Tiberias-Tzemach road The historical importance of building the Tiberias-Tzemach road is much more than just road building. This story is a reflection of the period and the people. This story is a cornerstone of pioneering enterprises and pioneers' absorption.

Tiberias-Tzemach road
By Natan Haruvi

By the end of the First World War, after The Balfour Declaration and the fall of Tel Hai and Hamra.
During this time, Pinhas Rutenberg arrived in Israel presenting bold plans to build the Tiberias-Tzemach road. He suggested that the Agricultural Center of "Ahdut HaAvoda" party should accept this piece work from the British Mandate Government. This work had to do with the establishment of hydroelectric power-plant.

The Agricultural Center members, having no knowledge or experience in this matter, were wondering whether they could take this operation upon themselves. The British authorities on the other hand, requested that only one representative should be in charge for this operation. "We were fearless and we had the nerve. We never said "we do not know". We felt that this was an opportunity we could not miss, especially that this was an enormous amount of money - 100,000 Palestine Pounds We realized that non of us had any idea in road construction theories. We were not familiar with any of the materials mentioned in the contract. I was summoned to Jerusalem to meet with Pinhas Rutenberg, Berl Katznelson and Avraham Herzfeld who had requested that I take reponsibility in this matter. I agreed and they furnished me a letter of attorney, signed by Berl Katznelson and Samuel Yavniel, authorizating me to sign the contract with the British Mandate Government and to act as foreman. An idea came to my mind: Instead of signing the contract, I should rather disappear for a few days, work as a road contractor and acquire basic knowledge in road contruction. So, I met with an Arab roads contractor and begged him to employ me as an excavation worker. He gave me the job at The Jericho Jerusalem Road. For six days I worked for the salary of an Arab worker, and this was hardly enough for breakfast. I slept with the Arab workers under the sky on the side of the road. Indeed, I did not waste my time, I learned all the professional terms and procedures, including rocks explosion, excavation, ”Soling" laying and dispersing fine gravel. My friends searched for me everywhere and were more stunned to hear my story. I spent an exciting sleepless night at a hotel in Jerusalem getting ready for this meeting. The following day, I went to the Government offices and signed with shaky hands.

In early June 1920, the Tiberias-Tzemach road construction contract was signed between Natan Haruvi "the roads expert" and Sir Murdoch MacDonald, Advisor to Ministry of Public Works British Mandatory government. With the signing of the contract, I began to sense a heavy burden on my shoulders. I had to arrange recruitment, housing arrangements, dining rooms and kitchen, working tools, kitchen utensils, beds, furniture, transportation and heavy equipment. Within two weeks we set up a big and bustling camp on the shores of Lake Kineret (The Sea of Galilee) consisting excavators, coachmen, cooks, medical stuff, engineers and educators. The tents were pitched near the Hamei Tveriya hot springs so the empty bath houses could be used.

Tiberias-Tzemach Road (see documents)

By the end of the First World War, after The Balfour Declaration and the beginning of The British Mandate, the founding conference of "Ahdut HaAvoda" took place in Petah-Tikva and I resumed my position as manager of the public works department in the Agricultural Center. Being part of The Second Aliyah immigrants, we were primarily idealists, we sought to create a communal agricultural settlement and were concerned with the future of the people and the country's fate. We felt responsible for the future immigrants and finding employment for so many people. We were inspired by Berl Katznelson's essays "Towards the next days". Pinhas Rutenberg brought with him great plans. He suggested that the Agricultural Center should accept the project of building the Tiberias-Tzemach road from the British Mandate of Palestine. This project was connected to the production and distribution of electric power project in Naharayim. The urgent meeting with Berl Katznelson, Pinhas Rutenberg and Avraham Herzfeld in Jerusalem, resulted in the signing of the Tiberias-Tzemach road construction contract between Natan Haruvi and Sir Murdoch MacDonald, Advisor to Ministry of Public Works British Mandatory government.

How do you lift the spirit? (See documents)

Five hundred workers were employed as road constructors. Mostly Third Aliya pioneers including crimeans, who arrived onboard the ship "Ruslan". Other workers came from Tiberias, mostly orientals, and others from the nearby Galilee colonies. The new immigrants took the train from Haifa to Tzemach and then boats to the working camps. The road construction works were extremely strenuous for those not used to this kind of work in the burning sun. The project management did their utmost to improve the working conditions, and it was only much later that the workers finally adjusted. When the project was completed, many workers moved to Ein-Harod, Tel-Yosef and Merhavia. Some were hired by The Electric Corporation.

A road in the desert - Story of "Solel Bone" (ראה מסמכים)
The First Aliyah was the farmers' Aliyah and The Second Aliyah immigrants were idealists who sought to create a communal agricultural settlement.
The Third Aliyah newcomers were young halutzim (pioneers) who built roads and commenced the draining of marshes.

Pinhas Rutenberg, an engineer who played an active role in two Russian revolutions,
was riding the mule along the shore of Lake Kinneret and the Jordan River together with other engineers and assistants. They were measuring the water and soil. You might think that Pinhas Rutenberg has been in the country for many years, but in fact only a year ago he was still the governor of the city of Petrograd (renamed Leningrad). At the time Kerensky was a major political leader before and during the Russian Revolutions one of its most prominent leaders in the revolt against Tsar.
When the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, Pinhas moved to Moscow, established contacts with Trumpeldor, then went to Odessa and served as a minister in the anti-bolshevik reginme. He then broke off his relations with revolutionary Russia and appeared in Paris in order to promote his old plan of the electrification in Palestine. He received financial support from Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and was awarded a concession from the British mandatory government to generate electricity in Palestine.

Only then he settled in Palestine and started the real preparations for this project.
Rutenberg who planned the building of the hydroelectric power station at Naharayim on the Jordan River, requested that a road should be constructed from Tiberias to Tzemach.

About twenty thousand Egyptian workers were at the time in the country on behalf of the British army.

The Zionist Commission, head of the Jewish community, and the laborers parties claimed that it was the duty of the authorities to first and foremost be concerned with employment for the Jews living in Palestine. It was only after many efforts that the road construction along the Lake Kineret was given to the Jews. The British authorities refused to let any party committe handle this project. They required that party members would participate in the tender as contractors and take full responsibility for the road constructions.

Natan Haruvi and Aharon Tomashov were appointed as the contractor and supervisor of the project. Haruvi and Tomashov arrived at the Government offices, wearing new clothes. They negotiated with the British with the help of a translator. The authorities promised to make various tools, such as hammers, axes, tents and carts, available to them.Haruvi and Tomashov made a deposit of one thousand Egyptian Liras, as guarantee. By the end of June they both signed the contract.

On the following day, Rutenberg traveled to London to complete the negotiations on the electricity concession. In the meantime the road construction works commenced, and within a few days there were hundreds of workers engaged in the road construction. A variety of people could be seen - The Krymchaks, who were "Trumpeldor's boys", healthy, lively, hard working people; The "German gang" from Poland who were trained in Germany; The Jewish Legion Veteran "HaBashkirim"; Groups of immigrants from Eastern Europe; Groups from Tiberias and even Arabs from the neighboring villages.

Building the road involved rocks quarrying, laying the rocks as infrastructure, scattering gravel and soil on top. Then a road roller was used to compact the soil and gravel.In those times we din not have Asphalt.

Haruvi and Tomashov continued supervising the project and were joined by Joseph Garfinkel.
The project was in progress

By the end of the summer more and more new workers joined the construction of the Tiberias-Tzemach road. There was a rumor in the country that in Tiberias there was work.

The Labor Department of Ahdut HaAvoda extended their operations and took another project from the British authorities - Tiberias-Migdal road.

Herbert Samuel, who was appointed as the High Commissioner for Palestine, encouraged the absorption of the new immigrants. There was plenty of work for everyone.

Dov Hoz, started as secretary of the labor department, went on to become one of the heads of the labor movement and a founding member of the socialist Ahdut HaAvoda party. The department faced organizational disorders and loss, but the Tiberias-Tzemach road was profitable, thousands of people learned a profession and were empoloyed.

The construction of the Tiberias-Tzemach road was part of Rutenberg plan. He had obtained an exclusive concession for production and distribution of electric power and founded the Palestine Electric Company in Naharayim.
The Tiberias-Tzemach road constructions turned out to be a big enterprise - honour and glory to the workers in the country. This road costruction led the way to the development of the Public Works Department into Solel Boneh.

גשר עץ להולכי רגל על הירדן

Documents Original Typed
Tiberias-Tzemach Road 2_1_10 2_1_10
How do you lift the spirit 2_1_1a 2_1_1a
A road in the desert - Story of Solel Bone   2_1_2
A letter from Natan to Hava - Hamei Tiberias 2_1_3 2_1_3
Another letter from Natan to Hava 2_1_4a
Certificate of Attorney - Ahdut Ahavoda applies to the British government for the works on Tiberias-Tzemach road   2_1_5
British government certificate for the Tiberias-Tzemach road   2_1_6
"Creator of electricity in Eretz Yisrael" - An article in "Davar" newspaper 2_1_8 2_1_8
Tiberias-Tzemach road - By Natan Haruvi 2_1_9
"Clouds on the Upper Galilee" - A part of a broadcast in Kol Israel 2_1_10 2_1_10
A part of Hilel Dan's book - Unpaved road   2_1_15
An article about the beginning of road building in Israel 2_1_29
A receipt of shopping for building the Tiberias-Tzemach road 2_1_14  
A letter from Natan Haruvi and Avraham Herzfeld in the name of the agricultural union 2_1_17  

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