Givat HaMoreh, whose name translates into English as “the hill that can be seen from afar,” is an isolated mountainous ridge in the Lower Galilee that towers above the two valleys that encircle it on all sides – the Jezreel Valley and Harod Valley. Its summit provides magnificent views of the gullies, moshavim, kibbutzim and farmland below, and lends the reservoirs scattered among the fields the appearance of precious blue stones. At winter’s end, Givat HaMoreh Forest is full of lupins and irises in bloom (the Nazareth iris, in this case) – two of the most beautiful flowers the country has to offer. Well-marked scenic routes, footpaths and picnic areas render the forest easily accessible and ensure that every visit is pure pleasure.
The route Before we embark upon the route that will lead us to the Nazareth iris nature reserve, we would do well to open the Bible at the book of Judges and read what it has to say about Givat HaMoreh, on whose summit Gideon vanquished the Midianites. In most Biblical accounts of battles, the actual details of the combat are not described, but in this case the pre-battle planning and organization and the fighting itself are portrayed with a degree of detail that allows us to understand something of Gideon’s military tactics. Faced with an enemy whose forces are superior in number to his own, Gideon chooses to take the field with a hand-picked group of elite warriors and overcomes the Midianites’ mobility and numerical advantage by attacking unexpectedly, under cover of darkness. The Israelite force departs by night from the Harod spring, and musters, apparently, on top of Givat HaMoreh, from where it can look down upon the Midianite camp below in the Valley of Kesullot: “… And the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley…” (Judges 7:8). On the eve of the battle, Gideon scouts out the land and gathers intelligence. He takes advantage of the element of surprise and sows panic and disarray in the enemy ranks: “…And the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled…” (Judges 7:22).
And now the time has come to set out and explore. Our starting point is the recreation area adjacent to Kfar Dahi, a small Arab village to which we can make our way on foot. In the center of the village, not far from the mosque, we can see what was once the heart of the original community, with the ruins of an impressive vaulted building still visible. After returning to our vehicle, we drive to the scenic lookout, following the signs along a dirt road that branches off to the right some 200 meters before Kfar Dahi.
We drive for around two kilometers until we reach a stretch of paved road where we turn left and continue onwards for another 300 meters before arriving at the recreation area and the Givat HaMoreh Forest scenic lookout (signposts indicate the way). From the top of the hill we have an excellent view: to the north we can see Mount Tabor and the hills of Nazareth with the Valley of Kesullot lying between them. On a clear day we can even see Mount Hermon in the distance, and it was perhaps this spot that the psalmist had in mind when he wrote “Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name…” (Psalms 89:13); this is also the source of the Christian tradition that Givat HaMoreh is the “little Hermon.” At the foot of Mount Tabor we can see the Arab village of Daburiyya, with Ein Mahil, Mount Devora and Mount Precipice (Mount Kedumim) to the west. Yafia (the Biblical Jafia) and Migdal HaEmek are likewise visible and below us is the village of Nin, which was known as Naim in the Talmudic period. To the west lies the Jezreel Valley and Mount Carmel with the Kfar Baruch lake at its tip. On a clear day we can climb to the top of the watchtower – but only if it is in use that day and a fire-spotter is on duty – to get a view of Mount Umm al-Fahm and Megiddo. To the south we can see the Gilboa Ridge, Ein Harod and Tel Jezreel, with Kfar Sullam below us. Ramot Yissachar, Beit Shean and the Gilead region lie to the east. The observation platform of the watchtower, whose walls are clad in basalt and other types of natural stone and which is used by KKL-JNF firewatchers throughout the summer months only, is accessed by a flight of stairs.
Below the watchtower, at a height of 515 meters above sea level, we can see the Eastern Peak recreation area, which is constructed of natural stone. Nearby is the tomb of Nabi Dahi, a blue-domed shrine that, according to Muslim tradition, is the burial place of Dihya Ibn Khalifa, also known as Al-Kalbi. Tradition relates that he was a follower of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed near the Harod spring while commanding his army in battle against the Byzantines. His faithful dog is said to have dragged his lifeless body to the top of the hill, before breathing his last and being buried alongside his master. The residents of the nearby village of Al-Dahi, like the inhabitants of the other Arab villages in the Givat HaMoreh region, belong to the well-connected Zuabiyye clan, who claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad. They settled on the fringes of the Jezreel Valley after making their way to the Land of Israel in the middle of the 18th century. Nabi Dahi became renowned as a healer of the sick, and residents of the Arab villages in the region would bring their ailing children to sit “beside the prophet” until they recovered. People from the village of Al-Dahi still come to pray beside this ancient tomb and they bury their dead in close proximity to it. The fence that surrounds the cemetery blocks all access to the tomb.
From the top of the watchtower a tall aerial mast can clearly be seen at the apex of the low peak to the east of the tower.
A good dirt road provides access to the site (use your vehicle to get there) and at the foot of the mast you will find the Givat HaMoreh iris nature reserve, where the Nazareth iris grows and flaunts impressive blooms. The nature reserve is located in the eastern section of the Givat HaMoreh hill, which at this point is almost totally bare of trees, providing a stretch of rocky open ground that allows a wide variety of plants to flourish. From the parking lot, we follow the red-marked footpath eastwards as it winds among the outcrops of chalk rock that appear more like sculptures than natural formations. Along the way you will see a winepress hewn into the rock, which reminds us of the Biblical verse “…and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites…” (Judges 6:11). We can now make our way back along the blue-marked trail to the spot where we left our vehicle. Experienced walkers, however, may prefer to continue along the red path until it joins up with the blue one, which will lead them to the village of Nin, where they will need to arrange to have a car waiting for them.
An impressive display of lupins can be found in the eucalyptus grove above the gas station belonging to the Arab village of Naura.