The region now under the jurisdiction of the Mate Yehuda Council has been a desirable place to settle since the first Iron Age, in the 12th century BC. The Kingdom of Judea ruled the area from the 10th century BC (the second Iron Age) until defeated by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC - the period when the First Temple was destroyed.
10th Century BC: the Kingdom of Judea
The second Iron Age coincided with the Israelite period. The ethnic makeup of the region underwent decisive changes as the Israelites of the mountains and Philistines, who were settled in the coastal areas at that time, intermingled.
The tribes of Israel warred with the Canaanites for many generations, until the Kings of Judea and Israel were brought under the rule of King David. The region was fertile and therefore desirable; Judea was rich with grain fields, vineyards, olive trees that produced valuable oil, and pastureland for grazing herds. Whoever held this land could be politically independent, and the Israelites and Philistines fought to take control. The stories of Samson and the fight between David and Goliath in the Ela Valley, both from that period, have taken on mythical importance in Judeo-Christian culture.
Geographically, Israel was a land bridge between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, and the main land route between Africa and Euro-Asia. The Kingdom of Judea, in the center, quickly became strategically the most important location for passage in peace or war.
586 BC: the Babylonian Empire
In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II led the first Babylonian Empire to conquer Israel and destroy Jerusalem and the First Temple. The Jewish population of Judea disappeared and the region was resettled by various Canaanite tribes.
538 BC: the Persian Rule
The region was invaded and conquered by Persia less than 50 years later. Israelites returned and settled around Jerusalem, but the Jewish population in Israel was very small.
333 BC: Alexander the Great
In 333 BC, two hundred years after the arrival of the Persians, Alexander the Great invaded Israel and placed it under his rule. During this era, known as the Hellenistic period, Judea’s population was mostly Jewish, and they were granted religious autonomy. The Cohens - high priests - led the Jewish population from the Second Temple in Jerusalem; Judea was transformed into the spiritual and religious center of all Jews. The tribe of Judea became a Jewish state and the Hasmonean kings ruled the entire country.
63 BC - 395 AD: the Roman Period
In 63 BC, Israel fell under Roman rule and for more than 400 years was considered a province of Rome. The Roman period was characterized by economic suppression, high taxation, and religious oppression of the local population. The Jews rebelled numerous times; the “Mered HaGadol” (the “Big Rebellion”) occurred between 66 and 73 AD, and was crushed by the Roman Emporer Titus, ending with the destruction of the Second Temple.
Another serious rebellion against Roman rule broke out in 132 AD, led by Bar Cochva of Judea. A system of hideaways was built throughout the region to protect the rebels and their supporters. When the Bar Cochva rebellion was finally put down in 135 AD, almost all the Jews were expelled from Judea.
395 - 634 AD: The Byzantine Empire
The land of Israel was without a noticeable Jewish population for almost 2,000 years, until the late 19th century. The land, however, was not unoccupied. During the Byzantine Empire, the area was used as a gateway for legionnaires journeying to Jerusalem; remains of some of their roads can be found running from the Ela Valley up to Moshav Mata. Ruins of Byzantine churches can be found near Zur Haddassah, in the Adulam Ruins near Aderet, and near Moshav Mata.
634 AD: The Islamic Conquest
In 634, after being defeated by invading Muslim armies who were marching across the Levant, the Christian Byzantine Empire lost its hold on the Holyland and Judea fell under Muslim rule. The significant battle of Ajnadyn, which cemented the Christian defeat, was fought in the Ela Valley.
Muslim rule in Israel continued until 1099, and they systematically destroyed the vestiges of previous populations and religious presence, particularly images in mosaic floors, churches and synagogues.
1099 - 1260 AD: The Christian Crusades
The Crusaders invaded the region and solidified their control over Israel, including Judea, with a series of stone fortresses. Their goal was to ensure a passageway between the coastal plains and the region’s sea ports. The fortresses were built on hilltops so the occupants could exchange messages, using smoke during the day and fire at night. Ruins of Crusader castles can be visited near Kibbutz Tzuba, in Ein Hemed, and near Moshav Mata in the Tanur ruins.
1260 AD: Mamluk Rule/Ottoman Empire
The Mamluks expelled the Crusaders from Israel and ruled from 1260 until the establishment of the state of Israel. Their rule was based on Arab settlement, and they established more than 30 agricultural villages in Judea.
Jews began returning to Judea in 1895, with establishment of the Hartuv settlement on land belonging to the Arab village of Artuf.
In 1912, a group of Jewish workers established the settlement of Kfar Uria.
In 1920, a collective agricultural settlement was created: Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim.
As the Zionist movement gained strength, Jewish settlements in Israel realized the central ideologies of the movement: redemption of the land, renewal of Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel, and working the land - Jewish agriculture. A policy of spreading the Jewish population throughout the country sent many new immigrants to settle in rural communities; accordingly, more than 30 Jewish agricultural villages were established near Jerusalem. The Judean mountains were opened for settlement by two institutions: the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency. Both helped the settlers build roads, prepare fields for sowing, plant forests, and develop farms.
1948 AD: The State of Israel
By 1948, the Arab population in Judea numbered 26,000. The villages were conquered during Israel’s Independence War and today only three villages from that era remain: Abu Gosh, Ein Rafa, and Ein Akuba.
Towards the end of the 1950’s, the JNF and the Jewish Agency decided to create more settlements and increase the Jewish population in the Adulam region. The original program was to establish 15 villages but by 1958, only five had been built. The new villages in Adulam were mostly work camps and the residents took whatever jobs they could find. Eventually, through hard work and sweat, they established themselves as farmers.
Today, the Mate Yehuda Council covers more than 130,000 acres; it’s the council in largest in Israel. The council’s 36,000 residents live in 57 settlements, among them agricultural collectives, kibbutzim, rural (non-agricultural) communities, Arab villages, farms, monasteries and mixed Jewish/Arab towns.