From Shoeva Junction to the Masrek Nature Reserve

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route

The Romanian Jewish Communities Monument

From the gas station we make our way westwards. To our left runs the deep gully of the Nahal Kisalon stream. On the other side is the ridge that includes Pilots’ Mountain (Har HaTayyasim), Ramat Raziel and Moshav Kisalon. KKL-JNF forests in this area are dedicated to the memory of Jewish communities that perished in the Holocaust, and at about 1.2 kilometers from the interchange, we arrive at a plot of forest that contains a memorial to Jewish communities in Romania.

Though the broken line down the middle of the road indicates that turning left into the small unsurfaced open space is permitted, we consider the turn to be too dangerous. Instead we recommend approaching this site on foot from our next stopping point (the Mishlat 15 Recreation Area) just 300 meters further on. If you really want to park beside the memorial, it’s best to do so when traveling towards the Masrek Nature Reserve, when you can turn off the road to the right.

The monument, which is the work of sculptor Nathan Sass, perpetuates the memory of Jewish communities in the Transnistria region: Dorohoi, Darabani, Hertsa, Mihlani, Sawani and Radaotz. The sculpture comprises six stone columns placed around a tree stump that symbolizes the felling of these communities in the Holocaust. The pogrom carried out by Romanian soldiers in Dorohoi on June 30th in 1940 signaled the start of the Holocaust for Romanian Jewry. Prior to the Second World War this region was under Russian control.

Close to the memorial, KKL-JNF has provided visitors with a small recreation area.
Approximately 300 meters west of the memorial, adjacent to the site of Mishlat 15, is a large recreation area established by KKL-JNF with funds donated by Medinol Ltd. The site includes a disabled-accessible trail that leads to two picnic tables and a space where campfires may be lit. Beyond the large parking lot is an overnight campsite suitable for large groups.

Mishlat 15 (“Command Post 15”) was originally an Arab position. On April 16th, 1948, during the Harel Operation of Israel’s War of Independence, Palmach fighters occupied the village of Saris (today’s Shoresh), whose occupants were disrupting Jewish transportation on the main route to Jerusalem. After the occupation of Saris, the hill became an Arab forward post for the defense of Beit Mahsir. The post was captured during Operation Maccabi on the night of May 9th-10th, and the Arab forces who counter-attacked the following day were forced back. A day later, Palmach Harel Brigade fighters set out from the hilltop to capture Beit Mahsir and the Masrek Arab positions.

'Operation Maccabi' signs

At a distance of about 1.5 kilometers from Mishlat 15, a very short dirt road turns off to the right and leads to a lookout point that offers an excellent view of the Masrek Nature Reserve. Here, among rockroses and thorny burnet bushes (Sarcopoterium spinosum), a number of signs describe the sequence of events in the area during Operation Maccabi (May 8th-18th, 1948), which was designed to open the transportation route to Jerusalem. As hostilities broke out, Arabs from the neighboring villages hastened to Beit Mahsir, together with a force from the Arab Rescue Army that swelled to two battalions equipped with cannons and armored vehicles. After three days of fighting the area of Masrek Nature Reserve and the village of Beit Mahsir, by now emptied of its inhabitants, were captured.

Below the signs, about 200 meters’ drive away, KKL-JNF has provided another small recreation area, through which the Israel National Trail passes. This site indicates the end of the Burma Road (which is known as the Jeep Road at this point), and from here we can set out for an excursion to Shluhat Mishlatim (“Command Post Spur”), which overlooks Shaar HaGai from the west. To reach the Masrek Nature Reserve parking lot, continue for another 400 meters after the recreation area and turn right.

The Masrek Nature Reserve

This small nature reserve, which extends over an area of just 117 dunam (approx 29 acres), preserves a plot of Mediterranean woodland. In the past, large handsome Jerusalem pine trees (Pinus halepensis) grew here, and their tops towered above the rest of the woodland. Now, however, almost all these old trees have been destroyed by snow or by the fire that raged through the nature reserve in 2001, and a tall antenna has sprung up in their stead.

In April two rare varieties of orchid bloom here: violet limodore (Limodorum abortivum), which is nourished mainly by rotting organic material and whose tall leafless stem (up to 100 centimeters in height) puts forth large lilac-colored flowers; and the drone bee-orchid (Ophrys holoserica), whose beautiful flowers are brown, yellow and violet.
A marked trail 900 meters in length passes through the nature reserve.

Communication trenches and a cave

From the parking lot we go up the stone steps to Mount Masrek (Giv‘at HaMasreq). Around us are the remains of agricultural terraces and fruit trees, mainly olive and almond. From the top of the steps we have a view northwards towards Shluhat Shayarot (“Convoy Spur”). Our path leads us past communication trenches where the Arab defenders of Beit Mahsir took cover. Beside the trenches is a small cave hewn into the rock. The trenches were dug into soft yellow chalk rock of the kind referred to by geologists as Beit Meir formation, which is sandwiched here between layers of hard chalk rock. Greek strawberry trees (Arbutus andrachne), which grow easily in the soil created by this soft rock, can be seen scattered here and there throughout the reserve.

An old pine tree and an observation point

The trail makes its way through an attractive plot of woodland notable for the fact that it is home to the reserve’s biggest pine tree, whose sturdy trunk leans sideways – not unexpected in one that has reached such a venerable age. One branch is partially broken and hangs down, but another reaches magnificently upwards to provide the tree with a fine canopy.

Just a few steps away from the tree is the observation area that opens a window westward towards the lowlands of the Coastal Plain. Below us we can glimpse the buildings of Moshav Beit Meir, and on a clear day we can see from here all the way to the old Latrun Police Station, part of the Burma Road, Ramla, Rehovot and even the high-rises of Tel Aviv.

The shrine of Sheikh Ahmad al-Ajami

From the observation area the trail emerges on to a short dirt road that skirts the buildings of Moshav Beit Meir, which have spread all the way up to the nature reserve. A narrow path branches off the road and ascends in the shade of the woodland trees to the top of the hill, where we find ourselves on a large plateau covered in pine and woodland. This is the site of a Muslim shrine built in honor of Sheikh al-Ajami (“The Persian” in Arabic). According to tour-guide tradition, Sheikh al-Ajami was one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and actually served as his barber. Today the presence of a monument to a barber at a site called Masreq (“comb” in Hebrew) seems an amusing coincidence.

The main hall of the building is still standing, but must on no account be entered, as it is in danger of collapse. To the curious we shall only say that beyond the double-arched entrance lies a large hall whose two small ceiling domes are decorated to resemble the interior of shells. The mihrab (prayer niche) in the southern wall indicates the direction of prayer, towards Mecca. It is adorned with colorful decorations and a plaster basin.

The remains of bunkers

The footpath leaves the plateau and makes its way among the remains of a communication trench and bunkers dating back to the War of Independence (entrance strictly forbidden). From here it is just a short distance to the flight of steps we came up at the start of our route. Now we walk down them on our way back to the parking lot.