Trip to Crocodilopolis

by Drew
March 13, 2013

'Nahal Taninim' and the missing crocodiles....


Trip to Crocodilopolis
Nahal HaTaninim, or the "Crocodile Stream" is a unique historical site nestled between the Ma'agan Michael kibbutz and the Arab Village of Jisr Azarka (def. the blue bridge). 

Nahal Taninim gets its name from the presense of crocodiles in the stream, dating back to Roman times. When I heard that I would get a chance to visit Nahal Taninim, and perhaps see some crocodiles in real life I couldn't wait to go! I asked our awesome tour guide, Uri,  if he would show me where the few remaining crocs lay a few days before my trip, and he said "of course!". 

There were a few legends as to how the crocodiles got there in the first place. In the first legend, there were twin brothers who ruled the ancient city Caesarea. One of the brothers suffered from leprosy and as a result would often have to bathe in the water. His brother, who wished to be the sole ruler, introduced the crocodiles into the river so that he could feed them- with his brother (!) thus leaving him the sole ruler of the land! Apparently he succeeded...
Crocodiles Were Once Part of the Landscape

The ancient name, Crocodilopolis, dating back to Persian and Helenistic periods suggest that crocodiles were present in the river since that time. It is more likely that the crocodiles were brought for the gladiator games held in neighboring Caesarea by the Romans. Regardless of how they got there, I was really excited to see them!
 When I arrived, I quickly started to search the stream waters. I saw a few different animals, but no crocodiless. "Where are the crocodiles!?" I asked Uri. 

"Oh, they haven't been around since 1912!" he said. "What!? Are you sure?!" I exclaimed. "It's true, they have been hunted into extinction". Apparently I had been fooled. Oh well, serves me right for being so gullible! After all, surely after six years of living in Israel I would have heard about crocodiles living in some stream by now. 

Despite my disappointment, I was at least happy to see this sign- the only of homage paid to our scaley friends of yore. Uri proceded to tell us the story behind what we were seeing all around us, and the history was pretty neat. 
The Dam

The History of the Dam
Apparently the whole point of this ancient establishment was for the Romans to raise water levels in order to supply the ancient city of Caesarea with additional water. A dam was erected (as you can see in the picture), and water was diverted to a network of channels that flowed downhill. 
Part of the Ancient Channels

The dam contiuned to function into the Byzantine period, and six flour mills were dug near the dam, operated by the power of water that flowed through the channels. 

The Regulatory Water Device
A regulartory water device was established, which regulated the water that was channeled into the low-level aqueduct and to the neighboring flour mills. During the Byzantine period, another channel was dug, which directed the water directly to the flour mills. After Caesarea's decline, the low-level aqueduct and the flour mills fell out of use. 

The Regulatory Water Device
The device consists of three deep passages, a higher one and a distribution pool. Wooden slats at the exits from the passages controlled the amount of water that was allowed to flow through. 

Crocodilopolis through the Ages
In the year 636, the area was destroyed by the Arab invasion of the 7th century. The area lied in wait until it was revitalized by the Crusaders and used on and off until the 14th century. 
One of the Water Mills
With the arrival of the Mamaluk's in the 14th century, all cities along the coast were destroyed to ensure that the Crusaders could not return. As a result, the coastal plain was abandoned and the dam ceased to function. As a result of the neglect, the entire area became a swamp. Between 1830-1840 the Ottomans were pushed back by the invading forces of Muhammad Ali, the Egyptian ruler at the time. Ali brought a North African tribe called the Gawarna (Swamp Dwellers) to settle the area because of their seeming immunity to Malaria (actually, this immunity was because they carried the Sickle Cell Gene, which prevents the Malaria paraside from attaching to the body's red blood cells). The descendents of the Gawarna helped the Zionist settlers of Zichron Ya'akov that arrived in the early 20th century to begin the process of draining the swamp. The residents of nearby Jisr Azarkaa are the decendents of the Gawarna tribe .
The Pipe Factory

The Pipe Factory
The Kabara Swamp was successfully drained between 1922 and 1932. A clay pipe factory was established here by the Baron de Rothschild, who purchased the land in the Kabara valley in order to develop the area. Unfortunately, the manufacture of the pipes here was unsuccessful, and clay pipes that were imported from France were used to drain the swamp instead. The drainage was accomplished by crisscrossing the 6,000 dunams of swamp with a network of pipes, the total length of which was 50 kilometers. The pipes capped 3,000 springs and directed their flow to an outlet channel. 

Nahal HaTaninim Today
Nahal HaTaninim- The Crocodile Stream
Currently, Nahal HaTaninim is a national park open to the public, where tours and activities are offered to visitors, groups and families. Although the main entrance is from Road 4 towards Jisr Azarka, an alternate (secret) entrance is located right near the SPNI's field school at Ma'gan Michael, where you can take a visit and learn about the surroundings. 
If you're lucky, your guide might even open the waterways so you can see the water wheels in action!

I had a wonderful time visiting Nahal HaTaninim even though the crocodiles have long been gone. But who knows? Maybe there are lone crocodiles hiding in the mist, coming out only when they know no one is around....

Category: Nature Trips

Tagged under: Nahal Taninim, Ceasarea, Jisr A-Zarka, Ma'agan Michael


Hiking at the Banias

by Ariel
February 15, 2013


Winter rains bring abundance of water

Nestled between the Golan and Upper Galilee, the Banias waterfalls offer an escape to paradise. Acting as a peaceful oasis, the Banias nature preserve offers hikers an easy trek and memories that will last a lifetime. Take a breathtaking visual tour of the Banias Waterfall reserve in Upper Galilee with our intern, Ariel.

There are some moments in your life when you take a step back and think, wow the world can be a beautiful place.  This is how I felt while hiking in the Banias.  

My name is Ariel, and I decided to take a semester to learn about the wonders of Israel.  The program I chose is called Aardvark Israel.  It is a program that involves volunteering and studying with experiencing Israel.  The program is great because it allows you to evolve from tourist to a member of the community.  As part of the program we travel Israel, seeing the sites, learning the history and becoming one with nature. The Banias, in my opinion it is one of the most beautiful places in Israel. 

Let me share it with you.

That’s me in the center

There are two entrances to the site, one near the waterfall and the other one a few minutes down the road, near the spring. The entrance fee to get into the reserve isn't expensive and is worth the money.

The first thing you see before even stepping on to the trail, is a view of the entire nature reserve.  If you think thats amazing, wait till you actually step foot in between the trees.


There are different trails that lead to different places and you can also choose a trail according to your level of difficulty.  This year I took the blue trail which brings you to the Banias Falls. 



The Banias falls is about 3.5 kilometres downstream from the spring. It is said to be more impressive during the winter or early spring, but the park is green and beautiful and worth a visit all year round.

Because of all the rain in Israel this year the water levels were much higher then usual.  As you can see this natural area is beautiful.


 It doesn't matter what part of the trail you are on, there is always something beautiful to see.   Take a second to breath in the fresh air and listen to the surrounding beauty, it is a very wonderful and refreshing feeling. This hike really brings you closer to nature.

Make sure to leave time for observing, you never know what you will find.

This is a picture of some caterpillars I found eating a leaf.
 There had to be at least 20 of them eating the same plant.

This area is a great place to spend time with friends and family and to be one with nature.  Enjoy the environment and all it can offer you, if you do you’ll see things you would never be able to imagine.

Enjoy your time with nature.  You never know what you’re going to see. 

To the springs - about 3 km east of Kibbutz Snir on road 99 (Kiryat Shmona-Mas’adeh)
To the waterfall-- about 2 km east of Kibbutz Snir on road 99

Opening Hours:
April-September: 8 A.M. -5 P.M.
October-March: 8 A.M.-4 P.M.
Entrance to site up to one hour before closing.  

On Fridays and Holiday Eve, the site closes one hour earlier. 

Phone Number:
Spring- 04-690-2577 (Outside Israel +972-4-690-2577)
Waterfall- 04-695-0272 (Outside Israel +972-4-695-0272) 

Category: Nature Trips

Tagged under: Banias, waterfall, nature hike, water


Environmental Education in Rahat

by Sadie
January 11, 2013


SPNI and the Bedouin Community

Just a few miles from Be’er Sheva, I had the opportunity to visit the Bedouin city of Rahat this week. With a population of over 50,000 people, Rahat is the largest Bedouin settlement in the world, and it is the only one in the country to have city status. As a recognized city, Rahat has the lowest socioeconomic status in Israel. It wasn’t long after my arrival before I was able to recognize the environmental damage that occurs within a Bedouin town. Throughout the city, it is evident that there is a serious lack of effort to protecting the environment, which is expressed through the neglect of public areas and the extreme excess of waste in the streets. Although the houses themselves are very well kept, local initiatives to improve the dire environmental situation are rare.

Social and Environmental Leadership Program participants
Surprisingly, efforts to improve the current situation are coming from the city’s youngest members. More than half of the city’s residents are under the age of 18, and they are working hard to improve the future of the environment. Six years ago, the Social and Environmental Leadership Program was established in Rahat through the efforts of Nader Alafinish and Aya Rimon. Although this innovative program was not easily implemented in such a disciplined and formal educational atmosphere, the youth are deeply responding to the new environmental material, and its effects are consequently rippling throughout the community. The program aims to empower youth in Rahat, creating a local youth leadership that will promote environmental and social activities to improve the welfare of the community and the environment. The program has successfully created graduates with high self-confidence and personal skills that demonstrate initiative and lead environmental action both in Rahat and abroad.

Garden at the school
Schools in Rahat participating in the Social and Environmental Leadership Program are already branching out to transform the community at large. I visited one school in Rahat which uses its compost for the school garden in which herbs, trees, and flowers are grown. The students are all active in the garden, labeling all of the different plants, learning about agriculture, and decorating its surroundings. The school also began a project which gave families within the school's community the opportunity to plant a tree of their own in the city. This project allows community members to beautify the city, feel more connected to their environment, and gain a heightened sense of responsibility to the land.

Herb garden at the school

Trees planted at the school

Students playing games- learning about garbage and recycling
I was also able to sit in on a classroom of students as they participated in the formal education program. The topic of the day was trash & recycling. They learned all about garbage--where it comes from, and where it ends up. They also learned about recycling, the symbols for recyclable materials, and what can/can’t be recycled. For the next class, they have plans to bring in recyclable materials so they can make something new from something old. An important lesson taught in this class was that it is always better to USE LESS. After the lesson was taught, the students played games, where they were quizzed about the information they had just learned. The class was so much fun! It was really something special to see how excited the students were to learn about these issues.

Two of the students showing each other the recycling label on the bottom of a plastic bottle
Playing games- The teacher was quizzing us on the information we learned in class
Display of items the students made out of recycled materials

Learning about compact fluorescent light bulbs
Lastly, I visited another school, where I was able to sit in on the informal education program-- an after school class which is taught for students who are specifically interested in learning more about environmental issues. Many of these students have been participating in the program for 4 or 5 years, others are first-years. Regardless of their age (grades 4-12), students participating in the program are busy leading environmental and social actions, volunteering in various projects such as planning  and running special event days, clean-up days, creating a tourism map of the city to encourage domestic consumption and tourism, rehabilitation of the city’s nursing home, and running a second-hand market for waste reduction. During my visit, the students in the class were learning about energy and sustainability. They compared incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, and learned more about sustainable ways to use energy. The students were all active in the conversation, and had many questions that were answered through demonstrations.

 It is truly amazing that this program is such a success in this deeply marginalized, low socioeconomic community. The program is making a big impact on the lives of not only the participants, but other members of the community as well. The program is touching the lives of program graduates, their friends, their families, neighboring residents, and additional students and teachers that do not take an active role in the program. Of the participating students, 72% have reported that their behavior has changed following the program. In addition, the success of the program has encouraged city hall to invest in environmental education programs and encouraged other organizations to initiate activities within the Bedouin sector.

An award that was given to the program by the government
It was such a great experience to have the opportunity to visit Rahat and see the students who are working so hard to improve environmental conditions in their communities. Their improved connection to the land in which they live is an important value to have, and is something they will pass on to their families and friends. At SPNI, We believe that creating a sense of belonging, providing tools for leadership, creativity, and initiative, and encouraging self-confidence are all essential to promote the city socially and environmentally.

Category: Education

Tagged under: Rahat, Arab Sector, Environmental Education, SPNI, Israel, Bedouin Sector


Entrer dans l’année de la Shmita

Lawrence Kasmir

A Roch Hachana 2014 a commence l’année de la shmita ou année sabbatique de la terre.

Lawrence réfléchit sur la signification de l’année sabbatique pour les activités spécifiques de la SPNI

A Roch Hachana 2014 a commence l’année de la shmita ou année sabbatique de la terre. Selon le Lévitique 25:1–7, tous les 7 ans, la terre d’Israël doit être laissée en jachère pour toute l’année, afin de lui redonner vie. Ce commandement est l’une des fondations de la pensée juive en ce qui concerne la protection de l’environnement et le développement durable.

La première conséquence est que de ce Roch Hachana jusqu’au prochain (Sept 2014-Sept 2015) les Juifs religieux considèrent que tous les fruits et légumes qui croissent en Israël sont saints et ne doivent pas être consommés. Cela entraine des difficultés pour l’agriculture et donc pour les jardins communautaires de la SPNI.

Pour empêcher que l’agriculture israélienne ne s’effondre lors des premières vagues importantes d’immigration, les rabbins inventèrent le concept de ‘Heter Mehira’ selon lequel les terres agricoles peuvent être temporairement vendues à des non-Juifs pour un an. Cette pratique est toujours en vigueur aujourd’hui. Une autre solution est la culture hydroponique dans laquelle les plantes ne poussent pas dans le sol.SPNI hosts a workshop in a Community Garden to prepare for the Sabbatical year.

La SPNI respecte la shmita israélienne et participe à la coalition des organisations nationales mise en place par l’ONG Teva Ivri (la Nature Israélienne) pour promouvoir tous les concepts de la shmita comme partie intégrante des valeurs sociétales israéliennes. Divers personnalités politiques, et pas seulement des partis religieux, s’impliquent pour promouvoir les valeurs sociales défendues par les règles de la shmita. Ainsi la députée Ruth Calderon fait la promotion d’un fond spécial pour aider les familles à se désendetter, ce qui est l’une des règles de la shmita.

Utilisant les recommandations de l’Institut pour la Torah et la Terre d’Israël (Machon HaTorah v’Haaretz), la SPNI a aidé la centaine de jardins communautaires qu’elle a lancés à suivre les lois de la shmita.


Cultiver un jardin maraîcher

Pour respecter l’injonction concernant les récoltes sur la Terre d’Israël durant cette année, la SPNI aide les jardins communautaires à préparer des parterres de fleurs qui ne sont pas « dans la terre ». Ces parterres sont construits avec une couche de nylon qui les isole de manière imperméable du sol. Ces parterres de fleurs ont aussi des murets et un toit qui les séparent de manière sure de la terre. SPNI workshop participants learn how to build special flower beds for the Shmitta year

Durant tout l’été, la SPNI a organisé des ateliers à Beerchéva, Haïfa, Jérusalem et Tel-Aviv pour montrer aux jardiniers comment préparer ces parterres de fleurs à l’aide de matériaux disponibles et bon marché. Plus de 150 personnes y ont participé.

Selon la loi de la shmita, la terre retourne pendant cette année à son état originel, sans propriétaire. Par conséquent tout ce qui y pousse n’appartient à personne. Les jardins communautaires ont adopté cette idée et ont diffusé dans leurs quartiers les horaires où tout un chacun pouvait venir cueillir les produits et les emmener chez lui, même s’il n’a aucun lien avec le projet. Ce partage crée une atmosphère positive dans la communauté et encourage les gens à manger plus sainement. Cela participe à la promotion des jardins communautaires.

L’élimination des déchets

Comme les fruits et légumes qui poussent cette année en Israël sont considérés comme saints ils ne peuvent être jetés simplement avec les ordures. Pour cela beaucoup d’Israéliens utilisent des sacs poubelles séparés et, là où cela est disponible, les poubelles marrons spéciales pour les déchets organiques. Les jardins communautaires de la SPNI en profitent pour offrir leurs services de compostage, les déchets organiques se transformant ainsi en engrais verts qu’ils peuvent ensuite utiliser. La plupart des municipalités israéliennes ont mis en place cette collecte séparée des ordures et l’année de la shmita est une excellente occasion pour amener de plus en plus d’Israéliens à adopter cette pratique.

Réduire la Consommation

L’année de la shmita est une bonne occasion pour réfléchir sur nos modes de consommation. SPNI  Community Garden participants build a flower bed to prepare for the sabbatical yearQuand toutes les récoltes sont saintes, on peut se poser des questions sur ce que nous achetons, consommons et jetons en termes de nourriture. L’un des préparatifs pour la shmita dans les jardins communautaires de la SPNI a été de vérifier l’état des systèmes d’irrigation qui y sont installés afin de s’assurer que l’eau n’y est pas gaspillée et que le montant délivré à chaque plante est celui dont elle a vraiment besoin et qu’il n’y a pas de fuites.


Nouvelles Opportunités

Dans le cadre de notre partenariat avec Shmitta Israelit nous mettons en place des projets d’étude sur les textes religieux et laïques dans les jardins communautaires, concernant les notions d’environnementalisme, de consumérisme et de développement durable.

Autre projet, la SPNI va installer des jardinières où faire pousser des douzaines de plantes différentes dans 50 écoles maternelles de la région de Modi’in. Selon des études effectuées en Inde, les plantes améliorent de manière significative la qualité de l’air dans l’école réduisant la poussière et les polluants qui s’y trouvent et augmentant sa teneur en oxygène. Cette amélioration de la qualité de l’air permettra de booster le développement des enfants et incitera les élèves à étudier la nature.
La shmita est avant tout liée à la Terre d’Israël, mais c’est aussi une opportunité pour réfléchir à notre rapport à la planète, à ce que nous consommons et pour essayer d’autres choses.

Category: Education

Tagged under: Communautés, Education à l’Environnement, Jardins Communautaires