Set next to a historical crossing point over the Jordan River, Old Gesher is at one of the most strategic locations in the Jordan valley. The site that witnessed travelers pioneers and battles is today a tourist attraction with a visitor center that presents the site’s turbulent history, and especially in the 20th century.
History of Gesher
Gesher (in Hebrew ‘bridge’) is a significant crossing point over the Jordan river south of the Sea of Galilee. The Romans were perhaps the first to build a bridge here, and the Crusaders built a mass scale fort to monitor it (Belvoir). Later, in the Mamluk period a square caravanserai (Khan) was built next to the bridge, whose remains are still well visible. In 1904 the Ottomans constructed a bridge over the river to connect the land of Israel with the Hejaz railway. In 1925 the British added next to it a cement bridge for trucks and buses. In 1927-1932, with the consent of Emir Abdullah, a hydro-electric plant was constructed north of Gesher, providing electricity to the Jewish settlements in the region. In 1939 a Kibbutz called ‘Gesher’ was established in the ruins of the Mamluk Khan. In 1948 its members held against two Arab attacks from trans-Jordan, yet later the kibbutz was relocated to a nearby hill.
Gesher in 1948
During the Second World War the British built a ‘Tegart Fort’ near the bridge. When they cleared it in 1948, the members of Kibbutz Gesher rushed to get a hold of it. That same night the Arab legion launched an attack on the fort. After 30 hours the forces agreed on a ceasefire in which the 50 kibbutz’ children with some of the women and elders were evacuated. The next morning the Arab legion resumed its artillery on the fort, but it failed to conquer it. A few weeks later the fort was attacked again, by the Qawuqji Iraqi forces, but they too failed to overtake it. The bridges and Naharyim power station went out of use, yet the site remained in Israeli hands, and it marks the border with Jordan to this day.
After the Israeli-Arab 1948 war, the Kibbutz re-established itself a mile west of the bridge, among others to be beyond the range of enemy artillery. Nevertheless, in the years 1968-1970 the Kibbutz was again shelled, by katyusha rockets launched by the PLO from Jordan.
Touring old Gesher
In 1992 Old Gesher was re-opened as a historical site and a tour attraction. During its development for tourism the 1930s bus station of the Haifa-Damascus was uncovered and restored, as well as a locomotive of the Naharayim power plant. Today, Old Gesher’s main attractions are:
The Gesher Experience – A video presentation of the history of Gesher, inside the only structure left of the old kibbutz – its dining room. Its baking oven is also still intact and is used now days for bread baking workshops and dairy meals, on advance booking.
The Naharaiym Experience – An Audiovisual presentation of the electric power plant that operated north of Gesher in 1932-1948. Real water flow through the model, with dramatic lights and music to illustrate the turbulent project (pun intended).
Gaon Hayarden Promenade – A hike along the western bank of the Jordan river offer beautiful viewpoints of the natural Jordan river and the three historical bridges of Gesher.
The site is open every day of the week and offers guided tours.
A tour of Old Gesher can be combined with a day tour in the north.