Hill 314 is one of those elevations that are barely noticeable at first. However, as soon as we reach the top we at once realize its importance, as it commands an excellent view of the section of highway between Latrun and Nahshon Junction. During Israel’s War of Independence, this stretch of road was of great strategic importance in the battle for Jerusalem and the fighting in the Latrun area, and the hill is studded with signs that tell the story of those conflicts. To the north, above the roofs of Neveh Shalom, the hilltop on which the Latrun fortress stands can be clearly seen, with the monastery at its foot. We shall arrive there at the end of our walk.
Hill 314 played a vital role in Operation Bin Nun Alef, which took place on the night of May 24th-25th, 1948. During this operation, forces from the newly-created 7th Brigade and the 32nd Battalion attempted to break through the Latrun sector, which was under the control of Jordan’s Arab Legion at the time. The force came under heavy fire, and Ram Ron, who commanded the 1st company of the 32nd Battalion, withdrew to Hill 314 and dug in there in order to withstand the legion’s attacks and provide cover for the retreat of the battalion’s 2nd company. Over 70 fighters from the attacking force were killed in Operation Bin Nun Alef. Later on in the war, this hill played an important role once again, as it screened from Jordanian Latrun the Burma Road, which was the lifeline to beleaguered Jerusalem. After the war, Hill 314 came under the control of the State of Israel, and it served as an IDF forward post that secured the armistice line between Israel and Jordan. Today the remains of trenches and foxholes can still be seen among the mastic bushes (Pistacia lentiscus), the Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides) and a lone, conspicuous carob tree.
The Abie Nathan recreation Area and Eshtaol Forest
From Hill 314 we walk eastwards for about 300 meters along the dirt road indicated by black markings until we arrive at an attractive section of Eshtaol Forest that signals our arrival at the edge of the woodland. This section includes a recreation area dedicated to the memory of the famous peace activist Abie Nathan (1927-2008), who immigrated to Israel from India and served as a volunteer pilot during Israel’s War of Independence. Abie Nathan flew twice to Egypt in his private plane (on February 28th, 1966 and July 28th, 1967) to deliver a message of peace, but was promptly deported. Thereafter he delivered his peace message by means of his private radio station the Voice of Peace, which broadcast from a ship anchored off the shores of Tel Aviv.
In the recreation area, we meet up with the Israel Trail and follow it down towards Nahal Nahshon. Our path leads us along a dirt road that follows the edge of Eshtaol Forest, which sprawls over an area of some 12,000 dunams (approx. 3,000 acres) to the south of the Tel Aviv-to-Jerusalem Highway. The forest is planted on low soft-chalk hillsides that rise to a height of up to 350 meters above sea level. The highway from Shaar HaGai to Nahshon Junction (Route no. 38) borders the forest to the east.
KKL-JNF has invested a lot of work in Eshtaol Forest, providing it with marked scenic routes suitable for private cars and signposting the main sites. The routes through the forest are dotted with recreation areas suitable for picnicking.