The trail descends from the reservoir hill and makes its way eastward among field crops and groves of almond trees. About a kilometer after the reservoir it arrives at a trench. Here we need to turn right and walk along the bank of the trench for about 300 meters until we reach Ein Gideon, which is part spring, part well, and which is completely surrounded by a round stone wall about 25 meters in diameter. The water is said to rise from a source seven meters underground. A small jujube tree (Ziziphus spina-christi) is growing beside the spring, but it cannot provide shade for this bare patch of ground. This may be the spot marked on PEF (Palestine Exploration Fund) maps as Bir al-Mawaleh (“the salt well”): the water from this spring is indeed bitter and brackish.
The Kishon Drainage and River Authority, which has provided a great deal of assistance with the KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail, placed large boulders in the trench beside Ein Gideon, and these can be used as stepping stones. After crossing the trench we turn to the right and continue to walk alongside it for another 600 meters or so before turning eastwards. After another 500 meters or so the path turns southwards towards the small hill about half a kilometer ahead of us. This is Tel Yifar (i.e., the real Tel Par).
Tel Yifar and the Balfouriyya Nature Reserve
Even when we draw close to Tel Yifar, we can barely see that it is actually a hill unless we turn towards the impressive monument that stands beside it and continue on to the end of the small spur. The view from here is magnificent. The Jezreel Valley is encircled by hills: here are the Nazareth Hills with the steep wall of Mount Precipice; over there are the Samarian Hills, and here are Mount Gilboa, the Menashe Heights and Mount Carmel. However, despite the beautiful view, the eye of the observer tends to focus on the small lake at the foot of the hill. It is surrounded by a small bog that is a remnant of the extensive marshland that covered hundreds of dunam here in the past.
The Balfouriyya swamp was notorious for being one of the most pernicious marshlands in the Jezreel Valley. In 1922, when the American Zion Commonwealth founded Balfouriyya (also spelt Balfouria), the large local swamp was drained. Iron pipes were laid in the ground to carry the excess water to the nearby Nahal Adashim stream, which flows into the Kishon River. Nonetheless, the heart of the swamp refused to dry up, and eventually even the most persistent of the Balfouriyya farmers despaired of trying to farm that particular piece of land, and it became a nature reserve – today the Balfouriyya Nature Reserve.
The special memorial that stands here, at Tel Yifar, rather than inside the community itself, is evidence of Balfouriyya residents’ close links to the site. The memorial consists of a giant rock on which Nahalal’s famous sculptor Mordechai Kafri (1920-2001) has carved the symbolic figures of a man and his mule-drawn plough, a woman in a dress and a young man who appears to be scattering seeds. One side of the rock bears a verse from the Song of Deborah, which records Barak Ben Avinoam’s victory over Sisera’s army, whose chariots sank in the Jezreel Valley: “Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people,” (Judges 5:13). It is here, beside this monument, that the people of Balfouriyya hold their annual Memorial Day ceremony for IDF soldiers fallen in battle.
The Balfouriyya swamp has a history. Evidence of ancient settlement was found at Tel Yifar, and at the edge of the marshland a well whose sides date back to the Roman era was discovered. Today the well is dominated by an iron tower that during the First World War housed a vane pump installed by the German army to supply water to the Afula Railway Station, where it was used to fill the boilers of the Ottoman army’s steam locomotives.
In 1979 the remnant of the Balfouriyya swamp was declared a nature reserve, and today it provides a refuge for a variety of plant species, some rare, that were once typical of the Jezreel Valley. The Nature and Parks Authority surrounded the reserve with a fence in an attempt to perform the impossible task of conserving a variety of plants and wildlife in a tiny area of nature reserve surrounded entirely by farmland. Eventually it became clear that reeds were taking over the reserve. In an attempt to solve the problem, water buffalo from the Hula Nature Reserve were introduced to the site to munch on the meadows and keep the grassy vegetation down. These animals, however, tended from time to time to escape from the reserve and roam the valley expanses, and so they were banished by the Nature and Parks Authority, much to the disappointment of visitors.