Segment 3 – Yesha Fortress to Nahal Dishon (Alma Bridge)
Our eleventh hike on the Israel National Trail began at the Yesha Fortress (also called Metzudat Ko’ah) overlooking the Hulah Valley. In the early days of Israel’s War of Independence, April-May 1948, the Palmach 3rd Regiment waged three battles with the Arabs before gaining control of the fortress.
The weather forecast predicted high temperatures, and indeed it was a hot day. But that did not stop 17 hikers from showing up for today’s trail adventure. Our group this time included three couples of friends from Maccabim who had not yet hiked the trail with us. One of our newcomer friends was Alon Friedman, who was about to see something he was probably not expecting.
Moments after starting the hike, we crossed Route 899 and entered the grounds of Nebi Yusha, a mosque and shrine for the prophet Joshua dating to the late 18th centuary. As we came down a slope alongside a small cave, Alon peeked in and spotted 5 memorial candles and a hand-lettered sign with 5 names on it, apparently placed there just days ago to mark the anniversary of their death. The fifth name was Filon Friedman. “That’s my uncle. I was named for him.” Alon said, stunning us all.
We gathered around Alon to hear a brief recounting of his namesake Filon, the commander of one of the three companies engaged in the operation. Unsuccessful in the attack, and with many soldiers wounded, the troops were ordered to retreat. Some were severely injured, and could not be evacuated. Filon ordered his company to continue retreating and he himself remained with the wounded men.
When the Arabs came out of the fortress, they attacked and killed all the wounded men who remained in the area. When Hagana troops returned the day after the battle to retrieve the dead, they found Filon’s body with a single shot in the forehead, an act of suicide. His refusal to abandon his wounded troops (“Commander Filon’s Dilemma”) and his legacy are studied in schools, youth movements and the IDF. I later found a comprehensive website (in Hebrew only) about Filon Friedman.
Who could have imagined that a chance encounter with a makeshift memorial on the Israel Trail would have such significance to a member of our group. For me this was the highlight of the day’s hike. But we had only just begun.
Unlike most all of our previous hikes, we had to walk in single file much of the time. In addition to the trail being a “single” lane, the meadow grasses have grown high, and the wildflowers are still in full bloom.
The major theme, if it can be called that, of today’s hike were the purple thistles — grown tall and thick, and so abundant in places it appears they are being cultivated by the local farmers!
One of the hikers, who really prefers cycling, later commented that he very much enjoyed the hike because it was one he could not have done on his bicycle.
From Nebi Yeshua we headed up to Keren Naftali hilltop overlooking the Hulah Valley. The climb was somewhat steep, but made easier by the shade of the forest.
We stopped at the top for a well-deserved breakfast break. Unfortunately, the sky was hazy and the vista was not as brilliant as we would have hoped. We could not even see the snow-capped Mount Hermon.
Then we headed down the other side of Keren Naftali.
Soon thereafter, Irit, one of a newcomer hikers suffered a major setback when the sole of her hiking shoe fell off. Despite the best efforts of the engineers in our group, Irit and her husband had to bail out (fortunately we were very close to the main road), and managed to walk the 3 kilometers back to the car.
Sometimes we encounter fences and other obstacles on the Israel Trail.
The single-file path eventually became a dirt trail, which allowed us to pick up the pace, and chat with more than just the person in front of or behind us.
Thanks to Hadar for taking my photo; otherwise who would know that I, too, hiked the trail. (I’m not walking backwards; I just turned around to face the camera.)
Before reaching Nahal Dishon, we had to do one more climb, and tread through more thistles.
And look back at where we’d been, and more thistles.
We paused at the top for the group to reassemble as we had gotten rather spread out due to various physical ailments that were slowing some of us down.
A steep, but quick descent into Nahal Dishon.
The stream bed was mostly dry, so out went any plans for dipping our toes into some cool refreshing water. The heat had indeed made this hike a bit more difficult than anticipated. But it was most enjoyable in every other respect.
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