Afula is located in the lower Galilee region in the centre of the fertile Jezreel Valley. Surrounding Afula to the north is the Galilee, to the south is the centre of Israel, to the west is Haifa and to the east is Beit She’an and the Jordan Valley.
The first Jewish settlers were immigrants from Lithuania and Poland. In the 1970s Afula absorbed thousands of immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia. Growth in Afula continues today with emphasis on providing services in education, culture, sports, social, housing, employment, commerce and industry, welfare, health and religious services.
Afula is mentioned in the bible as Ofel, the hometown of Gideon in the book of Judges (chapters 6 – 8) and in the Book of Kings (2 Kings 5, 24) in connection with Elisha.
The town was inhabited by Samaritans in the 7th century. An ancient tel known as Tel ‘Afula which is the remains of a fortress dating from the Crusader and Mamluk periods has been discovered and a fortified Crusader tower stands in the centre of Afula.
In 1875 Victor Guérin described Afula as a village on a small hill overlooking a plain. In 1882, the Palestine Exploration Fund’s Survey of Western Palestine described El Afuleh as a small village in the plain with two wells. Census figures in 1887 showed that el Afuleh had about 630 inhabitants. Gottlieb Schumacher surveying for Jezreel Valley railway, noted in 1900 that it consisted of 50-55 houses with a population of around 200.
In 1909 or 1910, Yehoshua Hankin purchased 10,000 dunams (10 km²) of land in Al-Fuleh (now Afula), which became the home of two settlements, Merhavia and Tel Adashim. According to the British census 1922 in Affuleh had 563 inhabitants. In 1925 the American Zionist Commonwealth bought land in the Afula valley from the Sursuk family of Beirut. By the 1931 the population had increased to 874 of whom 786 were Jews. By 1945 the population had grown to over 2,300.
The Jezreel Valley Railway, part of the Hejaz Railway played a major part in the development of the town. From 1913 it had been the terminal connecting it to Jenin and later also to Nablus. Much of it was sabotage by 1945, 1946 and shortly before the 1948. The railway was restored after 1948 with a service to Haifa but only until 1949 when it was abandoned. Many plans to revive the line failed until the latest Haifa-Afula-Beit She’an project was completed by 2016.