A forest for you, me - and everyone

Haruvit Forest was designed with the IDF's disabled in mind; but the wide paths and wild flowers means no one should miss it.

galilee forest 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
galilee forest 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
As all good Israelis know, the country's forests were planted and are tended and cared for by the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet). Regardless of issues of who lived in Palestine/Israel at various historical epochs, and the history of immigration both Jewish and Arab, it's clear that without the efforts of the JNF, Israel would be a lot less green. Of course, a forest needs not just planting, but defending. (In last summer's Second Lebanon War, trees were also victims, and it wasn't the first time that they have been caught in the cross-fire.) So, it's fair to say that Israel's forests also owe a lot to the IDF. In order to express its appreciation of the IDF wounded, the JNF has established several special nature parks with facilities designed to allow disabled soldiers - including those restricted to wheelchairs or crutches - to enjoy Israel's beautiful forests, too. Paved nature trails, wide roads, plenty of parking, archaeological ruins accessible to the disabled, lookout points - and a special park with top of the line rehabilitation equipment that can be used by soldiers, or anyone else, for free - it's all waiting for you at the Haruvit Forest, near Gedera and Rehovot. The Haruvit Forest is named for the numerous carob trees that dot the landscape, but it's got lots of other trees as well, including eucalyptus, pine, and various fruit trees. Plus, it's got the usual winding trails, cliffs and campfire areas that you find in most national forests in Israel. But the Haruvit Forest wants everybody - even those with disabilities - to enjoy its charms. There are several very wide dirt paths, very well paved, that wend their way deep into the forest, allowing access by vehicles such as vans, which many people in wheelchairs either drive or ride in. Along the roads are several archeological digs, part of a larger dig in neighboring Tel Tzafit. There is also a magnificent lookout point at the end of the main road going into the park, where you can see Ashkelon and Ashdod to the west - and on a clear day, as far as Gush Etzion to the east. But the forest is best appreciated up close and personal - on the ground, not in the car. And to that end, park administrators have set up a special two-kilometer paved forest trail, which winds through the trees, wild flowers, and rock formations. Along the trail are benches where hikers can rest, as well as picnic areas with benches and handicap-accessible restrooms. Along the trail, there are several lookouts, where one can see the coastal plain (in the direction of Ashdod and part of the Lachish region). And even though the path begins (or ends, depending on which side you start off from) on top of a hill and ends at the bottom, it seems pretty flat while you're walking on it! Haruvit is all about families, too - in fact, it was originally designed to accommodate not just disabled soldiers, but their families, too. So, there are plenty of benches all around, as well as barbecue facilities, and special picnic tables that were built to allow those confined to wheelchairs to sit at the table in dignity, together with everyone else - and a lot of the grilling stations are set up to allow someone in a sitting position to do their own cooking, too! The park even has a special path for those who cannot see, featuring herbs and plants that give off beautiful aromas, accompanied by signs in braille explaining them. Of course, any family is welcome to use the park, and the paved forest paths are a great experience for harried parents who want a breath of fresh air, but can't shlep little kids on a "regular" hike in the forest. There is also a very large and well-equipped children's playground, with plenty of equipment that is accessible to even the smallest children - or those who are disabled, too. Next to the playground, though, is a collection of exercise equipment used in physical therapy settings - to enable disabled individuals undergoing physical therapy to do their workouts in the great outdoors, a lovely change of pace from the hospital training facility they would otherwise be using. Amazingly, the equipment is free to use, not just for soldiers, but for everybody - just like the rest of the forest. But even though Haruvit Forest is open to all, it still holds a special place in the heart of those who fought to defend it - and that's an example we can all learn something from. The details... Directions: From the Tel Aviv area, take Highway No. 1 to Road No. 40 (Lod interchange), drive south about 20 km. Turn right at Re'em (Masmiya) Junction onto Road No. 3, drive 1 km, and turn left on Road No. 383. Drive another 7 km and turn right into the forest. From Jerusalem: Take Highway No. 1 to Road No. 3 exit, turn left and drive 21 km. Turn left onto Road No. 383, drive 8 km, and turn right into the forest. Also in the area: Tel Tzafit is a major archeological site, with digs from the First Temple period and before. It is thought by archeologists to be the site of Gath, the capital of the Philistines, prior to its conquest by King David. There are wine and oil presses, remains of walls and palaces, and buildings from later periods, including Crusader-era structures.