Kiryat Tivon Excursion to the Giant Oak and Mastic

The trunk of the giant mastic tree has split the rock. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
The trunk of the giant mastic tree has split the rock. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

A marked footpath near Kiryat Tivon leads us to two of Israel’s most impressive trees.

  • How to get there

    Drive along Route no. 722 to HaShomerim Junction and turn to the left. At the second set of traffic lights turn right on to the main street of Kiryat Tivon (Rehov Alonim). Drive for around 300 meters, then turn right before the gas station on to Rehov Borochov. Continue along this street for about 100 meters, then park in the parking bays at the intersection with Rehov Remez. Four-wheel-drive vehicles can continue all the way to the oak tree, as described below in the description of the walk. If you are approaching from the direction of HaAmakim Junction, continue on until you come to the first set of traffic lights, then turn left on to Rehov Alonim. After that continue as described above.

    Head northwards down Rehov Remez for about 40 meters, then before the No Entry sign turn right on to a paved track that makes its way among the Tabor oaks, with houses hidden in amongst them. After about 250 meters this paved trail becomes a dirt track that leads into a field under cultivation. On the other side of the field is a hill with a copse of trees on it. The giant oak tree stands on the far side of the wicket gate in the cattle fence that surrounds the hill. By this point we have walked around 900 meters.
  • Geographic location-

    Sea of Galilee - the valleys and lower Galilee
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    5 Km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

  • Season-

  • Features-

    Views and landscapes
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks


Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.

The giant oak tree

At first glance this tree does not look particularly impressive, as its canopy is rather thin. We can assume that it was much more imposing many years ago, but time has caused the tree’s large branches to collapse and disappear, leaving only one to soar still to a height of around ten meters. What is impressive about this tree is its huge ancient knotted and gnarled trunk, which has a girth of over five meters. Well sheltered by its vast bulk, mosses flourish among the cracks in the bark on its northern side, safely protected from the rays of the sun.

A large opening at one side reveals the huge trunk to be almost completely hollow. The Gabbay family of Kiryat Tivon has adopted this tree as a memorial for their son Ilan, a paratroop officer who fell during the war in Lebanon in August 2006. The hollow interior of the trunk has been smoked to protect it from parasites, and pipes have been inserted at the bottom of the gaping hole to drain away rainwater that could rot the wood. The lone branch has been propped up, the surrounding shrubs have been cut back and four wooden benches have been placed around the tree.

Tivon in ancient times

To the north of the tree, we set out along a blue-marked trail that leads us uphill through an open woodland of Tabor oaks. Bushes of Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides) and spiny broom (Calicotome villosa) accompany us along the way. The trees are hung with rough bindweed (Smilax aspera), and in springtime seasonal flowers burst into celebratory bloom. Please note as you walk along that you are sharing this trail with a herd of cows.

The trail continues to ascend, and after 350 meters it brings us to a row of cypresses and an open field. This may well be the site of ancient Tivon, which is mentioned in the Mishna as being located at a distance of two thousand cubits from the eruv (the ritual enclosure of an area in connection to the Jewish laws of the Sabbath) of a community called Ardeskos. Khirbat Kutzkutz, near Kibbutz Alonim, helps us to identify Tivon. In the Talmud, Tivon is mentioned as a community whose members did not differentiate between the pronunciation of the Hebrew letters hay and het and ayin and alef. For this reason they were generally not chosen to lead the congregation in prayer as shlihei tzibur unless they could prove that they were able to pronounce these consonants correctly: “Men from Haifa, Beit Shean and Tivon should not lead the congregation in prayer, as they pronounce hays as hets and ayins as alefs. [However], if their language is as it should be, [then] they may,” (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 24b).

From the cypresses the trail makes its way down a gentle slope until, after about 15- meters, it meets up with a green-marked trail, which we’ll return to later. In the meantime, we continue straight on along the blue-marked trail that soon leads us to the giant mastic tree.

Gabbay family

This Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica) is one of the most impressive in all Israel. Its huge trunk emerges from a rocky ledge that the tree’s roots and trunk have split open to a depth of at least three meters. In the past this ancient mastic tree had three enormous branches, but one died at a ripe old age, leaving a large stump. When young, this branch apparently grew into the base of another one, and so the two developed together and thickened until the space between them was no more than a small window that today adds an interesting feature to this beautiful tree.

This tree is closely connected with the history of Kiryat Tivon. In the early 1950s, at the time of the great rift within the Kibbutz Movement, some fifteen families who were preparing to leave Kibbutz Alonim were looking for an isolated spot where they could plan their future together without the knowledge of the other members. Eventually they began to meet beneath this mastic tree, which lies slightly to the west of the kibbutz. When they had finished planning and were ready to go, they approached the kibbutz authorities as a group and informed them of their decision.

The members of this breakaway faction moved into the Ramat Hadassah school building near Tivon, where they pursued a communal way of life: for five years they pooled their resources and continued to live much as they had done on kibbutz. When this proved no longer financially feasible they bought a plot of land in Tivon, built fifteen identical houses on it (still kibbutzniks at heart, after all) and named it the Mastic Tree Housing Cooperative after the tree that had learned their secrets without ever divulging them. We heard this story from Rivka Offenbach, daughter of one of the neighborhood’s founding families.

The way back

Now it’s time get back to the green-marked trail, which turns southwards and leads us initially through open Tabor oak woodland. Under one of the trees is a bench where we can sit and enjoy a view of the Jezreel Valley. Soon afterwards the trail enters a dense woodland for 200 meters before turning sharply to the right and making its way back down to the giant oak tree. From here a path leads us back to our starting point on Rehov Remez by the same route we came.