A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 19, 2009

Airport at Armageddon?

There's a proposal out there for a second International Airport in Israel, at Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley. It's being protested by locals and by environmentalists, since the area is some of the broadest open ground in Israel. The Jezreel Valley — also called, in the Bible, the vale of Esdraelon — is a spectacular valley bordered by Mount Carmel and the Samarian Highlands on the south and by Galilee on the north, and runs across Israel. From the tel at Megiddo, a crossroads of Biblical and classical antiquity, one can look out virtually from the Mediterranean to Mount Gilboa on the edges of the Jordan Valley.

The pass across the Carmel range just south of Megiddo was the main route for the "Way of the Sea" in ancient times, and therefore the hill that stood on its northern flank was the key to controlling both the main north-south route east of the Med and the main east-west route across the valley. No surprise that it was frequently fought over. One of the earliest battles for which we can offer a description of the tactics is the battle Thutmose III fought there in the 15th century BC; Megiddo was the crucially decisive moment of Allenby's Palestine campaign in 1918 as well. There were many other battles in between. Perhaps for these reasons the author of the Book of Revelation places the final battle between good and evil in this place, the Hill of Megiddo, Har Megiddo in Hebrew or Aramaic, Armageddon in the Greek of the Book of Revelation.

So, yeah, let's build an international airport at Armageddon. What could go wrong with that?

Christian fundamentalists of the impending-doomsday type might have issues of their own. My own main concern would be the environmental and aesthetic one that seems to be animating the locals. There's already a very big airfield in the Jezreel Valley, the Ramat David airbase, which was and I think still is the Israeli Air Force's largest base, intended as a defense against Syrian and Lebanese threats. A major new international airport near Megiddo would blight the views from the hill of Megiddo, from Carmel, from Nazareth, from much of the valley.

But given the small size of Israel, why is there a need for another international airport, particularly in the north? One in the Negev might make sense to help promote tourism to Eilat or to the Dead Sea resorts. And the Negev has plenty of space: there are three or four military airbases and the Eilat airport there already. But why Jezreel? Nothing there is more than a two hour drive or so from Ben Gurion airport; most tourists going to the north are either going to Haifa or to the Christian sites at Nazareth and elsewhere in Galilee, and the vistas deserve to be preserved.

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