Israeli Attractions: Date Palms of the Jordan Valley and Arava

With the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel, the land itself reawakened. The miracle of reblossoming was the stuff of spy novels no less, as the story of the Jordan valley date palms reveals.

Jordan Valley Date Plantation along Dead Sea (Photo - Rimona Traub)

With the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 C.E and the exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel, the land itself withheld its produce, remaining desolate until the mass return of Jews from 1882 onwards.

Mark Twain described this desolation in his book entitled “Innocents Abroad”, written after his trip to the Holy land in 1869. “Of all the lands are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull in color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent.”

Ben Zion Israeli(1887-1954), a founder of both the Kinneret Yard, an agricultural training farm founded on the shores of the Kinneret in 1908 and the Kinneret collective settlement which comprised of idealistic pioneers who believed in a communal lifestyle based on agriculture, particularly date palms and founded in 1913.

In the 1930’s he was sent by the Zionist settlement too locate high quality palm species. Accompanied by Amram Raver, a member of the Kinneret community and fluent Arabic speaker, he embarked on clandestine trips to Iraq, Egypt, Kurdistan & Persia where he met with Jewish communities. In Iraq he visited the Jewish communities of Bagdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Basra. In Egypt he met the Jewish community that resided in El Arish and in Kurdistan he visited the Jewish community of Sindoor.

On acquiring the palm species, he rented trucks to transport the plants across the desert. When arriving in what was then referred to as Palestine, the palm branches were sent to nurseries for rehabilitation and preparation for planting. The Dorshan farm in the Jordan Valley provided the rehabilitated palms to the Bet Shean & Jordan Valley communities, and Kibbutz Yotvata was the source of the rehabilitated palms for the Arava.

Date Harvest Time – in the Jordan Valley (Photo – Rimona Traub)


On Ben Zion Israelis last trip in 1954 he was accompamied by Yani Avidav of Nahalal, a member of the Mossad who was involved in the Aliyah Bet operation which brought “illegal Jewish immigrants” to the Holy Land from 1934 until the establishment of the state in 1948. In addition, Yani Avidav was also involved in the Haganah defense associations purchase operations.

In 1954 whilst attending a memorial rally on Kibbutz Maagan for Jewish paratroopers from Israel who were killed in WW2, a piper aircraft crashed into the spectators killing Ben Zion Israeli. Yani Avidav completed the mission and used boats to smuggle palm branches from Iraq to Persia, who at the time had good relations with Israel.

From Persia he rented a ship to transport the branches to Israel. In order to travel through the Suez Canal, the ship hoisted an Italian flag and had false papers which specified Europe as the ships final destination. The palm branches arrived at Kibbutz Kvutsot on the shores of the Kinneret. The palm branches from Iraq were of the Hadrawi,Sair and Hallawi species, however today the most common fruitful species come from North Africa.

The trees that no longer produced fruit were transferred to decorate the entrance of Ben Gurion Airport (Terminal 1) and an area within Dimona. In memory of Ben Zion Israeli, a monument was erected on Kibbutz Eilot in the Arava Valley.

In conclusion, to quote the prophet Ezekiel (36:8) ” But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come”. Chazal (Jewish sages) tell us that the prelude to the messianic era will be the reblossoming (cultivation) of Eretz Israel.


Ron Traub is a certified Israeli tour guide and can be reached by email at

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