Introduction to Wanderings 19: Oja – A Journey to an Unknown Land

I was already planning to head south from the Judean Desert and spend the winter in the warm south with the little notebook and Her Majesty, when Tamir, a relative from Kibbutz Gilgal, offered me a short visit north to the Jordan Valley and get to know Omar and Naama from Einot Kedem farm near Uja. And so, for more than two weeks now, I have been finding myself in an unknown land, which is taking shape and soul, skin and tendons, and filling my heart with love and elation.

At the end of the farm

I settled on the edge of the farm, the trailer overlooks the wide channel of the Vahita River, and the coffee corner is sheltered in the shade of the Victoria Method which is a cultural emission… like me. In the bus grow a few wild juniper trees, on one of which I discovered a nest with two nitrogenous chicks and the mother who betrayed their position on the top of the tree. Up in the wadi is a rare group of Egyptian comb trees neatly combed and beautiful fruits and tops. Across the wadi lies an orchard of palm trees of the Majhool variety, flanked by an olive grove. On the horizon above the orchards are the mountains of Samaria that reveal their desert side towards me. Right in front of me, a triangular gate opens in them, from which Wadi Uja emerges, which means “curved” from Western to Hebrew.

Naama and Omar raise sheep and goats, a palm grove, olive trees, mangoes ... and seven children on the farm.  Photos: Ronen Raz

Naama and Omar raise sheep and goats, a palm grove, olive trees, mangoes and seven children on the farm. Photos: Ronen Raz

Naama and Omar came to the Uja Valley sixteen years ago and were given state land “for fact and guard,” as Omar tells around the fire for a new cycle of shinshinim who are about to reach a year of service on the farm. Since then, they have been raising sheep and goats, a palm grove, olive trees, mangoes and seven children on the farm. In addition to agriculture, they are developing the farm into a tourist and hiking center and are currently renovating wooden huts for B & Bs. Naama conducts workshops for women on sexuality, healing vulnerability and preparation for childbirth. Both are engaged in education and take under their care boys and girls from all over the country. The farm has an atmosphere of work and creation that does not stop for a moment, alongside the natural serenity of the place. Boys and girls learn discipline and taking responsibility. They learn to take care of the animals, go out to pasture with the flock of sheep, take care of the patches and goats, herd the vegetable beds, take care of the orchards, drive the tractor, patrol the ATV and patrol at night with spotlights. In the evening, they gather in the kitchen, and prepare a joint meal together. There seems to be no one left behind, and everyone is caught up in the action.

Moshiko is a boy from Yeruham who has been on the farm for two years. “Before that” he testified about himself “I did not study at all, and I knew nothing. My parents are religious and I love them and travel to visit them from time to time, but at home I unloaded any burden and no one could on me” I asked him if it came to criminal acts. “No,” he said, “but I was not far.” He is now a skilled skilled worker who takes responsibility. He builds a shed in the pen himself, plans, cuts irons, welds, and tells that here he learned everything. I asked how he explains the upheaval he went through. He replied “Here is Omar who does not give up on anyone, and I turn to him in everything and anything, there is discipline and I feel I work and study every moment”.
“He came with a lot of desire,” says Yossi, a former carob patrol fighter who also came to the farm and lives there, and educated Moshiko in the carpentry shop for which he is responsible. “Two years ago I came to build a shed voluntarily at a monument to the carob patrol fighters. The place suited me. I talked to Omar and stayed and worked as a carpenter on the farm ever since.”

A collection of Uja malls

The Uja Valley gathers a cluster of impressive canyons that descend to it from the mountains of Samaria. Few have heard of them and frequent them nowadays. The canyons cut through the eastern slopes of the Samaria Mountains and descend steeply to the Uja Valley and from there to the Jordan Valley. Nahal Makoch, Nahal Vahita and Nahal Yitav is Wadi Uja, they are the three main ones. I went hiking in these three streams for three full days from morning to evening. I started the routes high on the eastern slopes of Samaria, in the settlements on Derech Alon, Ma’ale Mikhmas , Pomegranates and the star of dawn.The view widens the chest and is breathtaking at the same time, despite the contradiction heard between them.The canyons abound in caves some of which were used for the residence of solitary monks, and this winter season after several floods the backs were already full and inviting for bathing. Sheep and goats grazed on them, and shepherd Bedouin children rode donkeys on the steep paths and returned with a shy and inquisitive smile for a preliminary smile.In the alluvial fans of these streams developed an advancement of juvenile jujube trees from the most beautiful and impressive in the Middle East. Stan in India.

Monks' solitary nests in Wadi Uja

Monks’ solitary nests in Wadi Uja

Mall and Whita

Mall and Whita

Wadi Makoch and the monks' caves

Wadi Makoch and the monks’ caves

In Nahal Makoch

In Nahal Makoch

Plenty of deer in the Land of Israel roamed the wild areas and agricultural fields of the Uja ValleyPlenty of deer in the Land of Israel roamed the wild areas and agricultural fields of the Uja Valley

Deer War

Deer War

Once upon a time, during rainier periods, a tropical climate and common jujube trees prevailed here, an Egyptian zucchini, a moringa rotema, a foot palm and many others grew here in abundance. Since the Earth dried up, tropical forests have retreated to Africa, and along the long rift valley there remain pockets of hot tropical climate and abundant spring water, including the Uja Valley and Jericho.
I went on a safari trip in the landscape of an African savannah with the largest concentration of jujube trees in the country. Plenty of Eretz Israel deer roamed the wild areas and agricultural fields of the Uja Valley, between the farm and the Bedouin settlements. I watched groups of short-horned females and young goats. Thick-horned males roamed alone with confidence and an upright neck. Adolescents flocked in small groups of single males, comforting themselves in fellowship, and occasionally slapping each other to present their masculinity in preparation for the day when they would muster the courage to challenge the older males and lead the female harem. At night I went on a tour with a powerful spotlight and apart from the fact that I was afraid of a number of deer from their sleep, I also watched jackals and foxes. The Shenshins who guard at night are numbers who occasionally encountered hyenas and badgers as well.

Ein Uja

Ein Uja is the source of life of this valley. It is a powerful spring that bursts from the ground in the lower Wadi Uja at the power of a river and during its short course fills large pools and flows between them in impressive waterfalls. Many Israeli hikers are familiar with the “Glue of the Uja” which is where the modern aqueduct that feeds on the spring descends steeply down a hill straight to the pool. I remember that thirty years ago, the “brave” among us would glide in her mother and be thrown into the pool. Some would come out with shoulders and shoulders perfectly polished. do not try this at home.

Over two thousand years ago the Hasmoneans, followed by the Jewish-Red King Herod, became acquainted with the virtues of the place, drew long aqueducts from the lush springs of Wadi Kelt and Wadi Uja (the Euphrates and Vita River if you will) to build their winter palaces in Jericho with plenty of swimming pools , Extensive ornamental gardens and orchards in which they produced perfume from the persimmon plant and date wine.

Herod's Winter Palace in Jericho

Herod’s Winter Palace in Jericho

Today Ein Uja and the modern aqueducts are a sought-after entertainment site for the Arabs of the territories. Families from Nablus in northern Samaria to Yatta in the southern Hebron Mountains come daily to spend time by the river and the aqueducts. They spread out mats, make tea and coffee, smoke a hookah, and open a table of all good things by the water. Only the kids frolic in the water… and I. Four young men and an older woman invited me to join them for tea and coffee. I answered in the affirmative. They came from Nablus, three brothers and their mother, and a friend who speaks basic Hebrew and his name is Yusuf. The atmosphere was good and tea with cheat, sage in Hebrew, sweet and incredibly delicious. When we parted, one of the brothers, who was impressed by my long hair, told me that he had a haircut and invited me to have his hair cut in Nablus. Yusuf added that on that occasion we would go for a walk in Wadi Kana together, and we would also have a picnic on the fire and smoke a hookah. I took the phone number.

Uja River near the spring

Uja River near the spring

The place is beautiful but very dirty. Many of the hikers leave behind the garbage left behind, empty bottles, disposable dishes, cans and everything else הנאה The place that made them happy remains dirty behind them. I also saw one family bothering and collecting, mostly the women, their and their trash in trash bags. I was happy to see buds of environmental cleanliness among the Arabs of the territories.

Sheikh Ahmad of the Bedouin tribe of Ka’abna, lives in Ras Ein Uja al-Fawka. He speaks neither Hebrew nor English, nor any of his children and grandchildren. Somehow I extract from him that both his father and his grandfather and as far as he knows his family has always lived here near the spring. A good place, there is always water, and if there is no grass then in summer go up with the sheep to the mountains. The old sheikh moves on to a long monologue starring the heart and Allah, but after an effort I am forced to give up, concentrating on sipping sweet tea with mint, and scolding myself for not being able to learn even basic Arabic, even after taking an annual course.
At the other end of the settlement lives Naif. He works for a Jew from Netiv HaGdud, a moshav in the Jordan Valley, and therefore does quite well in Hebrew. I breathe a sigh of relief and the conversation flows. He is a member of the Rashida tribe that is mostly found in the desert book of the Bethlehem sub-district. His father who is over eighty years old came here as a small child with his grandfather and family. He was born here and today he is forty-three years old, and has eight children, half boys and half girls. We sit next to a pile of hay and drink coffee leisurely. “And where do you live?” He asks me, and I answer that I live in a trailer on wheels, and to be sure he understands I show him a picture. Naif laughs and tells me “you are the real Bedouin from time immemorial, not me, you are tired you keep wandering on until you stop. I am like a Bedouin but all my life I have not moved from here”, and we both roll with laughter together with his children sitting with us.

Naif and I roll with laughter

Naif and I roll with laughter

In the afternoon everyone returned to the houses, the sheep to the herd, the Bedouin to the tent or hut, and the farm people to their homes. Each of them seems to feel at home here in their own way. I continued and traveled with Arhaleh, a new acquaintance from the Jordan Valley who took me for an evening out, to a spectacular show of… the starlings’ overnight flight. Beyond the fences and locks we descended through Jordan Square to a small reed in the pride of the Jordan. On the way we were greeted by hundreds of storks who preferred to spend the winter here on the light poles, tens of thousands of inks that are birds of prey rummaging through the garbage, large black cormorants and noisy cockroaches. But the most spectacular show of all, as always, is the show that comes last. A cloud of starlings emerged with a sunset from the horizon, and for a long time danced against the gray sky, stretched and contracted, parted and re-merged like plasticine in a cartoon. The cloud was fully reflected in the calm waters of the lake and seemed to double the experience. A cosmic sonata from another world played in my head, of orderly chaos, of nature renewed, disintegrating and forming at the same time. In the last light the cloud entered an ecstatic rhythm of transformation, then in one fell swoop spread its wings and descended from the skies to the ground. And there will be evening and there will be night in the valley.

Map of the Uja area:

Courtesy of Cloud Pillar and Mapping Center

Courtesy of Cloud Pillar and Mapping Center

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