An Inside Look at Israel’s National Parks

July 1, 2020

by: Sarah Balasny, BFP Staff Writer

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When planning a trip, you tend to research where you are going. You want to know about the food, transportation and things to do. This is taken to a new level when traveling to a different country. You must consider the language, the culture and the history. Israel offers these in abundance, evident by new archeological digs discovered annually. Of course, you will want to swim in the Sea of Galilee, marvel at the view from the Mount of Olives, run your fingers over the stones of the Western Wall and taste falafel or shawarma. One of the most exciting aspects of Israel is its national parks. This is where the Bible, history and archeology all come together. Here you will find a glimpse into two of Israel’s national parks.

Masada National Park

Masada

One of the most popular parks to visit is the Masada National Park. Although Masada itself is not mentioned in the Bible, its meaning is. In Hebrew, masada means fortress. Both 2 Samuel 22:2 and Psalm 18:2 refer to the Lord as our fortress, while 2 Samuel 5:7 describes Jerusalem as a fortress or stronghold that King David conquered. Micah and Joel also tell of Jerusalem being a stronghold of the people of Zion or Israel.

The site of Masada National Park was identified in 1838, but Israeli archeologists did not get involved in its excavation until the 1950s. In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee listed Masada on its World Heritage List. The ancient fortification sits atop a plateau off the shore of the Dead Sea and offers expansive views of the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, the hills of Moab and the Tze’elim stream—one of the largest rivers flowing from Hebron to the Dead Sea. As you look out, you wonder how the Roman Empire reached this fortress atop a plateau with a cliff on every side. At the same time, you realize why Herod the Great chose to make this his fortified palace.

Masada’s History

Masada, lower palace

This site was used by Herod the Great to escape Antigonus Mattathias the Hasmonean. The location is so remote that when Herod fled Masada to find help in defending it, those trapped inside the wall almost died of thirst. Over 100 years later, Masada became the base for a group of 960 Jewish fighters and their families, led by Eleazar ben Yair. The rebels left Jerusalem for Masada during the Great Revolt and added a synagogue and ritual baths to the existing structures. Atop the desert fortress they maintained a normal life for several years. However, the Romans sought to stamp out all remnants of Jewish rebellion and laid siege to Masada, constructing a ramp up the mountain. As the rebels saw this happening, they decided against becoming Roman servants and cast lots to see who would kill each other, designating the last man standing to kill himself. When the Romans gained access to Masada, they found a “citadel of death.” Two women and five children survived by hiding in a cistern and lived to tell the story.

When visiting Masada, you can watch a show in the amphitheater, see the ramp built by the Romans and walk through the synagogue and the remnants of Herod’s palace. To access the site, you can take a large cable car or hike up the mountain.

The Carmel National Park and Reserve

Mount Carmel

In Song of Songs 7:5, we read: “Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.” However, most of us associate Mount Carmel with Elijah. This is the mountain where the prophet of God challenged 450 Baal prophets to a battle unlike any other. Here, in 1 Samuel 25, David approached Nabal while in hiding from Saul and asked him for “whatever he can find” in repayment for when David’s men protected Nabal’s shepherds. Things did not end well for Nabal when he refused to help. However, Abigail, his wife, calmed David by bringing everything from bread and wine to sheep and donkeys. When her husband died, David requested her hand in marriage, which she accepted.

fire salamander

The Carmel National Park and Reserve is located southeast of Haifa and is considered one of the largest continuous open spaces in Israel. Here you can see the hills of Galilee, Ramat Menashe (the valleys of the north) and the Mediterranean Sea. In biblical times, Mount Carmel was sparsely populated due to the dense woodland and steep slopes. However, in the first and second centuries, Jewish settlers built a synagogue, homes and agricultural facilities here. Druze settlers followed in the 1600s. In 1942, the British dug trenches and bunkers to prevent a German invasion, and during the 1948 War of Independence, battles occurred over the roads passing around Mount Carmel.

What You Will Find

UNESCO designated Mount Carmel as the first biosphere in Israel, which means the site provides a balance between man, nature and heritage. The park houses a unique animal—the fire salamander—along with the largest concentration of birds of prey in Israel. The plant life is abundant, with 670 species of plants boasting a quick recovery from forest fires. Just one year after a deadly fire in 2010 that destroyed 37,000 acres, flowers began to bloom in the Carmel forest once again.

Your Next Visit to Israel

To make your visit to Israel more impactful, Bridges for Peace has put together a tour journal where each site is discussed in its biblical context along with a Bible reference and space to journal and reflect. In Israel, you walk on the same ground the patriarchs walked and begin to understand how people lived in biblical times. Whether you are able to step foot in Israel or only dream of doing so, we pray that you are able to experience the land of Israel through this writing and our tour journal. Click here to purchase through our online shop.

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