Our route begins at the main entrance to the site (see above for instructions on getting there). At the start of the trail, a memorial constructed from sections of an armored vehicle commemorates Sergeant Eliezer Leitner, who fell in the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War.
The trail continues, leading us sometimes through the forest’s thickets and sometimes along its edges, close to the fields of Moshav Bekoa. Our next stop is the Bekoa Scenic Lookout (Mitzpeh Bekoa), which, at 256 meters above sea level, is the highest point in the forest. On top of the hill KKL-JNF has built a fire-watching tower that is kept closed, as it is not intended for visits by the general public. Near the tower is a palm tree, and beside the tree is a memorial to Moshe Sharett, the second prime minister of Israel. Nine rocks placed at the site recount major events in his life.
The path that winds through the copse adjacent to the memorial offers shady seating areas in memory of Yonatan Gotthilf and Yitzhak Mashat, who fell in the First Lebanon War. Here we can take a break, rest, and picnic at tables provided by KKL-JNF.
In the center of the forest, close to the Bekoa Scenic Lookout, is the Mashber LaTikva (“Crisis of Hope”) monument in memory of 436 Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel and fell in battle during the War of Independence soon afterwards. This memorial, which is the work of the artist Dr. Nathan Sass takes the form of three large rocks clustered around an olive tree. The names of the fallen are etched into the rocks. Yehuda Sternfeld, a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence, initiated the construction of the memorial, which overlooks the Judean Hills and the Ayalon Valley.
Opposite the Crisis of Hope monument, KKL-JNF has provided a recreation area and open-air theater in memory of Major Asaf Asulin, who fell in the Nablus casbah during Operation Defensive Shield (Homat Magen) in April 2002. The semicircular theater overlooks the landscapes of the Ayalon Valley.
Defenders’ Forest contains a great many more memorial sites, some dedicated to individuals, others to groups, and we come across them as we wander among the trees. One perpetuates the memory of Lieutenant Yoram Lechter, who fell in the Yom Kippur War. This monument has the shape of a parchment scroll, and it quotes from Shaul Tchernichovsky’s poem See, O Earth: “See O Earth! we have been so wasteful...”
Another memorial commemorates Major Edi Sadeh, a pilot who was killed in a flying accident. The corner dedicated to the memory of Captain Ziv Bargur of Ramat HaSharon includes a quotation from his diary: “I am not here in this world to preserve my own life, but to defend the lives of others.” A group of comrades chose the remains of a half-track to commemorate fifteen armored and mechanized infantry soldiers from the 213th company of the 217th brigade who fell in the Yom Kippur War. Veterans of the Simur armored and mechanized infantry platoon continue to maintain the half-track and the tables and seats at the site.
Air Force personnel have memorialized their comrades with the entire skeleton of a Nord transport aircraft. This site can also be reached directly from Route no. 3 (those approaching from the direction of Latrun Junction should turn off about 400 meters before Nahshon Junction and follow the signs indicating the way to the Defenders’ Forest). The plane can be seen near the entrance, among the trees on the left.
Further along the trail that ascends from the Karmei Yosef cemetery, among the pine trees close to the crossroads that leads to the Bekoa Scenic Lookout, there is a rock inscribed with the words “the boundary of Gezer” in Hebrew and the name “Alkios” (Elhanan) in Greek lettering. This ancient sign would appear to indicate the name of the owner of this piece of land that bordered upon the city of Gezer, and the inscription is believed to date back to Hashmonean times (i.e., the 2nd century BCE).