The Founding of Mekorot

The Founding of Mekorot

By: Dr. Mordechai Naor


On February 15 1937 a new economic company in the small Jewish community at the time (some 400,000 people) was listed in the corporate registry of the British Mandate government – by the name of “Mekorot”. The “Memorandum of Incorporation of a Limited Company” stated that Mekorot’s chief goal was to “implement and perform all of the works and deeds needed or suitable for finding, collecting, selling, delivering, measuring, distributing and producing water”.

Behind these words was a group of developers, led by three men who not only laid the foundations for “Mekorot”, but also made it a leading economic  company in the following decade. First and foremost was Levi Shkolnik – later Eshkol, the Prime Minister of Israel, and alongside him water engineer Simcha Blass – the inventor of, among other things, a wheat planting machine and later, drip irrigation, and Pinchas Kozolovsky – later Sapir, Israel’s legendary Minister of Finance for a decade.

There are those who have compared the three’s method of operation to an old-style military command staff: Eshkol was the commander, Sapir as the chief of staff and Blass – the theoretician and expert. The original board of directors featured figures like Menachem Osishkin, Berl Katzanelson, Dr. Arthur Rupin and Avraham Herztfeld. But most of the work was carried out by the trio.

Credit must be given to Simcha Blass, who found loyal partners in Eshkol and Sapir. Eshkol knew Blass from when the latter planned and founded the pioneering water works of the Jordan Valley kibbutzim. On one of their trips together, Blass told him of a daring idea of his: transferring water in pipes from the Ne’eman River to the western Jezreel Valley, whose towns were suffering from a lack of water. Piping water from one area to another was forbidden at the time by the Mandate, in order to protect poor residents (meaning Arabs) whose water would be taken to more developed (meaning Jewish) areas.

By the mid-1930s, upon the expansion of Jewish settlement, the need arose to establish a water company that would deal with water supply in a national/centralized manner. Eshkol remembered what Blass had said, approached him and asked for an initial plan for sending water from the Ne’eman to the Jezreel Valley. He also raised an initial budget from Histadrut funds: 50 Israeli pounds..
Blass did not disappoint. He prepared what was, at the time, an imaginative plan: sending 4 cubic liters of water from the Usha-Kfar Hassidim area to the western valley settlements.

Eshkol, along with his faithful assistant Sapir, set out to raise money for a budget. Wherever they went, they were asked: Do you have any water? Where are the wells? Blass promised that ground surveys had shown plenty of water, and all they had to do was to drill and find it. The first drilling was performed – and plenty of water was found. Eshkol raised money and got institutions to provide budgets and secured the support of the western Jezreel Valley settlements – for each future irrigated dunam (0.1 hectares), the Kibbutzim and Moshavim agreed to provide Eshkol with a single pound. By late 1936 he had money and commitments amounting to 35,000 Israeli pounds – a significant sum at the time.

Under the energetic management of General Manager Eshkol and Company Secretary Sapir, with their regular advisor Blass at their side (he had his own independent planning office) – the amount of water increased on a yearly basis: 8.5 million cubic meters in 1944 and over 10 million cubic meters in 1945. During the Second World War, Mekorot also supplied large amounts of water to the many British military camps in the country.

The trio’s biggest project before the founding of the State of Israel was laying the first water pipelines to the Negev in 1946/1947. This required the combination of experience, daring, professional and national fervor.  The pipeline was laid down in just six months. It is generally accepted that the Negev settlements managed to hold out in the War of Independence, under harsh combat and siege conditions,  thanks to the Mekorot water pipe.

Dr. Mordecai Naor is a writer and Israeli historian. He studied about the early days of Mekorot as part of his Ph. D. dissertation on the young Pinchas Sapir (Tel Aviv University, 1984).