This day trip in the Judean Mountains south of the Jerusalem Mountains reveals hidden wonders surrounding Israel's capital. At the centre of things are Nahal Rafaim and its surroundings. We will start with a spectacular view over Nahal Refaim, go down to Ein Itamar, reach Ein Lavan, cross the stream, and visit Ein Haniya. Then, for dessert, we will go to the highest mountain in the area, Mount Gila, and learn the history and story of the place. The most recommended season is spring, the month of March, when the almond blossoms, primroses and lupines, lavender and Lof blossom, anemones and orchids hide between the rocks. Have a nice trip!
TIP: It is better to travel in two cars in a friendly company, leaving one car in the parking lot of Emek Refaim Park and getting to the start of the route in the other vehicle. Then, having completed the walking part in Ein Haniya, return to the car in the parking lot in Emek Refaim Park, rejoin the first car and climb Mount Gilo together and complete the route. Of course, travelling independently to any point on the road is possible.
The trail is marked with a blue trail marker. Please watch out for vehicles and other riding equipment in the vicinity. ATV riders love the place; the tracks of their cars can be seen everywhere.
The view in front of us is spectacular and gives a broad overview of the area. Two principal creeks define the area's features: Nahal Rafaim and Nahal Kesalon. These rivers feed Nahal Sorek in the north and south. In addition, you can see Batir Springs, a world heritage site. There are Kfar Hosan on the horizon, Jud Daniel, Mount Gilo, and hidden Wadi Chaletz, descending between Batir and Hosan. Finally, the Beitar is the moderate slope descending towards Khirbet El Yahud. Nahal Rafaim below us is also an ancient road that many people used throughout history. At the end of the 19th century, a railway was built along the river. The choice of this road was predicted both because of the route's convenience and the water. The steam locomotives needed water-filling stations along the road.
The ancient road along Nahal Sorek runs below. What can be noted is that many burial caves are visible along the way. It's interesting because it was good to be buried along the road in ancient times - that's how people come to visit the grave. It is written that in Adar, people set out to repair the roads, the graves and the springs in preparation for the ascension to Jerusalem in the month of Nisan. In the days of the First Temple, the entire area between Gush Etzion and Kiryat Yaarim is not mentioned. In the days of the Second Temple, there is a mention of the room, which is only about Beitar. Sources about the period come from the Talmud. And it seemed to be rumours in retrospect—bar Koziva.
We are in a Mediterranean grove with an arid effect that creates a sparse grove. It is a good place for orchids, and there are many, but the anemone interests us. Anemone belongs to red bowl flowers. All have bowl-shaped flowers. The flowers close at night and contain pollen and no nectar. Beetles love flowers and use them as a kind of home. Most of the flowers that attract insects are bisexual. The flowers can be female or male. The male phase is before the female step. That is, the flower in the male stage is more beautiful because the seed needs to be spread. In general, in nature, there is much more sperm than eggs. Therefore, the question is, who said that nature needs 50% men? With an anemone, the process is the opposite. The first stage is female, and the second is male. A white circle appears in the male phase to attract insects.
This flowering plant is a common weed in wheat and chickpea fields. It grew in Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. It is also common in the Mediterranean region, Asia and the Mascarene Islands. It has a fibrous root system. The plant is also known as a wild onion or "jungle fizz" in Pakistan
A field of a yellowish fleshy plant called spurge. The name was given to him because of the milk. Everything that has milk in it is potentially poisonous. In the Middle Ages, a perception was created that everything in this world was made for man and that signs should be understood. For example, to associate and combine plants and organs by colour. Red - is good for the blood, yellow - is good for the liver, etc. In the Middle Ages, it was even called the theory of signs. The approach is prevalent among field grass pickers. The orchid has a tuber from which beige colour milk comes out. It reminds us of the seminal fluid, and that's why medieval people thought that the orchid helped fertility. Another proof of this is the name of the plant in Latin. Orchid translated from Latin is testicles.
Deer tracks can be seen. That's how it always is in nature: plants and animals come first. The forest is recovering after a big fire, and the deer tracks show that character completes the life cycle after a disaster.
The Almond. The village of Wallajah was there until 1948; today, it exists right across the creek. It seems that almonds come from a uniform source from an evolutionary point of view. It is an ancient tree with a good tradition of nature's failures and triumphs that has learned a few things. As a rule, almond blossoms bring about 10% fruit. However, the plant cannot grow every flower into fruit, so it only listens to the strong.
In 1596, the village of Walaja was mentioned in the Ottoman tax registers as a village of the Haliva of Quds (Jerusalem). Six hundred fifty-five people lived there and paid a fixed tax of one-third on agricultural products, including wheat, barley, summer crops, vines or fruit trees, and goats or beehives. In 1838, it was noted as a Muslim village in the Bnei Hassan district west of Jerusalem. During the second half of the 19th century, al-Walajah was the administrative seat of the Beni Hassan district, which included ten villages, including al-Khadr, Soba, Beit Jala, Ein Karim, and al-Maliha, and its suburbs. It was the throne village of the Al-Absia family.
The wood is Yellow due to lichen. It may sound strange, but at least one Muslim family has received the title of Righteous Among the Nations. This Muslim family from Serbia saved a Jewish family during World War II. Fortunately, the family's descendants immigrated to Israel and saved the Bosnian family during the civil war in the early 1990s. The Muslim family's mother was buried in the Beit Zeid cemetery after her death. This area once belonged to the Valaža district. The daughter of the Righteous Among the Nations converted to Judaism and worked as a Holocaust researcher at Yad Vashem.
The Itamar spring is a part of the objects of interest on the Jerusalem path. This spring was the primary spring of the village of Al Walaja. Village dwellers named it Ein Balad, the village's primary water source in Arabic. The Name Itamar commemorates the Name of Itamar Doron, Hasid of Breslav, murdered by Hamas terrorists in 1998. The murderers fled the scene in Itamar's car. They were caught, tried and imprisoned, but one of them escaped several times until he was eliminated in 2001. Many debates and demonstrations against the exclusion of women were held near the spring. There was a time when religious men took ownership of the springs of Jerusalem and expelled women to use the springs as a kind of mikvah. Finally, the issue reached the Knesset, and the Minister of Internal Security decided to send a permanent police patrol.
On the opposite bank, you can see agricultural terraces that consist of rough stones build above the rock. In addition, several irrigation canals were carved into the rock itself.
Cyclamen is a winter plant. It has an inverted flower for protection against rain. So who blames her if she puts the flower upside down? Little bees do it. They also live inside the flower. The seed is very close to the source since the flower is downwards.
The name of the flower in Arabic is composed of the word opris, which comes from ancient Greek and means eyebrows, perhaps due to the velvety brown appearance of the labellum. The word sphagodas also comes from ancient Greek and signifies a wasp. The plant has another name, aranifera, meaning spider bearer. The plant genus Ophrys is the most species-rich genus of orchids in Europe and the Mediterranean, with over 200 species, according to 'Orchids of Britain and Europe' by Pierre Delforge.
The length of the Jerusalem trail is about 40 kilometres. Among the rocks, you can see the plant Rocky Lavinskya is a type of moss, and its use is shared as a burning material. In Arabic, it is called Gada Kedah. Bedouins use it for foot acupuncture for back problems.
In the wadi on the other side of Nahal Refaim, you can see the remains of ancient buildings. This is an old caravan stop lot that was declared a national park.
"For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of streams of water, Einat and Temat, going out in the valley and the mountains".
Ein Laban is a stratum spring typical of the Judean Mountains that flows from a carved tunnel. The rainwater is absorbed by the hard limestone rock and emerges on the back of the soft and opaque layer of marl. The water flows in open channels into two pools that store the water to irrigate the agricultural terraces built downhill as the orchard.
Wildflowers bloom on the stairs and in the rock's cracks, including daffodils, anemones, and hollyhocks. Scattered around are the remains of buildings, cisterns, and burial caves from the Mishna and Talmudic periods to the time of the early Arab invasion. There are also remains that testify to an ancient Jewish settlement in this place during the First Temple period.
The orchard path goes down to the parking lot from the upper pool. You can get here by car, directed to the Biblical Zoo of Jerusalem. The orchard consists of almond, fig, olive, and carob fruit trees growing according to the Bible in the Land of Israel.
These train tracks are the first line of a train in the Holy Land. It was a line that connected Jaffa and Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century. Today trains to Malka train station in the south of Jerusalem steel use this track.
Upstream to the right of the crossing under the railroad tracks is the southern entrance to the Kerem Tunnel. The tunnel connects Nahal Refaim and Nahal Sorek. It was excavated as an infrastructure tunnel and was used for the Jerusalem sewer line to transfer sewage to the desalination plant in the lower stream of Nahal Sorek. In 2018, the tunnel became a bicycle tunnel and welcomed the first Jerusalem international bicycle ride. About six and a half thousand cyclists participated in this ride. As of September 2022, the tunnel is open for riding as part of the Jerusalem bicycle Trail. The tunnel is the fifth largest in the world for cycling.
Flow in this area of the river is quite a rare phenomenon. The stream is a tributary of Nahal Sorek and drains Jerusalem's fertile Emek Rafa. Nevertheless, it still has a beautiful and kind flow in March.
Here you can leave the route of Nahal Refaim, which is part of Nahal Refaim Park, and cross the road to Ein Haniya National Park. There are many idioms to the name of the place. Some say Chanya, and some say Kchania, but the meaning of the word is a place to stop and rest.
Entrance to Ein Haniya National Park is for a fee. The place belongs to the Armenian church, and tourist innovations were made possible after far-reaching agreements between the national authority of parks and the Armenian church.
This building is one of the few buildings that survived in the place. The beginning of the history of worship in this place is at the dawn of the Christian religion. Keeping the ownership of the place knew many vicissitudes and this building was used for the constant presence of the clergy and clergy. Today it houses an administration. Translated with Google Translate
In March, you can spot many fresh, and fleshy arum leaves in Ein Haniya. Arum is a plant that attracts flies for pollination. A fly is drawn to the smell emitted by the plant towards sunset and crawls into the hollow stem. The stem tip shrinks a bit due to cooling, and the fly cannot get out. It gets dark, and a fly stays in the plant because it doesn't fly in the dark. In the morning, a fly manages to get out after pollinating the plant well. Towards evening the story repeats in another arum.
The territory of the place belongs to the Armenian church. The remains of a Byzantine church are well-identified. There is an underground passage about 15 meters long from the source of the spring to its flowing to a large pool. This is probably how the place was built back in the Byzantine Roman period and was used as a parking place for caravans, satiety, and rest.
It is not known whether people were baptized in this pool or at another baptism site in the church, but without a doubt, the spring water was used by the clergy for baptism.
The name of the spring is Phillipus Spring, the Christian and historical character. Phillipus was a member of the dawn of the Christian religion. He was Jewish, and serving in the church revealed him as a possibility to support himself. So he became a servant - a deacon. An ancient road passed through Ein Haniya from Jerusalem to the southern coastal plain. Caravans were parked there. Tradition says that a merchant from Ethiopia camped there and was baptized by Phillipus. This is how Christianity came to Ethiopia.
Mount Gilo is one of the highest peaks of the Judean Mountains. It rises 927 meters above sea level. During World War II, the English military forces used this peak to set up an antenna for radio transmissions. From here, they broadcast programs to encourage the Greek and Yugoslav underground.
A relatively rare find was discovered in the excavations. It is a water pipe consisting of links cut in the rock and a squeezing device with a screw press under direct pressure. In this press, the beam was abandoned, and a screw was used. The screw moves inside a nut in the upper part of a wooden frame fixed on both sides by stone constructions. These artifactual pieces were found next to a crushing basin and were part of the same olive press house.
In the second half of the 19th century, representatives of the Russian Empire bought land in this place as part of the purchase of land in Jerusalem and Ein Kerem. There was a guest house for Russian pilgrims on their way to Bethlehem. With the outbreak of the civil war in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, the place was leased by the English authorities. They set up a transmitter station in the Second World War. After the Six-Day War, Yoharm Ben Meir settled there. He was a founder of a field school in Bar Giora and established the school here.
After the war of independence, the Jordanian army held the place and built ammunition depots. It was a giant pit at the edge of the mountain, which was used by the Israeli military as a patrol station along the line after the Six-Day War. Later they constructed these buildings for Border Military Forces.
The sixties of the last century were years in which the image and character of the Har Gilo settlement were shaped. Yoram Ben Meir (Yoram Lemberg) worked to make the place a permanent settlement. The commander of the region, Rehavam Ze'evi, opposed this. Still, Teddy Kolek, the mayor of Jerusalem at the time, and Moshe Dayan, the Minister of Defense, supported Yoram, nicknamed Peachy. Good neighbourliness developed between Mount Gilo and Beit Jala. But in the second intifada, the separation fence was erected after several attacks in the area, and Mount Gilo became a division between Beit Jala and Wallaja. A colossal observation tower dominates the surroundings. Behind massive iron gates are houses of Beit Jala.
The tall building right behind the fence is the famous "Everest" hotel. The name was given to it due to the height of the mountain on which it was built. It was a revered hotel among wealthy people from the Gulf of the Emirates. Many Israelis were also hosted there. When the wall was erected, the owners of the place submitted to the High Court of Justice, claiming that the wall needed to include the hotel in Israeli territory since its business centre is in Israel. The High Court rejected the request. Behind the houses of Beit Jala, you can see the round dome on the horizon, the Herodion. Between the hotel and the Herodion are the houses of Bethlehem. To the south, an area of southern Judea extends to Hebron. This space is named Gush Etzion. To the left is Jerusalem and to the north is the hill of Prophet Shmuel.
From behind the Field School of Peachey buildings, you can see the Gilo neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Gilo Creek separates it from Gilo Mountain and flows into the Refaim River. Below us is the Cremisan Abbey with its famous winery. But let us visit the monastery and its surroundings the next time.