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Behind the Headlines in Constructing Massive Dams on Golan Heights

The Syrian flag flutters from a battered Mosque minaret in Kuneitra, hardly two miles away. The stark hills of “Tel Bental” and “Tel Avital”–so tenaciously fought over by both Syrians and Israelis in last spring’s disengagement talks. and for such obviously valid strategic reasons-cast their shadow on the valley below where the great yellow bulldozers and earth-movers, like clumsy, powerful monsters, heap up the grey stones and brown earth onto the sides of a huge dam that stretches away into the distance.

Before the rains begin, probably next month. the Jewish National Fund hopes to have finished the 1500-meter-long, nine-meter high dam, and when the torrents gush down from the looming bills above, and the now-dry wadi of “Nahal Kuneitra” flows swiftly again, their waters will not go to waste, but will be trapped by the dam in a massive reservoir.

Some 3.2 million cubic meters of water will be gathered in this way, it is hoped, by the time the last snows have melted from the Mt. Hermon peaks stretching away to the north. These waters will all be channeled to the nearby fruit orchards of Kibbutz Merom Hagolan, and its neighboring kibbutzim Ein Zivan and Al Rom. The Golan is famed throughout the area for its big red juicy apples, and the three kibbutzim devote much of their arable land to their apple orchards. Until now, the main problem has been water for irrigation.

Though close to a meter of rainfall is recorded in the Kuneitra region annually, the waters used to flow away to waste and by the summer the orchards languished dry. The JNF dam will it is hoped, enable the kibbutzim to increase and intensify their fruit-growing.

PROJECTS BEGUN AND IN THE WORKS

Near “Tel Avital.” JNF bulldozers have now finished clearing a 60-dunam area upon which the first “industrial center” of north Golan will be established. The project calls initially for a fruit-processing and fruit-packing plant in whose building and operating the three kibbutzim will cooperate jointly.

The reservoir in the north is one of three now nearing completion. In Butmiya in the center of the Golan Heights, and at Hital in the south, two more waterworks have been built, at a cost of millions, to help irrigate the orchards of Ramat Magshimim and the other kibbutzim and moshavim in the south of the Golan.

The Butmiya project is the smallest. Its purpose is to conserve the waters of natural springs in the region, and it will provide an estimated one-quarter million cubic meters of water for the Ramat Magshimim apple orchard. The most impressive project is at Hital where a flock of ducks and geese are already to be seen making their stately progress through the still shallow waters of a huge man-made lake shored up by massive dikes.

Much of the work on both the Merom Golan and Hital projects had been completed before the Yom Kippur War–when both reservoirs were overrun by the Syrians in their thrust to the south. But apart from broken pipes and min or damage to netting fences, no major damage was inflicted either on the dams or on the expensive earth-moving equipment and massive pumping equipment which diffuses the water to the neighboring fields.

“They either weren’t interested, or they just didn’t have the time to blow it all up,” says Haim Graff, the man in charge of JNF land reclamation work in north Golan. Haim Osherovitz, Graff’s opposite number in charge of southern Golan, recalls how work on the Butamiya dam began only three days before the war and had to be suspended for a good many months after because of the shortage of heavy tractors and earth-movers.

DEVELOPMENT OF FIRST URBAN CENTER

Supervising the work both at Merom Golan reservoir and at Butmiya is “Shimshon” (no one in the Golan knows what his last name is–everyone knows him as “Shimshon”), a member of Merom Golan who is now full-time on the JNF payroll. “The JNF is the key factor in the development of agriculture in the Golan at this time,” Shimshon says plainly. In his remarks, and in those of some other kibbutz members, there is a veiled note of disdain for “Mekorot.” the government-owned water company, which the kibbutzniks feel has not contributed much to solving their irrigation problems.

Perhaps the most exciting project on the Golan, but one which is still very much in its tentative stage, is the development of an urban center–the first in the region–in an area near Hushniya, scene of the most bitter fighting in the war. The township would house professional soldiers and civilian experts attached to army units in the region, as well as workers and technicians employed in the science-based industries which, it is hoped. will be developed in the area.

So far, the site of the town has hardly been touched. Two JNF bulldozers have cleared away the vegetation across an area of 1500 square meters, and now the Ministry of Housing surveyors are due to begin preliminary work with their instruments and calculations before the actual blueprints are drawn up. Of course, the pace of progress will depend on funds available, but the Defense Ministry is known to be pressing for speedy construction of the township since it is hard pressed to find accommodation for its employes in the northern Galilee villages and settlements.

When–and if–it is built, the township will be magnificently situated, in the stark and quiet countryside of the Golan with a magnificent view of Lake Kinneret stretching away in the distance below.

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