Pisgat Zeev Forest - Between Jerusalem & the Judean desert

The forest extends in a green strip adjacent to the Pisgat Zeev and Neveh Yaakov neighborhoods of northern Jerusalem, and was planted by KKL-JNF from 1982 onwards. Nature lovers will discover that this small forest offers a rich variety of Israel flora and fauna.


Geographic location: Jerusalem, Judean highlands and surroundings

Identity Card



A trail in Pisgat Zeev Forest. Photo: Dr Yossi Spanier.

 

Memorial: the Hyrax Trail and the Woodland Footpath.

 

Facilities: Lookout, Active recreation area, Memorial, Marked path.


• Additional sites in the area: the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Pisgat Zeev and Neveh Yaakov, the Wildflower Nature Reserve, the archaeological hill and the Garden of Heroism.

 

• How to get there? The forest has two marked entrances:

- The eastern gate: at the eastern end of Yaakov Yehoshua Street a well-surfaced track begins close to the houses of the Bneh Beitkha neighborhood in the eastern section of Pisgat Zeev Merkaz (“Central”). Traveling westwards along this track for a kilometer will bring you to the main junction of the forest’s paths.
 
- The western gate: Those approaching from the west should go to the Wildflower Nature Reserve in the western section of Mazal Taleh Street in Neveh Yaakov. Here the car has to be parked at the side of the road, and the walking begins. Descend south-eastwards down a flight of convenient steps that lead to the Paratroopers’ Memorial.
 
- Near the junction of Moshe Dayan and Netiv HaMazalot streets there is another way down to the forest that can be accessed from close to the fence of the yeshiva high school (yeshiva tichonit).

Projects and Partners Worldwide
Pisgat Zeev - Neveh Yaakov Forest Park was rehabilitated
and developed thanks to contributions from friends of
KKL-JNF worldwide.
 

About the forest


The Pisgat Zeev Forest view. Photo: Dr Yossi Spanier.

The forest is unusual in that it is situated right on the edge of the desert, to the east of the watershed. In the winter, the tops of the trees are sometimes capped with snow, while their trunks are firmly planted in the east, on the boundary of the Judean Desert. Among the forest’s inhabitants are communities of hyraxes that can be spotted sunbathing on the rocks to warm themselves up.
 
Pisgat Zeev forest is also sometimes referred to as Mir Forest. This name, derived from that of the Belarusian township, was in fact given to a single section of woodland within the forest, consisting of some 1,000 trees funded by a donation presented by a Mir resident called Rosa in memory of the township’s Holocaust victims. In the center of the forest is a memorial to the Jews of Mir.
 
Although the forest is only one and a half kilometers long and just several hundred meters wide, it boasts a number of archeological sites, including the remains of wine presses, limekilns and burial caves. It also offers the visitor a variety of wild flowers, wild animals and trees, including seven different types of eucalyptus.
 
On the initiative of KKL-JNF, the administrative bodies of Pisgat Zeev and Neveh Yaakov, together with devoted activists from both neighborhoods, have formulated a vision for the forest. In 2008, the woodland was signposted, and footpaths were created in order to make it a more attractive venue for local activities and visits by residents from the adjacent neighborhoods and elsewhere in Jerusalem – in other words, the objective was to turn it into a community forest. And, indeed, activities in the woodland are organized along community forest guidelines, with the involvement and cooperation of the local people and official community bodies. For several years now, local residents have been engaged in voluntary work in the forest as both guardians and guides who undertake activities in schools and elsewhere in the community.

The natural world


Pisgat Zeev Forest. Photo: Haim Saar.

 
Nature lovers will discover that this small forest offers a rich variety of flora and fauna. The woodland itself is composed of trees of different types: Jerusalem pine (Pinus halepensis), stone pine (Pinus pinea) Calabrian pine (Pinus brutia), Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica) and various types of eucalyptus that bloom in the autumn from September onwards and enliven the forest with their flowers. The approach of winter also sees the emergence of wild flowers such as the autumn crocus (Colchicum), the autumn squill (Scilla autmnalis) and the asphodel. In winter and spring, the ground is carpeted with anemones, cyclamen, tulips and a host of other flowers that transform the woodland into a natural wonderland.

 
The forest is full of wild life, and you may encounter gazelles, hyraxes, foxes or wild boar. Some of these mammals are active only at night, remaining invisible in the daytime. As for birds – apart from hearing different varieties of songbird you will see crows, whole families of partridge, and, in the winter months, wagtails. Jays are permanent residents of this woodland, together with the hooded crow, the bulbul (Pycnonotus) and the Syrian woodpecker, who announces his presence at once with the rapid whirring sound made by his beak as he pecks at the tree trunks.

In the eastern part of the forest, a concentration of fossils is evidence of early maritime geological activity in the area.

History


Archeological site in Pisgat Zeev Forest. Photo: Dr Yossi Spanier.

The forest contains a number of interesting sites of historic and archeological importance that have been deemed worthy of preservation, and some of which have been developed in recent years. The entire forest area was thoroughly surveyed by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the 1970s and 1980s as part of a comprehensive archeological review of the Jerusalem region.
 
Ancient sites in the forest

As eight grape-trampling sites were found within the confines of the forest, we may assume that the area was once planted with a large number of vineyards. Also found were the remains of four limekilns in which limestone was burned in ancient times to produce lime for plaster for the interior of cisterns and other construction work. The remains of ancient highways connecting the watershed area (where the Jerusalem-Ramallah road runs today) with the desert region have also been found.

Close by the trail two cisterns were discovered, which may possibly have been used by passers-by and may have formed part of the roadside services common in antiquity. The remains of an ancient quarry can also be seen near the Paratroopers’ Memorial. These quarrying activities show that the area’s former inhabitants used the abundant rock here for building and other purposes. Burial caves have also been found in the forest: two were empty and others that were discovered are now concealed under present-day buildings or roads.  

A community forest


A community forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.

Community forests are becoming increasingly important throughout the world, both as green belts around urban areas and as a vital environmental resource that improves the quality of life for city residents. These forests are generally located immediately adjacent to cities and primarily serve the needs of the nearby communities. The communal forest’s physical proximity to the people it serves promotes a sense of belonging and commitment between the community and the forest, and this is encouraged by promoting community involvement in all aspects of the relationship between the two, including planning, development, maintenance, community activities in the woodland and enlisting public support for forest conservation.
 
Community forests provide enormous benefits, from a venue for a quiet evening stroll beyond the noisy city confines and the introduction of nature and its rhythms to urban life, to reduced pollution and a possible improvement in the mental and physical health of local residents. These forests are a powerful tool that helps city dwellers to maintain links with nature and contributes to the social fabric of urban life. In 2005-6 at an active workshop, residents of Pisgat Zeev and Neveh Yaakov, together with the local community authorities and KKL-JNF, formulated their vision for the forest that would serve them as a blueprint for the various stages of development and conservation activity designed to improve life for the community as a whole.


Pisgat Zeev Forest. Photo: Moshe Scheller.

Their vision statement declares: “The Pisgat Zeev / Neveh Yaakov Community Forest will be used as an open and accessible community forest and as a venue that accommodates a variety of activities and experiences, while maintaining a balance between appropriate use and development and the conservation of its flora, fauna and heritage sites. The forest affects the local people, and they in their turn have an effect upon it, in the past, present and future.” The document setting out this shared vision was signed by all parties concerned at the forest’s opening ceremony on Tu BiShvat 2007.
 
The Paratroopers’ Memorial Site  

In the gully, on a site once occupied by a stone quarry, a memorial has been established in memory of thirty-seven paratroopers who belonged to a special unit drafted from the Palmach in 1942 to fight against Nazi forces in Europe.

In 1944, its members were parachuted into Europe in order to save groups of Jews, and seven of them were killed by the Nazis in their attempts to carry out their mission. They were Enzo Sereni, Hannah Szenes, Chaviva Reich, Rafael Reisz , Peretz Goldstein, Tzvi Ben-Yaakov and Abba Berdiczew. The seven are buried on Mount Herzl, and KKL-JNF has established a memorial to them here in the forest.

Fighting to conserve the forest


Children cleaning the forest. Photo: Guy Assayag.

As the forest is small and the Pisgat Zeev and Neveh Yaakov neighborhoods are constantly growing and developing, the woodland is under a great deal of pressure. In 2000, KKL-JNF proposed a plan for the development and restoration of the forest, but at the same time, another plan was submitted to Israel’s ministry of housing and construction; it recommended building on the area occupied by the forest, and, if implemented, would have brought about its destruction.

The local residents launched a campaign to save the forest, which is the only green belt area in north-east Jerusalem that serves the Neveh Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev communities. In 2006, the forest was awarded official status as open and wooded land, and it is now vital to do everything possible to ensure that it is conserved and that no attempt is made to cut down the trees.
 
Routes within the forest
There are a number of routes through the forest
 
- A short route marked in red: This route begins at the Wildflower Nature Reserve (see below), from which we descend a flight of steps and a convenient path amid young pine trees. If we are lucky, we shall catch a glimpse of hyraxes among the rocks. The path leads to the Paratroopers’ Memorial, where there is a well organized recreation area equipped with tables. On the way back, we can either follow the same route as before or ascend for some 500 meters southwards along the riverbed, through shady woodland, in the direction of Moshe Dayan Street.
 
- An intermediate route: We enter the eastern entrance gate and walk along the vehicle road until we meet up with the Hyrax Trail, which is marked in black. On our way downhill, we can observe young trees that were planted in 2004 with the help of local residents; these include terebinth (Pistacia palaestina), carob, stone pine and Mediterranean cypress. When we reach the Forest Trail, a broad dirt path marked in green that leads along the gully, we turn westwards to the left and head for the KKL-JNF recreation area at the Paratroopers’ Memorial. In the flowering season, the edges of our route will be gaily decorated with eastern groundsel (Senecio vernalis), cyclamen and asphodels. After around twenty minutes, we reach a junction where paths meet, and turn right towards the Paratroopers’ Memorial. From there we go uphill along a path marked in red, heading back towards the Wildflower Reserve.

- A long route marked in green: This is the Forest Trail, which leads to the eastern part of the woodland parallel to the gully (Wadi al-Hafi). Along the way we can get an impression of the variety of trees in the forest, and especially of the Mount Atlas pistachio trees in the copse to the south of the trail. In this part of the forest, we can also see gazelles frolicking about, and we observe how the landscape is changing and opening up, the farther east we proceed. This route takes us for a distance of around one kilometer until we reach its easternmost point. Here, we turn left on to a path which branches off to the northwest. We continue for around 300 meters, following the green markings, until we meet up with an asphalt road where we turn south along the dirt track that descends back towards the main gully. From there, we continue westwards along the Forest Trail back to our starting point at the Paratroopers’ Memorial. Those of you who are interested are invited to look out for a flat rock on the way back, where traces of animal activity that took place in the distant past can still be observed in the form of fossils scattered over the rock.