The oft-contested town of Heshbon first belonged to Moab, then served as the capital of King Sihon of the Amorites, then was allotted by Moses to the tribal territory of Reuven, then became a Levitical city in the tribal territory of Gad, then was reclaimed by King Mesha of Moab, then was reconquered by the Hasmonean ruler King Yannai Alexander of Judea, then became a military veterans’ colony in Perea (most of Gilad and the Mishor) under King Herod the Great. In the Songs of Songs, the male persona romanticizes his beloved with the description, “your eyes [are] like the pools in Heshbon”. Ruins of a reservoir are extant at the town.
  22. Arnon – The meandering Arnon flows northward then westward through limestone hills and a steep gorge into the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, opposite Ein Gedi. It extends for approximately 50 miles, is alternately broad and narrow, and deepens considerably (down to about 10 feet) during winter. It served as the boundary between the Amorites in the north and the Moabites in the south; after the Israelite conquest, it similarly divided the tribe of Reuven to the north and Moab to the south. King Mesha of Moab mentions the Arnon, and the roads (or fords) across it that he constructed, in his famous stele. The Arnon’s fords were indeed a critical link along the King’s Highway that traversed Transjordania from Eilat to Damascus. The river figures in the Tanakh when it cites “the lords of Arnon’s heights”, when the prophet Isaiah avers that the “daughters of Moab at the fords of the Arnon are like fluttering birds pushed from the nest”, and when the prophet Jeremiah relates the divine prophecy declaring: “Proclaim it by the Arnon that Moab has been laid waste”. The largest settlement in the vicinity in ancient times was the city of Aroer. In the Hasmonean era, the region was claimed by Johanan Hyrcanus and his son King Yannai Alexander, with the Arnon again serving as the boundary between the Judean kingdom to the north and Nabatea to the south. In the Roman era, a legion was stationed by the Arnon to secure the Eilat-Bozrah road crossing it. The Sages instituted a special blessing (“Blessed be He who performed miracles for our forefathers at this place.”) upon seeing the Arnon in commemoration of a legendary miracle that occurred when the Ark of the Covenant caused the ambuscading Amorites to be crushed in their cavernous hideouts, allowing the Israelites to proceed unmolested northward across the mountains of Gilead. The Arnon also became renowned for its plentiful fish and diverse wildlife.
  23. Zered – A river flowing northwestward through a deep rift into the south shore of the Dead Sea. The Zered extends for some 28 miles and served as the border between Moab to the north and Edom to the south, and was a camping site of the Israelites in their approach to the Promised Land. The river features on the Madaba Map south of Kerak.
  24. Tze’elim – Named after its shady lotus trees, the Tze’elim stream courses from the Hebron hills through the Judean Desert toward the Dead Sea between Ein Gedi and Masada. The stream bypasses a trio of caves and four pools of water.
  25. Tzin – The largest seasonal stream in the Negev Desert, rising in the northwest of the erosion cirque Makhtesh Ramon and flowing northward then eastward for almost 75 miles through an arid limestone landscape. The watercourse meanders south of Kibbutz Sde Boker through the narrow Ein Avdat canyon, which features springs, waterfalls, and pools, as well as poplar trees and saltbush shrubs. Ibexes forage for provender in the area, and birds of prey (eagles, hawks, vultures) and bulbul songbirds hunt and swoop overhead. The wilderness of Tzin was where the Israelite spies began their reconnaissance mission in Canaan; where the Israelites encamped after Etzion-Gever (near Eilat); where Miriam died and was buried; where at Kadesh Moses twice struck the rock he was divinely instructed to speak to, which gushed forth the water of Meribah; and where the southern border of the Promised Land traversed between Ma’aleh Akrabbim and Kadesh Barnea. Today the stream is known for its surging flash floods after heavy rainfall in winter, and the area is popular among hikers.
  26. Paran – Coursing for over 93 miles through the Negev Desert and Sinai Peninsula, the Paran stream is the widest and third longest watercourse in Israel. The Paran wilderness is traversed by Wadi el-Arish’s eastern affluents. This beige desert landscape, southwest of the Tzin river valley and north of the Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea, was where King Chedarlaomer of Elam and his royal alliance assailed the Horites. Abraham’s concubine Hagar was dispatched from Be’ersheva to Paran with her son Ishmael, who in this locus became an archer and married an Egyptian wife. During their wilderness wanderings, the Israelites traveled from the Sinai Desert and via Hatzerot encamped at Paran. Moses dispatched the 12 Israelite spies into Canaan from Paran, to which they returned after reconnoitering for 40 days, and later he addressed the people “between Paran and Tophel and Lavan and Hatzerot and Di Zahav”. Later the fugitive David, having effected a temporary truce with King Saul of Israel, retreated to Paran after the death of the prophet Samuel. Thereafter the young royal scion of Edom, Hadad, fled King David and Yoav his general, escaping to Midian then crossing Paran and collecting local men there to join them in their flight to Egypt. In the Roman era, a road traversed the area. Today the stream is known for its flash floods in wintertime, and the surrounding desert for its recently introduced population of Arabian oryxes.

The Hebrew language contains numerous words denoting rivers, including: nahar (river); ziroa nahar (tributary); nahal (stream/brook/watercourse); peleg (rivulet/stream/streamlet/brook/runnel); peleg katan (rill); meephratzon (creek); arutz (creek/channel); ti’alla (canal/channel); apheek (trough/streambed/riverbed/watercourse); niteev mayim (waterway); zerem (stream/flow/flux/gush); sheteph (flow/flood/stream); and shephekh (estuary).

Without the life-sustaining watercourses of the Land of Israel, the history of the Jewish people would have been certainly very different and almost certainly much shorter.

The State of Israel’s sophisticated water usage allows for the irrigation of farmlands and arid desert, but such diversions of water must be delicately balanced with the ecological needs of riverine wildlife and riparian plants dependent upon the sustained flow of watercourses along their original channels. Toward this end, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has designated many important rivers, riverbanks, springs, waterfalls, and pools as protected nature reserves, and facilitated the continuous or seasonal efflux, and when necessary the rehabilitation, of Israel’s cherished rivers.

About the Author
Brandon Marlon is an award-winning Canadian-Israeli author whose writing has appeared in 300+ publications in 32 countries. He is the author of two poetry volumes, Inspirations of Israel: Poetry for a Land and People and Judean Dreams, and two historical reference works, Essentials of Jewish History: Jewish Leadership Across 4,000 Years and its companion volume Essentials of the Land of Israel: A Geographical History.
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