Adjacent to the scenic lookout, the footpath takes its leave of the single-track cycle trail, descends through the forest and after about 300 meters, brings us to a broad dirt track. Here we turn left, walk for about 100 meters and then turn right, where the path joins the single track once more. The ruined building beside the trail is all that now remains of a youth-movement camp that operated here until the 1990s. After most of the trees died, the camp was abandoned. Soon perhaps, now that the forest has been restored, youngsters will return to the site.
Our route leads us through a grove of pine and eucalyptus trees and makes its way on to a dirt road. Here we need to ignore the single-track markings and continue along the dirt road for about 400 meters. To the north of the point at which the trail turns left and climbs a brief slope we can see a forest clearing with a large carob tree in the middle. From here, on a clear winter’s day, beyond Mount Canaan and the saddle between the buildings of Ilut – wonder of wonders – we can see the snow-capped peak of Mount Hermon.
Further up the road, on our right, is a plot of Arizona cypress trees (Cupressus arizonica), a variety notable for its comparatively light-colored foliage and the peeling bark of its trunk. KKL-JNF planted the cypresses close to one another, then thinned them at a later stage by felling the surplus young trees and presenting them to members of the Galilee’s Christian community for use as Christmas trees.
The trail now brings us to a small clump of tall, beautiful Calabrian pine trees (Pinus brutia). At this point we need to remain alert and turn off to the left along a path that descends through the woodland before arriving at an olive grove planted by KKL-JNF in the 1950s. It is best to come here in wintertime, when carpets of anemones are in bloom. After the olive grove, we continue straight along the path until we come to another copse of pines where cyclamen bloom impressively in winter.
Now our trail leads us alongside the fence of the large Mahalul army camp. There’s no need to fear the barking dogs, as they are on the far side of the fence. Don’t be surprised if you see a herd of oryx over there, too: the Nature and Parks Authority has presented the animals to the military camp so that they will eat the grasses and thus reduce the danger of fires. This herd serves as a backup to other breeding nuclei of these rare creatures that are being reared by the Nature and Parks Authority. After briefly skirting the camp, the trail brings us to two large churches that are more or less all that remains of the village of Maalul.
The upper church, which served members of the Greek Orthodox community, is a large structure whose outer walls are supported by retaining walls. One of the supports in the southern wall underpins a small bell tower. In what was once the churchyard, we come across a covered water cistern.
The second church, which has a dome and two bell towers, belonged to the local Catholic community. Close by is a small house, where the priest presumably lived. In the square in front of the church is a form of altar with a cross on top. Both churches have been renovated in recent years. Although they are both normally closed, they open sometimes for special ceremonies or events.
The village of Maalul was home to both Muslims and Christians. As is often the case, the name of the village preserved the sound of the name of an earlier Jewish community – in this case Mahalul, which was located here in Mishnaic and Talmudic times. Jewish sages of the period identified it with the Levitical city of Nahalal, which is mentioned in the Bible as being situated in the portion of land allocated to the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15) and as being one of the settlements that the tribe did not capture from the Canaanites (Judges 1:30). An archeological survey carried out at the site revealed continuous settlement from prehistoric times onwards.
In the early 20th century, the village lands were owned by the Sursock family of Beirut, and the local residents were its tenants. During Israel’s War of Independence the village was captured in Operation Dekel on July 15th, 1948. Nazareth was occupied in the course of the same operation, and the access route to beleaguered Kibbutz Kfar HaHoresh opened once more. The conquering Golani force met with strong resistance. After the battle, the village houses were destroyed and many of the eight hundred inhabitants settled in Nazareth and Yafia.
Now we walk along the slope. Our trail passes by a small ruined building that was once the village mosque, and beside it are the headstones of the local Muslim cemetery; the Christian cemetery is situated inside the army camp. About 300 meters further down the slope are two Atlas cedars that bear a sign indicating that they may have been considered sacred because of their proximity to the cemetery. Another few minutes’ walk and our excursion comes to an end beside the large Mekorot pumping site adjacent to Route no. 75.
The KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail
The KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail is a new, long footpath that is currently in the process of taking shape. The trail, whose main route is almost 100 kilometers long, passes through the principal sites in the Jezreel Valley and the surrounding hills: the Nazareth Hills, the Alonim Hills, Mount Tabor and Givat HaMoreh. Considerable portions of the route have already been marked out by the Israel Trails Committee, which has also produced a map of the area with marked footpaths on a scale of 1: 40,000. Subsidiary paths branch off the main trail, creating a network of some 200 kilometers of route – a veritable paradise for hikers and cyclists.
The creators of the KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail had a number of objectives in view. The main goal was to emphasize “Jezreelness,” an elusive concept that is nonetheless distinctly present in the area: it is compounded of historical foundations in the distant past, redemption of the land and draining the swamps, agriculture, nature and a human mosaic. The trail passes through both well-known locations such as Tzippori, Tel Shimron and the Balfouriyya Nature Reserve, and wonderful but less familiar sites such as Ein Gideon, The Alonim Springs and the subterranean hiding places of Khirbet Ruma.
The route is indicated throughout by orange trail markings. When our path follows a trail that is already marked as part of another route, an orange dot is added to the existing markings. The trail was planned by geographer and city planner Matanya Maya, who lives in the area. The Jezreel Valley Regional Council, KKL-JNF, the Kishon River Drainage Authority, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Tourism Company, the Israel Trails Committee and the Nature and Parks Authority were all likewise involved in the creation of the trail.