Mount Avner and Horvat Ner

The view from Horvat Ner towards the Jordan Valley and Mount Gilead. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
The view from Horvat Ner towards the Jordan Valley and Mount Gilead. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
This route for experienced walkers in Lower Galilee’s “wild” south Gilboa region in northern Israel offers magnificent views and magnificent concentrations of flowering Gilboa irises.

This route for experienced walkers in Lower Galilee’s “wild” south Gilboa region in northern Israel offers magnificent views and, in early March, magnificent concentrations of flowering Gilboa irises. Seeing the flowers necessitates only a short walk suitable for all.
  • How to get there

    Follow the Gilboa scenic route (Route 667) and at around three kilometers to the south of Kibbutz Maaleh HaGilboa, turn westward, following the signs to Malkishua. Continue for about 1.2 kilometers, then, opposite the entrance to Kibbutz Merav, you will see the Aliza Scenic Lookout (Mitzpeh Aliza), where it is well worth stopping to enjoy the view.

    Continue for another 4.3 kilometers and you will arrive at the gate to Malkishua. Here you can park your vehicle and set out on foot along the dirt road that turns off to the right, which is indicated by black trail markings. Should you wish to save yourself a two kilometer hike, you can continue driving along the dirt road for a kilometer or so, and park at the edge of the forest at the point of intersection with a blue-marked trail. This route, although a little bumpy, can be negotiated by private cars.
  • Geographic location-

    Sea of Galilee - the valleys and lower Galilee,Mount Gilboa
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

    Fit walkers
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Season-

  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks

Projects and Partners Worldwide

The site was developed with contributions from friends of KKL JNF worldwide, including KKL-JNF’s Friends in Canada, the USA and Israel.

Mitzpeh Aliza

Before embarking upon the walking route, we recommend that you take the time to pause at Mitzpeh Aliza, the scenic lookout situated opposite the entrance to Kibbutz Merav. The observation platform, which is roofed with a pergola, was erected in memory of Aliza Malka, who was staying at Kibbutz Merav when she was murdered by terrorists at the age of sixteen. The site commands a view of the village of Jilabun and the communities of northern Samaria that lie beyond the security fence.

The Aliza Scenic Lookout (Mitzpe Aliza), overlooking the village of Jilabun and northern Samaria. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
The Aliza Scenic Lookout (Mitzpe Aliza), overlooking the village of Jilabun and northern Samaria. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.

The walking route

Before the gate at the entrance to Malkishua, we turn right along a black-marked trail. This site, which started out as a Nahal (Noar Halutzi Lohem, i.e., Fighting Pioneer Youth) outpost in 1982, today serves as a drug rehabilitation center. Our route, which is bordered by low scrubland, passes by a cultivated plot. After about 800 meters we should begin to look out for large concentrations of Gilboa irises, which flower in late February and early March.

After about a kilometer, we cross a cattle grid and arrive at a plain, where we approach a blue-marked path. This path will be our route back at the end of the walk. If you have come by car, you should park it here.

To Mount Avner

We turn right following the black trail signs and take the path that ascends gently through the heart of a KKL-JNF conifer forest. If, as we climb, we turn round for a moment, we shall see before us Mount Malkishua with large aerials on its summit. The hill is named after one of King Saul’s sons, who, like his father and brothers, was killed in battle on Mount Gilboa. At 538 meters, Mount Malkishua is the tallest peak in the Gilboa range – and, for the sake of fairness, perhaps we should add another 100 meters or more, as the Beit Shean Valley lies below sea level.

Mount Malkishua. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
Mount Malkishua. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.

The ascent to the summit of Mount Avner, which is entirely covered in forest, is not difficult. Don’t expect a magnificent view when you reach the top – that will come later. Now the trail descends a gentle slope very close to the separation fence. At a woodland crossroads the path turns to the left then immediately turns uphill very steeply to the right, ascending by seventy meters as it climbs in a straight line to the summit. On maps it is marked as elevation point 552. According to a booklet by Yossi Buchman and the late Azaria Alon, the Arabic name of this spot is Umm Anza (“Mother of a Goat”).

The black-marked path meets up with a trail. After walking for just a few meters we reach a cattle grid. The path continues straight on, but we recommend turning right here and walking alongside the fence until we reach a pile of stones. From here we have a wonderful view of the southern Gilboa and the slopes descending to the gully of Nahal Bezek (“Bezek River”), which marks the geographical boundary between Mount Gilboa and Samaria. To the west of where we stand we can see the houses and checkerboard fields of the villages of Al-Mutila and Mugheyr, and on the far side of the river the peak of Mount Bezek (Jabal Raba) soars to a height of 713 meters above sea level.

Returning to the path, we continue with a flanking movement to the left along a leveled trail that appears to be a long-established village pathway. From now on, we shall be making our way through open batha (dwarf-shrub undergrowth characteristic of the Mediterranean region), where almost no trees grow. After about a kilometer, we see a nice little orchard with three cypresses beside it. The path turns left before it reaches them and descends southward down a steep slope. There is no obvious path here, but the route is clearly marked.

On the way down, we pass a small windblown carob tree. Just before the path reaches the gully at the foot of the slope, we encounter another path, marked in red. Here our route changes direction and turns gently towards the north-east at the foot of a low cliff. Ahead of us is a tall and imposing cliff that indicates the roof of the Meroz formation, which is composed of alternating layers of limestone, flint and chalk. At its foot lies Khirbet Bizra (“Seed Ruins” in Arabic), where cave mouths gape on every side.

The House of Arches. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik
The House of Arches. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik

The red-marked trail bends and climbs up above the cliff. On the footpath map the marking “Elephant Rock” appears at this point, but we must confess to having found nothing at the site that is even vaguely reminiscent of any such animal. However, as tiredness has already begun to creep in, we are not in any position to argue with the map.

After walking for another 1.5 kilometers, we reach a dirt track that was used in the past as a patrol road. After walking for a short period, we come to a junction with the dirt track that is the old patrol road. Here, at this junction of black-, blue- and red-marked trails, stands a picturesque stone building popularly known as the House of Arches because of its domed windows. This building would appear to belong in some way to a native of the village of Umm Sirhan (“Mother of a Wolf” in Arabic), perhaps because he was involved in activities that are best left undescribed. We shall encounter the ruins of this village (Khirbet Umm Sirhan) at Horvat Ner.

We continue along the red-marked trail, descend into the gully of Nahal Ner, then ascend northwards along an easy path that climbs north via a cave until we reach an attractive spur that juts out from the main Gilboa ridge. The site is crowded with the remains of buildings and stone walls, and the scene is complemented by the presence of a small date palm. We have reached Horvat Ner.

The slopes of Nahal Bezek. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik
The slopes of Nahal Bezek. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik

During the Byzantine period there was a settlement here. A short circular path leads us among the ruins of Khirbet Umm Sirhan; take care not to stray from the green-marked trail as there are open cisterns here on every side. The view from the edge of the Horvat Nir spur is magnificent: the Harod Valley, the hills of eastern Galilee, Beit Shean and the Jordan Valley, with the wall of Mount Gilead closing off the horizon – all these leave a profound impression.

The residents of Umm Sirhan, who belonged to the Al-Zur clan from the village of Raba, settled the site over a hundred years ago, making use of the ancient stones and cisterns left over from the earlier community. The villagers would appear to have made their living as herders, and the area is still used as grazing land. Umm Sirhan was abandoned during Israel’s War of Independence.

The red-marked trail ascends to the patrol road, which is marked in blue. Our route skirts a KKL-JNF forest. Along the way, we turn right and walk an easy 1.3 kilometers upwards until we reach the black-marked path on which our walk began.