Defenders’ Forest (Yaar HaMeginim) Hike

The Judean Foothills dwindle as they descend towards Tel Gezer, where KKL-JNF has planted the Defenders’ Forest (Yaar HaMeginim).

Geographic location: Jerusalem, Judean highlands and surroundings
Track type: Walking path
Target audience: All
Difficulty: Wheelchair adapted
Track length: 3-5 km
Season: All

Identity Card

 
 
Geographic location: Central Israel – Judean Foothills

• Features: Views and landscapes, picnics, history and art; accessible

How to get there:
At the Latrun Interchange, turn west towards Nahshon Junction (Route no. 3). When you reach Nahshon Junction, turn northward (right) towards Ramla (Route no. 44). Continue for 2.4 kilometers, then turn eastward (to the right) along the paved trail that leads to the forest (there are signposts).

The Judean Foothills dwindle as they descend towards Tel Gezer, where KKL-JNF has planted the Defenders’ Forest (Yaar HaMeginim) over an area of around 3,500 dunam (approx 875 acres). The forest borders on the communities of Karmei Yosef, Kfar Bin Nun and Moshav Bekoa, and, as its name implies, it is dedicated to the memory of those who fell in Israel’s wars. KKL-JNF has allocated groves of trees to the various military units, so that they can memorialize their fallen. The groves also serve as a repository for memorials transferred from discontinued army bases.

As the main roads into the forest are paved, they can be negotiated by private cars. From these roads, trails lead off into hidden corners of the woodland where visitors can explore lonely paths in an atmosphere of intimate tranquility. The hilltops offer beautiful views towards the Ayalon Valley and the Judean Hills.

Even though HaMeginim Forest is located right in the middle of the country, relatively few people visit it and it is shrouded in an atmosphere of peace and intimacy. Within the woodland KKL-JNF has developed routes for both walkers and cyclists, and the Tel Aviv - Jerusalem Bike Trail leads through it. The forest is also an excellent starting point for a visit to Tel Gezer.

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 route

Our route begins at the main entrance to the site (see above for instructions on getting there). At the start of the trail, a memorial constructed from sections of an armored vehicle commemorates Sergeant Eliezer Leitner, who fell in the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War.

The trail continues, leading us sometimes through the forest’s thickets and sometimes along its edges, close to the fields of Moshav Bekoa. Our next stop is the Bekoa Scenic Lookout (Mitzpeh Bekoa), which, at 256 meters above sea level, is the highest point in the forest. On top of the hill KKL-JNF has built a fire-watching tower that is kept closed, as it is not intended for visits by the general public. Near the tower is a palm tree, and beside the tree is a memorial to Moshe Sharett, the second prime minister of Israel. Nine rocks placed at the site recount major events in his life.

The path that winds through the copse adjacent to the memorial offers shady seating areas in memory of Yonatan Gotthilf and Yitzhak Mashat, who fell in the First Lebanon War. Here we can take a break, rest, and picnic at tables provided by KKL-JNF.

In the center of the forest, close to the Bekoa Scenic Lookout, is the Mashber LaTikva (“Crisis of Hope”) monument in memory of 436 Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel and fell in battle during the War of Independence soon afterwards. This memorial, which is the work of the artist Dr. Nathan Sass takes the form of three large rocks clustered around an olive tree. The names of the fallen are etched into the rocks. Yehuda Sternfeld, a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence, initiated the construction of the memorial, which overlooks the Judean Hills and the Ayalon Valley.

Opposite the Crisis of Hope monument, KKL-JNF has provided a recreation area and open-air theater in memory of Major Asaf Asulin, who fell in the Nablus casbah during Operation Defensive Shield (Homat Magen) in April 2002. The semicircular theater overlooks the landscapes of the Ayalon Valley.

Defenders’ Forest contains a great many more memorial sites, some dedicated to individuals, others to groups, and we come across them as we wander among the trees. One perpetuates the memory of Lieutenant Yoram Lechter, who fell in the Yom Kippur War. This monument has the shape of a parchment scroll, and it quotes from Shaul Tchernichovsky’s poem See, O Earth: “See O Earth! we have been so wasteful...”

Another memorial commemorates Major Edi Sadeh, a pilot who was killed in a flying accident. The corner dedicated to the memory of Captain Ziv Bargur of Ramat HaSharon includes a quotation from his diary: “I am not here in this world to preserve my own life, but to defend the lives of others.” A group of comrades chose the remains of a half-track to commemorate fifteen armored and mechanized infantry soldiers from the 213th company of the 217th brigade who fell in the Yom Kippur War. Veterans of the Simur armored and mechanized infantry platoon continue to maintain the half-track and the tables and seats at the site.

Air Force personnel have memorialized their comrades with the entire skeleton of a Nord transport aircraft. This site can also be reached directly from Route no. 3 (those approaching from the direction of Latrun Junction should turn off about 400 meters before Nahshon Junction and follow the signs indicating the way to the Defenders’ Forest). The plane can be seen near the entrance, among the trees on the left.

Further along the trail that ascends from the Karmei Yosef cemetery, among the pine trees close to the crossroads that leads to the Bekoa Scenic Lookout, there is a rock inscribed with the words “the boundary of Gezer” in Hebrew and the name “Alkios” (Elhanan) in Greek lettering. This ancient sign would appear to indicate the name of the owner of this piece of land that bordered upon the city of Gezer, and the inscription is believed to date back to Hashmonean times (i.e., the 2nd century BCE).
 

Tel Gezer

Tel Gezer is a national park  that displays the ruins of the Biblical city of Gezer, where impressive remains from the Middle Canaanite Period and the Israel Period were found. Entrance to the site is free of charge, and there are explanatory signs.

How to get to Tel Gezer: Drive to Karmei Yosef and go inside. Beside the gate, at the first roundabout, turn left on to Rehov HaGefen. This street becomes a dirt track around the community, whose houses can be seen on the right. Continue for about a kilometer before turning left on to a dirt track that, after another 300 meters or so, brings you to a large jujube tree (Ziziphus spina-christi) at the foot of the tel. Here you can park before setting out on foot to explore the site.

The route at Tel Gezer
From the parking lot the path ascends towards a cluster of areas surfaced with concrete. These are the remains of the camp of the archeological delegation led by Robert McAllister, who conducted excavations at Gezer in the first decade of the twentieth century. Close by is an enlarged replica of the Gezer Tablet, an example of ancient Hebrew script found at the site that appears to enumerate the agricultural tasks performed in the different months of the year. The original tablet is in the Istanbul Archeological Museum.

Our route leads us to a deep oblique tunnel accessed by a flight of wooden steps. This is Tel Gezer’s waterworks. The tunnel went all the way down to groundwater level, and supplied the city’s residents with water. From here we continue to the Canaanite gate, which was constructed from mud bricks placed upon stone foundations. This gate formed part of the city wall that continues on to a huge guard tower sixteen meters in breadth, the largest fortification of its kind ever found in Israel.

The trail continues eastwards to Solomon’s Gate, which dates back to the Israelite period. It includes a system of chambers and is flanked with guard towers on either side, which were built into the city wall. Very similar gates were uncovered at Tel Hatzor and Tel Megiddo, and this one would appear to have been constructed in the tenth century BCE. It shows signs of having suffered a major fire, perhaps as a result of the campaign waged by the Egyptian king Shishak during the reign of King Rehoboam of Judea.

The trail leads us to a raised area bearing ten monumental standing stones from the Canaanite period. This would appear to have been the site of a cult, or perhaps these megaliths had some other form of symbolic significance for residents of the city. The trail makes its way back to the parking lot via the highest part of the tel, where we can see the remains of a building which is said to be the burial place of Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Jazari whose name retains the sound of the ancient name of Gezer.  This site was sacred to residents of the village of Abu Shusha, to the southwest of Tel Gezer, and it provides an excellent view of the Coastal Plain.

Protecting the Defenders’ Forest
Members of KKL-JNF staff responsible for Israel’s Coastal Plain and the adjacent lowland region have launched a special firefighting course for residents of communities in areas adjacent to forests and woodland. The first course, which was taught by members of the Ayalon Firefighting Association, was attended by residents of Karmei Yosef, a community that borders on the Defenders’ Forest. During the course they learned how to block the spread of a fire and keep the flames at bay until the arrival of professional firefighters, and they were also given the opportunity to practice their newly acquired skills. Apart from creating this forest fire volunteers group, KKL-JNF’s Community and Forest department in the Coastal Plain and adjacent lowlands also promotes the Defenders’ Forest as a community forest.