Nearly every leader in the history of Israel has passed through the road between Zichron Ya’acov and the coastal plain, known as the Shfela. Here, on a hilltop overlooking Israel’s Carmel wine-growing district, about halfway between Haifa and Netanya, at the place known as Shuni Fortress, the slightest touch of a trowel turns up artifacts dating from 40 years ago, 100, 1,000…
There used to be a Roman amphitheater about 1,000 years ago on the site now known as Shuni Fortress. It was built on the ruins of a Talmudic Jewish village called Shuni, and there are indications that Rabbi Akiba was killed here, following his revolt against the Romans begun in Caesaria.
The Crusaders were here, too. It was they who built a fortress on foundations laid in Herodian times and later the Arabs converted this place into a granary. The Arabs called this place Bar Akab, a name strongly recalling the Hebrew Akiba.
Before the British left Palestine, Menachem Begin came to this place with the Irgun, and, under the nose of the British, set up an underground haven — aboveground. Who would have even thought that the Jews would set base right under the British Army’s nose? asked Shlomo Arieh, who in the early 1940’s shared his lot with Begin and other members of Etzel — acronym for Irgun Zva’i Le’umi.
DIG THEY MUST
Arieh, whose hobby is archaeology, showed the members of the Jewish National Fund assembly around the 30-acre site where American amateur archaeologists dug their way down through the promising layers of soil. Smiling and sweating under the noon sun, despite the wind, about 10 American volunteers — middle-aged women and one man, organized through B’nai B’rith, Hadassah and JNF — were exulting in their toil, digging down to untold treasures.
Charlotte and Saul Weinstein of Philadelphia have come to do something they have thought about for a long time, and more will come, over 100, for two or three months, to fulfill a lifelong dream, to dig up the past of Israel.
Once restored, Shuni Fortress is expected to become the center of a major JNF recreational park to commemorate Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Zionist Revisionist, and Israeli legend.
MAIN BASE OF IRGUN OPERATIONS
“This was the main base of operations of the Irgun,” said Arieh, gesturing here and there, showing people through a villa under renovation which, when complete, will reproduce the Irgun headquarters that was not at all hidden. He pointed up the hill, within easy sight of the dig, where, he said, the British were encamped.
For two full years, Arieh and fellow Irgun members lived in the building being revamped. The villa with the windows onto the coastal plain was the Irgun central commanders’ school, and it was from here that the Irgun embarked on their missions, including the attack on the Acre Fortress, which they emptied of prisoners in order to free their comrades sentenced to die.
Two years ago, JNF began sending in paid workers and volunteers to rebuild Shuni Fortress. An international youth camp was started here for educational and archaeological studies.
Helga Reder, a young Israeli woman volunteering on the dig, is looked upon as an expert by the Americans, who ask her for help at each step. “This is a young dig,” said Reder. “We know that a Roman theater existed here, but we don’t know in what condition we will find it.”
There five weeks, Reder said she had turned up some bronze coins. “There are stories that there were rooms with statues here,” she said She continued digging.
JNF PLANS FOR THE AREA
The land around Shuni Fortress was purchased in 1914 by Baron James de Rothschild’s Pika Land Purchasing Company for development by Jewish farmers, who were taught the tools of the agricultural trade at Shuni. After learning necessary skills, these farmers established the pioneer communities of Zichron Ya’acov (Ya’acov being Sir James Hebrew name), Givat Ada, Binyamina (another Rothschild) and Nahiat Jabotinsky.
Since 1948, Shuni has been uninhabited.
The JNF’s plans, estimated to cost $1 million, include a thoroughly developed area of about 15 acres, called Jabotsinky Park, neighboring Nahlat Jabotinsky. They intend to set up an amphitheater for special events, picnic areas, hiking facilities and parking areas. But its piece de resistance will be an archaeological garder surrounding Shuni Fortress. And, of course, there will be tens of thousands of trees, named for Jabotinsky.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.