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Ancient homeland

The Jezreel Valley takes its name from the ancient city of Jezreel (known in Hebrew as Yizre'el; יזרעאל‎; known in Arabic as Zir'ēnزرعين) which was located on a low hill overlooking the southern edge of the valley. The word Jezreel comes from the Hebrew, and means "God sows" or "El sows".[3] The phrase "valley of Jezreel" was sometimes used to refer to the central part of the valley, around the city of Jezreel, while the southwestern portion was known as the "Valley of Megiddo", after the ancient city of Megiddo, which was located there. The area has been known as the Plain of Esdraelon (Esdraelon (Ἐσδρηλών) is the Koine Greek rendering of Jezreel). The Arabic name Marj ibn Amir (Arabicمرج ابن عامر) means "Meadows of the son of Amir".

Fog on the Megiddo valley

The valley once acted as the channel by which the Mediterranean Sea, at the north-western end of the valley, connected to the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Valley and ultimately to the Dead Sea. About two million years ago, as the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Rift Valley rose, this connection was lost, and the periodic floods from the Mediterranean Sea ceased. This resulted in the Dead Sea no longer having a connection to the ocean, and over time, due to greater evaporation than precipitation plus surface water inflow, it has become heavily saline. The Sea of Galilee, on the other hand, consists of fresh water.

In the 1870s, the Sursock family of Beirut (present-day Lebanon) purchased the land from the Ottoman government for approximately £20,000. Between 1912 and 1925 the Sursock family (then under the French Mandate of Syria) sold their 80,000 acres (320 km²) of land in the Vale of Jezreel to the American Zion Commonwealth for about nearly three-quarters of a million pounds. The land was purchased by the Jewish organization as part of an effort to resettle Jews who inhabited the land, as well as others who came from distant lands.

After the land was sold to the American Zion Commonwealth, some of the Arab farmers who lived in nearby villages and had been working for the absentee landowners were given financial compensation or were provided with land elsewhere. Despite the sale, some of the farmers refused to leave their land, as in Afula (El-Ful), however the new owners decided that it would be inappropriate for these farmers to remain as tenants on land intended for Jewish labour. This was a commonplace feeling among segments of the Jewish population, part of a socialist ideology of the Yishuv, which included their working the land rather than being absentee landowners. British police had to be used to expel some and the dispossessed made their way to the coast to search for new work with most ending up in shanty towns on the edges of Jaffa and Haifa.

Northern Jezreel Valley and Mount Carmel, seen from Haifa

Following the purchase of the land, the Jewish farmers created the first modern-day settlements, founded the modern day city of Afula and drained the swamps to enable further land development of areas that had been uninhabitable for centuries. The first moshavNahalal, was settled in this valley on 11 September 1921.

After the widespread Arab riots of 1929 in the then British Mandate of Palestine, the Hope Simpson Enquiry was appointed to seek causes and remedies for the instability. The Commission's findings in regard to "Government responsibility towards Arab cultivators", was that the Jewish authorities "have nothing with which to reproach themselves" in the purchase of the valley, noting the high prices paid and land occupants receiving compensation not legally bound. The responsibility of the Mandate Government for "soreness felt (among both effendi and fellahin) owing to the sale of large areas by the absentee Sursock family" and the displacement of Arab tenants; noted that, "the duty of the Administration of Palestine to ensure that the rights and position of the Arabs are not prejudiced by Jewish immigration. It is doubtful whether, in the matter of the Sursock lands, this Article of the Mandate received sufficient consideration."

The Jezreel Valley is a green fertile plain covered with fields of wheat, watermelon, melon, oranges, white beans, cowpeas, chickpeas, green beans, cotton, sunflowers and corn, as well as grazing tracts for multitudes of sheep and cattle. The area is governed by the Jezreel Valley Regional Council. The Max Stern College of Emek Yizreel and the Emek Medical Center are located in the valley. In 2006, the Israeli Transportation Ministry and Jezreel Valley Regional Council announced plans to build an international airport near Megiddo but the project was shelved due to environmental objections.

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