Al Orma Fortress

Al Orma Fortress

Al Orma Fortress perches on the summit of a hill south of Itamar.

The history of this fortress is associated with Avimelekh, the son of Gidon in the Book of Judges. The geographical region in which the events in that book took place is the central Shomron – from Ofra (Ofer Ruins) to the west, Aroma (Tel Orma) to the southeast, and Tevets (Inun Ruins near Tubas) in the north. Shekhem (Nablus), of course, was a main center of action. The Shekhem region is unique and exceptional in two main geographic features: developed agriculture – mainly in the valleys and plains – and the topographic disorder from the perspective of the height differentials – deep valleys, soaring hills, plains and ridges in no particular general direction (this complex structure is due to the underlying geological formations).

This topography is clearly evinced in the biblical stories, which are replete with ambushes, byways, hills, the shadows of hills and highway robbers. The story of Avimelekh is just one example: “And the men of Shekhem set ambushes for him on the hilltops, and they robbed all that passed them on the highway” (Judges 9:25), and “You see the shadow of the hills as if they were men” (Judges 9:36). These verses describe the high ridges, roads along the valley floors, roadside hiding places, fields and plains. This same chapter also mentions fields and vineyards: “And they went out to the fields and harvested their vineyards” (Judges 9:27). Aruma is mentioned once in this story (Judges 9:41).

During the Hasmonean period the ruling family – apparently King Alexander Yanai (a descendant of the Maccabees) – built a fortress on the ruins of biblical Aruma. Alexander also built Alexandrion (Sartaba) and named it after himself. These two fortresses were part of the series of fortifications built to defend the northern border of Judea, which was at its strongest during Alexander’s reign. The archeological finds here include 11 enormous cisterns, similar to those found at Masada and Sartaba. The largest cistern could hold 3,000(!) cubic meters of water. Access to the fortress is via a marked trail from Ma’ayan Irus Hashomron.

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