Martyrs' Forest - Remembering with 6 Million Trees

Photograph: Naomi Aviv Rosen, KKL-JNF
The idea of commemorating the victims of the holocaust in forests came up almost immediately after the end of World War II.  Holocaust survivors who came to Israel asked KKL-JNF to plant trees in the memory of their loved ones and communities that perished. Work on the Martyrs Forest began in 1946, and accelerated after Israel's declaration of independence, which allowed for expansion of the forest.
  • How to get there

    From Highway 1 (Tel Aviv – Jerusalem) turn south to Highway 38 at the Shaar Hagai Interchange toward Bet Shemesh. Turn left slightly before Eshta’ol Junction onto a marked dirt road to Martyrs Forest. (All terrain vehicles are suitable for driving toward the Martyrs Cave.) To get to the Scroll of Fire Memorial proceed and turn left (east) at Eshta’ol Junction to Highway 395 (to Ramat Raziel). Continue until the sign that says to turn right to Kisalon, and the road will soon branch off to the Scroll of Fire Memorial.
  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Area-

    Scroll of Fire Memorial, Martyrs Cave, Anne Frank Memorial.
  • Facilities-

    Lookout, Memorial, Marked path.
  • Other sites in the area-

    Yitzhak Rabin Park, Masrek Nature Reserve, Eshta’ol Forest, Tzor’a Forest, American Independence Park.
  • Type of parking-

    Accessible parks,Overnight parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Bicycle track,Lookouts

About the forest

The Jewish world was deeply moved when news broke out that KKL-JNF began planting the Martyrs forest in 1946. In planting the forest, KKL-JNF has not only commemorated the memory of those who perished in the holocaust, but also added color to the rocky ground of Jerusalem. With the support of the B'nai B'rith organization, six million trees were planted, symbolizing the victims, and memorials for perished communities were set throughout the forest. Representatives of Jewish communities from all over the world, holocaust survivors who just came to Israel, and residents of surrounding villages attended planting ceremonies.
In 1952, KKL-JNF held a ceremony on the Holocaust Memorial Day, the first national memorial ceremony of its kind, in the forest. In 1956, the main ceremony moved to the Yad Vashem museum, but KKL-JNF keeps holding its ceremony in the forest each year.
The forest offers many activities in its natural environment. It had landscape overlooks, foot travel tracks, cycling trails, roads for 4X4 vehicles, and picnic recreation areas. All throughout the forest are moving sights of heritage sites from the Independence War and holocaust memorials.

Nature and Geography

The Martyrs forest is about 4,500 acres in size, on both sides of the impressive deep channel of the Kislon stream. In the north, it borders on the Sha'ar Hagay-Jerusalem road (Road 1), in the west – the Sha'ar Hagay-Beit Shemesh road (Road 38), in the south, the plains going down to the Sorek Stream (south of Road 395) and in the east – the surroundings of Ein Rafah and Tzuba Streams. The surrounding mountaintops go as high as 600 to 700 meters.
The forest brings together planted trees as the Jerusalem pine, cupressus sempervirens and eucalyptus with natural woodland as common oak, pistacia palaestina, styrax officinalis. In shaded places, smilax aspera, notable for its heart-shaped leaves, climbs the tree. In the spring, travelers enjoy the view of a wide variety of wildflowers that that fill the forest with color - especially the cistus bushes, with their large white flowers and the salvia fruticose with their gentle pink flowers, joined in the winters by many anemones, cyclamens and tulips.

Planting with Shaking Hands

Many people sought to ease their grief by planting a tree at the Martyrs Forest. Dvora Segal, a reporter for the daily newspaper Davar, described what she saw (April 30, 1952): "A woman holds the small plant in her arms like a baby. Her lips are moving and she finds it hard to let go of the plant. This must have been what it felt like when she held her small child when it was taken away before it managed to hang on to life. Another woman looks at her, as if saying: 'you have only one plant, and I have many'."

Travel by Car

This track goes through the major sites of Road 395, one of the most beautiful landscape roads in Israel. The road has several narrow sections that require careful driving. The exit point is the Eshtaol interchange.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank was born June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1933, after the Nazis came to power, the family immigrated to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. After the Germans conquered the Netherlands, the family had to hide in an apartment owned by Miep Gies who worked as a secretary in the store owned by Anne's father, Otto Frank. Miep Gies, who was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations, provided the family with food while they were hiding.
Eventually, the family was discovered when one of the neighbors informed of them and on August 4, 1944 the police broke into the hideout and the family was sent to the death camps. Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen with her sister Margot on March 1945, a few weeks before the camp was liberated.
During her time in hiding, Anne Frank wrote a diary which details her story and thoughts. The diary was translated to more than 50 languages, and was adapted several times to stage theatre and cinema. The house in which the family hid is now a museum.
The Anne Frank Memorial
From the Kislon Stream recreation area, drive another 1.5 kilometers on the road that accompanied the stream (marked in red) up to the parking of the Martyrs Cave (the B'nai B'rith Cave). The cave, blocked with a grating, was created through quarrying and expansion of a natural cave in the southern part of the Kislon Stream. It was meant to serve as  a memorial sight for the holocaust victims.
From the parking lot, two short paved paths lead to a memorial dedicated to Anne Frank. Travelers can choose one and return through the other. On both sides of the road are signs with quotes by Anne Frank. One of them, in particular influenced Pete Cohen, who created the memorial: "Our chestnut tree is flowering. It is covered with leaves and even more beautiful than in the previous year" (Anne Frank, diary entry from May 13, 1944).

The Yemen Jewish Community Forest Recreation Area

From the memorial, travelers go back to Road 395 and drive upwards about two kilometers. The recreation area is on the southern (right) side of the road, in a forest section planted by KKL-JNF in the honor of the Yemen Jewish community. Members of the Yemen Jewish community who came to Israel participated in establishing towns in the area including Eshtaol, Giva'at Yearim, Trom, Naham and Yishei. KKL-JNF has employed many of them in soil works and tree planting.
Travelers can carefully cross road 395 and walk about 200 meters on a green-marked path to a bench in a pergola, which overlooks the wonderful landscape of the deep channel of the Kislon Stream.


Tel Kilson Recreation Area

From the Yemen Jewish Community recreation area, travelers go upwards 2.8 kilometers on Road 395 and reach the Tel Kislon recreation area near the northern (left) side of the road. From the recreation area, a dirt road for a 4X4 vehicle, marked in brown, goes west. After about 1 kilometer, there is a fork in the road. Persistent travlers can continue driving an additional 200 meters in the left path to the Hania corner and walk on the path between terraces that grow fine olive trees. Here the remains of the Arab village of Kisla, abandoned by its population during Israel's war of independence, can be seen. The name echoes the name of the ancient town of Kislon, mentioned in the bible as part of the Judah Tribe's territory.

The Fire Scroll Monument

About 1.3 kilometers from the Tel Kislon recreation area is a roundabout, from which a narrow paved road of about 3 kilometers leads to the Fire Scroll Monument.
The Monument, a bronze statue by Nathan Rapaport, is perhaps the most touching Monument in Israel. It is 8 meters high and weights more than 12 tons. The scroll tells of the history of the Jewish people. One parchment described the tragedies, from the destruction of the Great Temple to the holocaust. Among the people featured is the great educator Janusz Korczak, who went with his pupils to the death camp.
Where the tragedies parchment meets the second parchment, a female figure can be seen flying above a barbwire. Another figure is seen kneeling, struggling to breathe. Branches sprout out of truncated trees, and suddenly – a resurrection. People sail on ships to the country's shores. Women and children, young an old, a religious Jew kisses the holy ground.
The resurrection parchment describes Israeli independence from its independence war to the Six-Days War. A mother sees her son go to war, the stones of the western wall, and a religious soldier cries in front of the wall.
Above all are soldiers carrying the lamp, as an answer of sorts to the great lamp taken to Rome. Near the lamp, a mysterious figure can be seen – Prophet Elijah, perhaps? Or maybe a symbol for the prophecy that guarded the people of Israel throughout the years of their exile? The monument features many other scenes, and visitors are invited to discover them.
The monument site is accessible for visitors with disabilities.

Har HaTayasim Nature Reserve

Har HaTayasim (Pilots' Mountain) is a nature reserve and a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Israeli Air Force. The names of the fallen are inscribed on four square pillars, according to their date of death. Two audio posts provide explanations about the site.
In a separate section of the site, there is a memorial for the air force pilots who were killed in the Jerusalem Mountains during the war of independence. The Memorial is built from the fragments of the Norsman plane which crashed nearby on May 10, 1948. The place, with a staff of six, went on a mission to bomb the Arab positions in the area of Beit Mahsir (today's location of Beit Meir) that overlooked the road to Jerusalem. The reason of the crash remains unknown.

Travel by Foot

The Martyrs Trail - From the Fire Scroll Monument to the Yemen Jewish Community Forest

About the track:  a one-way trip on a descending trail of about 2 kilometers. Travelers should ensure there is a vehicle to pick them up at the end of the track. Going back up the same way is also possible. Starting point: the Fire Scroll Monument. End of the trip: the Yemen Jewish Community Forest.
The Track
From the western edge of the road loop which surrounds the Fire Scroll Monument, a sign points to a trail marked in green. The trail goes through a natural grove, which in the winter promises a splendid view of narcissus and cyclamen flowers.
About half a kilometer later, in a large clearing, travelers will see two stone pillars that were a part of an ancient olive press. A few steps further is a large water pit. Further away, the trail meets a wide dirt road, where travelers turn left following the green sign.
Stones commemorating communities that perished in the holocaust remind travelers that they are in the Martyrs Forest. A 300-meter walk will bring them to the Yemen Jewish Community Forest recreation area, near Road 395.
Note: the trail can be made longer and more challenging. From the Yemen Jewish Community Forest recreation area, travelers can cross Road 395, and after 200 meters reach an overlook with a beautiful view of the Kislon Stream. From there, a steep trail goes down to the Martyrs Cave. Travelers should make sure a vehicle waits at the end of the trip to pick them up.

From the MAHAL Recreation Area to Outpost 21

About the  track: a 5-kilometer trip, for families of experienced walkers with children of the age of 12 and older. The first part of the trip takes place on a steep upwards path. Starting point and end of the trip: the MAHAL Recreation Area.
The Track
The Israel Trail extends from the MAHAL Memorial, and at this point it comes together with a green-marked road. First, travelers will step through a mixed forest of pine and cypress trees, alongside common oak and carob trees. At the end of April and the beginning of May, after the peak season, large groups of pink centaurea crocodylium can also be seen.
2.1 kilometers later, travelers will see a blue-marked trail on their right. They will take this road after returning from Outpost 21, which is about half a kilometer away. With some effort, travelers will go up a steep and rocky slope, bringing them to a peak, about 540 meters above the sea line. The wide peak has a sign saying that Outpost 21 used to be here. The southern edges of the peak offer a view of jeeps going up to Beit Meir. It is probably from here that the members of the Palmach Jewish fighting force watched the pine trees of the Masrek reserve. Today almost nothing remains of these trees, and only high antennas mark the spot where they once stood.
Now travelers can turn to the northern edges, sit on a bench and enjoy the incredible view of Sha'ar Hagay. Beyond it, the Latrun hills, the city of Modi'in and the coast plain with the towers of Tel Aviv can be seen. A small sign with a quote from Bab al-Wad, the famous song by Palmach poet Haim Guri, has been placed here.
Return can be done through the same way, or through the blue-marked path by which travelers passed by before. The path goes down to the great channel of the Burma Way channel and goes up to the Jeep Road. Down the road, a left turn leads about half a kilometer to the sign telling of a grinding facility that existed in the site before. From this point, it's a short walk to the MAHAL Recreation Area.
Note: the Jeep Road and the KKL-JNF forest roads in general are used by cars, bicycle riders and foot travelers.

From the Masrek Reserve to the Martyrs Cave

About the Track: a one-way track about 4.5 kilometers, for families with children of the age of 10 and older.
Starting Point: the Jeep Road recreation area. End of the trip: the Martyrs Cave.
The Track
From the parking lot, travelers go south and carefully cross Road 3955 toward a wide dirt road with surviving tree of the natural grove, and take the Israel Trail (path marked in blue). After about 400 meters, travelers take the dirt road marked in black. This is the northern traveling road through the Kislon Stream basin.
From this point, walking through the black-marked path in the Israel trail is easy and comfortable, about a kilometer and a half up to the top of the path that turns left to the Kislon Stream channel.
The path that descends to the stream (marked in blue) is steep, and travelers should go carefully. The path is on a 100-meter high slope. It is characterized by a long, tall, grey dolomite cliff with a Kislon formation, given its name by the stream. The track ends near the martyrs cave and the Anne Frank Memorial.

A Track for Experienced Walkers - A Roundtrip Starting and Ending at the Martyrs' Cave

Starting point and end of the trip: the KKL-JNF recreation area at the Martyrs Cave. Length: about 8 kilometers.
The Track
Travelers go up from the Martyrs Cave on the Israel Trail (the section marked in blue) and reach the northern crowd path (marked in black). After a left turn (west) and a three-kilometer walk, a sharp turn takes travelers down left (south) to the Kislon stream (marked in green). After a 1.5 descent through the Yaffe Ravine, travelers will reach a paved road along the Kislon stream, where cars drive on the way to the Martyrs cave recreation area. After a left turn (east) travelers can start walking back to the recreation area, which is a little more than a kilometer away.

Major Recreation Areas

Kislon Recreation Area

Access: drive 250 meters from the roundabout on the east side of the Eshtaol interchange (Road 395) and take the left turn according to the signs leading to the Martyrs Forest (marked in black). After a 600 meters drive on a paved road, almost up to a road marked in red that runs near the Kislon stream, an olive grove can be seen on the right. Near it is the Broshim car park (on the right). Another car park is further down the road, near the Martyrs Cave and the Anne Frank Memorial. In the olive grove is an overnight camping site.
KKL-JNF works to expand the Kislon recreation areas. They serve as starting points for cycling and foot trips on the trails of the Kislon Stream.

The MAHAL Recreation Area and Memorial

Access: the recreation area is about a kilometer south of the Sha'ar HaGay interchange. Travelers coming from Sha'ar HaGay turn right according to the signs leading to the MAHAL Memorial and the Sha'ar HaGay Han. After the turn, the tunnel under Road 38 leads left to the recreation area.
The MAHAL Recreation Area is an important strategic location and camping site for travelers. From here, vehicle travelers can go on trips through the Burma Road, the historical "Jeep Road" leading to the "Masrek" reserve and to many other sites. The steep Jeep Road is accessible to 4X4 vehicles. KKL-JNF has built many picnic tables here, along with water taps that area available for people with disabilities. An accessible path also leads to the MAHAL Memorial.
The memorial honors the fallen soldiers from Israel's Independence War among the foreign volunteers. The volunteers were more than 3,000 people, mostly from western countries, who came to aid the Haganah underground, and later the IDF. About 900 of them came from the United States, 650 more came from South Africa, over 100 came from Scandinavia, and the rest from many other countries. Some of the volunteers gain combat experience during World War II, and served in Israel in high command roles. Most of the volunteers came back to their countries when the war ended, but about 500 of them chose to continue their lives in Israel.
The Memorial, created by architect Yoram Shaham, was revealed in 1993. It consists of a front with three Hebrew letters that spell the word MAHAL. On the wall beyond, the names of the 123 fallen soldiers of the foreign volunteers and foreign recruits appear. Above them are the quotes of appreciation by prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin: "The greatest contribution that the diaspora Jewry made was the foreign volunteers" (Ben-Gurion) and "They came when we needed them most" (Rabin).

Other Recreation Areas

Road 3955 – near the road leading from the Sho'ava interchange to the Masrek reserve, in front of the town of Shoresh, KKL-JNF has built three recreation areas. One of them is the Shoresh overnight camping site.
The Martyrs Cave – serving the visitors to the Anne Frank Memorial and the surrounding trails.

Cycling Tracks

The vehicle roads in the martyrs' forest provide an opportunity for a wide range of cycling tracks. The following track passes through wide roads (not singles) and crosses the forest. The roads also serve motor vehicles and are not exclusive for bicycle. Shorter tracks can also be planned.

Kislon Stream

About the Track: a 1.5-kilometer path, medium difficulty
Duration: about 3 hours
Starting point and end of the track: the Martyrs' Cave

Ein Rafa Single

About the Track: a path of about 12 kilometers, medium difficulty
Duration: about 2 hours
Starting point and end of the track: the mosque of Ein Rafa village. The track was created in collaboration with the Ein Rafa cycling community. KKL-JNF intends to connect the track to the town of Givat Ye'arim and Kibbutz Tzuba and create a path of good neighbors.