The area includes the Island of Peace, and a hydroelectric power-plant dating to 1932. The plant, established by Pinhas Rutenberg, produced much of the energy consumed in Mandatory Palestine until the 1948 Palestine war. The channels and dams built for the power-plant, together with the two rivers, formed a man-made island.
The 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty recognized the area to be under Jordanian sovereignty, but leased Israeli landowners freedom of entry. The 25-year renewable lease ends in 2019. The Jordanian government announced its intention to end the lease; the treaty gives Jordan the right to do so only on one condition-that one year prior notice is given, which coincided with the announcement in October 2018.
Pinhas Rutenberg, a Russian-born Zionist and engineer immigrated to Palestine in 1919. After submitting a plan to the Zionist movement for the establishment of 13 hydroelectric power stations and securing financing for the plan, he was awarded a concession from the British Mandatory government to generate electricity, first from the Yarkon River near Tel Aviv, and shortly thereafter, utilizing all the running water in western Palestine.
Naharayim is part of 6,000 dunams sold to the Palestine Electric Corporation (PEC) run by Pinhas Rutenberg. The Naharayim site was chosen for the strong water flow and the possibility of regulating the flow through storage in the Sea of Galilee during the winter rainy season and release of the water reserves in the summer. Construction began in 1927 and continued for five years, providing employment for 3,000 workers. The site was named Naharayim, Hebrew for "Two Rivers."
Tel Or (Hill of Light) was a residential neighborhood built near the plant to house employees. Employees of the power station also farmed thousands of dunams of land and sold some of the produce at a company workers’ supermarket in Haifa.
In the days before Israeli independence, Naharayim was the proposed venue for two meetings between Golda Meir and King Abdullah, in an attempt by the Jewish leadership to head off Jordanian participation in the war.
In violation a November 1947 agreement between Meir and Abdullah, the Arab Legion's 4th Battalion launched a mortar and artillery attack on the Naharayim police fort and Kibbutz Gesher on April 27-29, 1948. The attack paved the way for the pan-Arab invasion of Mandatory Palestine. On the evening of April 27, the Legion began shelling the fort and kibbutz, stepping up the attack the following day. Many of the kibbutz buildings were destroyed.
On the morning of April 29, a Legion officer demanded the evacuation of the fort, but was turned down. After protests to the British Mandate administration, the shelling was halted, and Abdullah was reprimanded for "aggression against Palestine territory." In the wake of the attack 50 children of the kibbutz were evacuated, first to the Ravitz Hotel on the Carmel, and then to a 19th-century French monastery on the grounds of Rambam Hospital in the Bat Galim neighborhood of Haifa, where they lived for the next 22 months. An Iraqi brigade invaded at Naharayim on May 15, 1948, in an unsuccessful attempt to take the kibbutz and fort. The power plant was occupied and looted by the Iraqi forces.
To prevent Iraqi tanks from attacking Jewish villages in the Jordan Valley, the sluice gates of the Degania dam were opened. The rush of water, which deepened the river at this spot, was instrumental in blocking the Iraqi-Jordanian incursion.
Although the 1949 Israel-Jordan armistice agreement did not explicitly mention this region, the map attached to the agreement showed the armistice line cutting off a corner of Jordan between the two rivers (the present day Island of Peace). When Israel sent military forces into this corner in August 1950, Jordan filed a complaint with the United Nations Security Council. According to Jordan, the map had been improperly altered from the original agreed by the parties, was inadequately signed, and in any case the armistice agreement was never intended to alter the territory of Jordan. Israel responded that it was immaterial how the map came to be how it was, as only the final version was binding. The Security Council then questioned Ralph Bunche, who had been the UN mediator at the armistice negotiations at Rhodes.. He said that the parties had brought map overlaps to Rhodes from earlier informal negotiations and they were transferred manually onto a 1:250,000 map (shown right). He could not explain why a part of Jordan had been cut off and was sure it had not been brought up in the formal meetings. However, his opinion was that although the region remained sovereign Jordanian territory it was on the Israeli side of the armistice line because the map was an integral part of the agreement which both parties had signed.
Peace treaty and property rights
Two kibbutzim, Ashdot Ya'akov Meuhad and Ashdot Ya'akov Ihud, worked some 820 dunams on an island (present day Island of Peace) that was part of PEC land, occupied by Israel in 1950. The bulk of the 6,000 dunams, including the destroyed plant, remained in Jordanian hands and were placed under the Guardian of Enemy Property. In the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty, Jordanian sovereignty over the 820 dunam area was confirmed, but Israelis retained private land ownership and special provisions allow free Israeli travel and protect Israeli property rights.
The remains of the power station are part of the Jordan River Peace Park south of the Island of Peace on the Israel-Jordan border. The project is spearheaded by the trilateral NGO EcoPeace Middle East, headquartered in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Amman.
On March 13, 1997, the AMIT Fuerst (Fürst) Zionist religious junior high school from Beit Shemesh was on a class trip to the Jordan Valley, and Island of Peace. Jordanian soldier Ahmed Daqamseh opened fire at the schoolchildren, killing seven girls aged 13 or 14 and badly wounding six others. King Hussein of Jordan came to Beit Shemesh to extend his condolences and ask forgiveness in the name of his country, a step which was seen as both touching and courageous.
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