(photo credit: Reuven Rosenfelder)
A memorial monument erected by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) at the Sha'ar Hagai area leading up the Jerusalem mountains, remains little known to former North Americans (and other Israelis) due to lack of proper road-signs and access.
The monument is part of a lookout set up by the Jewish National Fund on a hill overlooking the famous road junction, a fine spot to relate the story of the battle of War of Independence. In 1948, convoys of armored trucks traveled just below in the attempt to reach the besieged Jewish population of Jerusalem. Many fell in this region, before the legendary Burma Road provided an alternative route to break the siege.
A bit to the side of the lookout, under tall pine trees, the AACI monument fits in well. Though not specifically related to the Sha'ar Hagai story, it matches in spirit and intent. Also, many former North Americans live in Jerusalem, which is just a 20-minute ride from this location.
However, touring requires proper signs and access. Travel safety is an essential consideration. Signs prepare the driver for a highway exit, and then guide him or her to a side road to reach the site. Overall, substantial progress in this respect has been made. Clear and properly placed brown signs, using the internationally accepted color for touring sites, can now be seen all over the country.
In fact, in the immediate vicinity of Sha'ar Hagai, signs have recently been placed to indicate another monument, commemorating the fallen overseas volunteers who came to fight on Israel's side in 1948. They were known as Mahal, the Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz La'aretz (overseas volunteers). This site is accessible from Road No. 38 (Sha'ar Hagai to Beit Shemesh).
The Mahal monument is on the other side of the road in relation to the lookout and AACI monument, but there are no signs at all for the latter. You must know precisely where to turn right from Road 38 to a dirt road (coming from Jerusalem; coming from the other direction it is prohibited). Then you would be lucky to spot a wooden pole placed by the JNF to guide you along. It may help drivers of 4-WD vehicles who come up the dirt road, but is of no use for ordinary vehicles from the main road. (The Mapa 2007 road atlas does not mark the site, probably due to the lack of proper signs.)
The AACI monument, a curving stone wall, leads to a pine-tree forest. The inscription states that it "represents an eternal tribute to those North American olim, their children, and tourists, who fell in the defense of Israel or in terrorist attacks. May their memories be blessed."
About 300 names are inscribed on 10 tablets, in Hebrew and in English, with the year of death. Notably, North American immigrants have been killed in combat since the first decades of the past century, prior to Israel's establishment. The tablets are a reflection of Israel's wars, with numerous names listed for 1948, 1973 and 1982. More names commemorate terror victims in recent years, as the inscription points out.
Going over to the lookout proper: the JNF installed a metal board on which the words of the song "Bab el-Wad" are inscribed. This truly iconic song of the War of Independence, with words by poet Haim Guri, uses the Arabic name of Sha'ar Hagai, by which it was then known, to recall that heroic period and mourn the fallen.
Other installations at the lookout recall the various battle sites of the Palmah Brigade in Jerusalem and the mountains all around, during the 1948 war.
Asked to comment about the lack of signs, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism stated: "Tourism signs are the responsibility of the government Tourism Company. However, it does not act on its own. The company responds to recommendations made by local authorities or regional associations promoting tourism. So far no such recommendation has been made, but it will be forwarded."