Get wind of this

The hike around Har Haruah takes you past historical landmarks and remarkable landscapes.

Jerusalem forest 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem forest 88
(photo credit: )
It's quite okay to view this hike as an accessible (though unofficial) access spur to the Israel Trail. Though it begins only 15 kilometers from Jerusalem, this passage makes its way through the lesser-known northern range of the Judean Hills - somewhat off the beaten track relative to the more explored Katlav and Sorek valleys farther south. It is easily accessible at both ends, and well-marked throughout. It also keeps the Green Line in sight without actually touching it. It's worth adding a kilometer to the walk; begin at Abu Ghosh. Come early and follow your nose to the bakeries. They will gladly wrap up an armful of their oven-warm freshly made pitot for the way ahead. Follow the main road toward Ma'aleh Hahamisha with a right turn by the Caravan restaurant; make a left almost immediately, signposted toward Nataf. Soon, a blue-marked path (negotiable by cars for the first few hundred meters) will be visible on the left, leading to a parking lot. The real walk starts here - by Kibbutz Ma'aleh Hahamisha (which greets its visitors with a memorial to those who fell in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which stands alongside an extensive cultivation of orchids). The blue markings, by the way, continue to the halfway point of the walk, where a shaded JNF picnic area may tempt you to gorge on those pitot. But hold off, because you have a long haul to Hirbet Meitzad. Hang onto the bread for a celebratory feast at the summit. Continue for a quarter of an hour along the blue path,0 which steadily climbs uphill to the summit of Har Haruah. Though 771 meters up, it counts for little more than a gentle stroll, since the hike begins near the top. Don't feel guilty about the lack of effort as you survey the view stretching from the Jerusalem suburbs to the east to the undulating lowlands with the Mediterranean on the far western horizon. Count on paying back that exertion debt well before the terminus. You may take a short detour to the left to Hirbet Eres, whose rather paltry remains date to the Roman period when Har Haruah exercised control over traffic between Jerusalem and the west. The next hour is downhill. Much of the route is pine-shaded, but it is punctuated by tragedy and conflict. Ten minutes from the summit is the spot where five Polish-Jewish immigrant workers were murdered by local Arabs while they laid the very path under your feet. Indeed, Ma'aleh Hahamisha ("the ascent of the five"), which was to become the present kibbutz, was founded in their name a year later in 1938. Let the simple but stark stone memorial on your left utter its silent testimony to the heartbreak. In another 15 minutes, the sharp-eyed hiker will pick out abandoned wells, gardens and stone walls on the right-hand side of the trail. This is the site of Beit Tul - one of the many Arab villages with a strategic view of the way to Jerusalem; it was abandoned in a hurry during the 1948 fighting. Unlike Abu Ghosh, its people entered the 1948 war on the losing side. On the left are rows of huge sabra plants. Be careful to slice the fruit open without directly handling it. Contact stings. Nearby, another simple but stark multi-stone memorial on your left commemorates a more recent calamity: In February 1980, the plane of fighter pilots Ari Eitan and Yossi Gordon failed to clear the ground where you are now standing. The aircraft parts embedded between the stones tell their tale. From here, the path narrows and can be treacherous during wet weather. It winds downward, eventually meeting the channel of the Yitla Valley, which has been running on the left for the last three kilometers. Its picturesque and harmonious V-shaped profile carries the following message: Get there quick, and take pictures now. The latest plans for the high-speed railroad linking Jerusalem with Ben-Gurion Airport and beyond include a long bridge over the Yitla Valley. There will be bored-out tunnels on both sides - the eastern one 11 kilometers long, finishing up underneath Jerusalem's Central Bus Station. The Yitla Valley seems to be the obvious dumping ground of the freshly drilled tunnel debris. Its topography will also be an air pollution trap if Israel Railways takes the cheaper option of running diesel trains instead of the originally planned electric ones. The blue-marked trail you have been following reaches a red-marked one. Follow it to the left, and very soon you will see a cave opposite you, fronted with severely eroded steps. Originally a Byzantine retreat, it offers a challenge to the agile and flashlight-equipped hiker. Apparently, spiritual solitude was so popular during that era that there was a waiting list for every cave. Explore it at your own risk. I decided it wasn't for me. The red-marked path leads you on a short, intense scramble out of the Yitla Valley. The trail widens to 4x4 vehicle width, taking two kilometers of a consistent, steep pull to reach Hirbet Meitzad. It looks over the length of the upper Yitla Valley to the east, though all but the most hardy hikers will be more interested in how much farther it is to the top. Just when you think it will go on forever, the path levels out and reaches a junction. Turn left and walk another 10 minutes to the summit, marked by the Byzantine ruins of Hirbet Meitzad. It is perfectly positioned, with a command over the Yitla Valley to the north and the newly emerged Elan Valley (leading to today's main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route) on the southern side. Explore the underground chamber nearby - bring a flashlight and try to spot the flying bats. This is an excellent lunch spot. From here, it is all downhill - worth remembering if you overdo the food a little. Allow an hour and a half for a comfortable descent. Clearly marked, the trail presents a well-preserved Roman milestone bearing the name of Emperor Maximus (235-238 CE). This was the route taken by pilgrims from Jerusalem to Emmaus, the site where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus appeared in human form after dying on the cross. Details of the route are presented in both Greek and Latin. Eventually, the sound of rushing vehicles on Highway 1 indicates that your long hike is drawing to a close. As you pass the abandoned Ottoman police station, drop underneath the main road and emerge on the side of the old Turkish inn that stands at the entrance to the long ascent linking the coastal plains to Jerusalem, which today has been extensively modified to carry Highway 1. The walk ends by the water fountain at the Burma Road picnic site on Route 38 - about 500 meters south of the interchange where Highway 1 meets Route 38, just before the Paz gas station. The name Burma Road was given to the emergency supply route that bypassed the Arab-controlled main road to Jerusalem during the 1948 War of Independence. Had the convoys not managed to get through, the Jews remaining in west Jerusalem would have starved or been forced to surrender. Don't follow the Burma Road now; instead, take a few steps along the Israel Trail's orange, blue and white-marked path to the left and visit the sculpture made of white letters commemorating some 500 Mahal members (volunteer soldiers from abroad) who fell in the War of Independence. Look for the plaque carrying Yitzhak Rabin's words of gratitude and appreciation: "They came to us when we needed them most - during those hard and uncertain days of our War of Independence."