BET(H)-ARABAH

BET(H)-ARABAH (modern Bet ha-Aravah) (Heb. בֵּית הָעֲרָבָה; "House of the Steppe"), place in southern Ereẓ Israel, in the Jericho Desert of the Lower Jordan Valley. The ancient name is preserved in ʿAyn al-Gharaba, southeast of Jericho near the Jordan River, but no corroborative archaeological remains have been thus far discovered in the vicinity. According to the Bible it belonged to the tribe of Judah on the border of Benjamin (Josh. 15:61; 18:22). More recently it was a kibbutz situated 1,235 ft. (380 m.) below sea level, 1.8 mi. (3 km.) north of the Jordan mouth of the Dead Sea. It was founded on Oct. 8, 1939, by a group of the Maḥanot ha-Olim youth movement and young immigrants from Germany and other Central European countries, on land of the Palestine Potash Company. Bet ha-Aravah was affiliated with Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad. The kibbutz succeeded in sweeping its extremely saline soil with fresh Jordan water, making it capable of producing abundant farm crops. The land thus won yielded out-of-season vegetables, fruit, fodder, and other farm products. Carp ponds were also installed. A number of members worked in the potash plant. Members of the kibbutz cultivated friendly relations with the Arab inhabitants of Jericho and even with the nearby villages of Transjordan. Bet ha-Aravah proved that both adults and children could overcome the health hazards of the torrid climate. In the Israel War of Independence (1948) the completely isolated settlement held out for six months. Eventually the settlers were evacuated by boat to Sodom, at the south end of the Dead Sea. Later its members erected two new settlements in Galilee, kabri and gesher ha-ziv . The Arab Legion completely razed the empty settlement. Its soil again became saline and hardly any vestige of the village could be discerned when Israel forces reached the site in 1967. The following year a Naḥal group set up a new settlement, Naḥal Kallia, in the general vicinity. In 1977 another Naḥal group settled about a mile (2 km.) west of the original settlement. In 1986 it was affiliated with Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad. In 2002 the population of Beit ha-Aravah was 52. The main economic branch was farming, mainly dates, vineyards, and field crops. In addition, the kibbutz operated a food stall at its nearby gas station. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Abel, Geog, 2 (1938), 267; EM, S.V.; Aharoni, Land, 235,302. WEBSITE: www.megilot.org.il/arava.htm . (Efraim Orni)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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