Directly at our feet are the remnants of the orchards of Dayr 'Amr, a tiny Arab village where a handful of people lived until Israel’s War of Independence. Terraced slopes, cisterns and the remains of small buildings are all visible below the trail. One source that describes the site mentions the existence of a small spring slightly to the south of the village, but there is no sign of it today.
At the top of the hill stands a shrine to the memory of Amr the Messenger (al-Sa‘i Amr), the messenger of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century CE. From Yehuda Ziv, our master and teacher in everything concerning knowledge of the historical geography of Israel, we learn that local tradition links the site to Sheikh Hussein, who is buried at the top of hill that bears his name. He was also known as Abu al-Armala (“father of the widow”) as he was a renowned patron of widows and orphans. And, indeed, in 1942, the Arab Higher Committee initiated the establishment, at the top of the hill, of an educational institution where students – most of whom were orphans whose fathers had been killed in the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 – could combine study with farming. Slightly later on, work was also begun on a school for girls. The village was captured on July 16th, 1948 by the 4th Battalion of the Harel Brigade, and today the farm compound is the site of the Eitanim Mental Health Center.
The Arbutus Trail
From the area of the masts, the trail descends to reveal new vistas: Kibbutz Tzuba with the hill protruding above it and the vineyards of Nahal Tzuba in the valley below. Close by is the village of Ein Rafa, and on the other side of Route no. 1 we have a clear view of Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, Kibbutz Maaleh HaHamisha and Mount Adar. At about 250 meters away from the aerial mast, we leave the dirt road and turn left on to a stepped trail that climbs slightly and skirts Eitanim from the north.
Large numbers of Greek strawberry trees (Arbutus andrachne) add their attractions to this stretch of the trail, and their presence is proof that we are now walking on the yellowish layer of the Motza formation. The Greek strawberry tree is very easily identified by its thin red bark that peels off every year to reveal the smooth yellowing trunk beneath. The Motza formation is largely composed of poorly ventilated fine-grained soft chalk rock, and this, naturally, influences the nitrogen regime in the soil. The Greek strawberry tree, however, would appear to overcome this problem by cooperating with fungi in the soil that help to render the nitrogen more available to the tree.
Note the giant terrace that constitutes the upper surface of the step crossed by the trail. It does not resemble the other terraces we have passed along the way, and it may have been built in the 1950s by new immigrants employed in work on national projects. The pine and cypress trees that survived from that period suffered a great deal in the hard winter of 2015. Some have been completely uprooted, while others have barely survived.