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Ha-Masrek Nature Reserve *

Ha Masrek Photo: Hedva Sanderovitz Pikiwiki Israel

The Ha-Masrek (Comb) Reserve got its name from the Jerusalem pine trees that grow at its summit and remotely resemble the shape of a hair comb stuck in its head. Probably the first to give the reserve its name were members of the Palmach training camp who were based at Givat Brenner and went on hikes in the area. Admission is free.

Jerusalem Pine Trees

Pinus halepensis, commonly known as the Aleppo pine, is a pine native to the Mediterranean region. There is an outlying population (from which it was first described) in Syria, Lebanon, southern Turkey, Jordan, Israel. In Israel it is called “Jerusalem pine”.

Pinus halepensis in Sounion Natural Park, Greece Photo: C messier 

The Masrek dome is made up of calcium carbonate or lime-rich marlstone and humus-rich rendzina soil – a convenient infrastructure for the development of the pine grove. In the early 1970s, the age of some of the oldest pines in the reserve was measured. The measurements were made by drilling in the tree trunk and counting the seasonal growth rings (dendrochronology). Some of the trees were already more than 150 years old.

HaMasrek nature reserve near Beit Meir, Israel. Photo: Bukvoed

Hiking in Ha Masrek Nature Reserve

Hamasrek Park is an open nature reserve and one can visit it year-round. In the reserve there are several circular paths that pass through the woods, all reaching a clearing in which there is an ancient building. Along the reserve, there are marked observation points and benches for rest.

View of Ha-Masrek Photo:  GFDL י.ש

Hamasrek nature reserve is characterized year-round by the common oak trees, carob, Palestinian terebinth and pine. Among the flowers blooming in March/April are cistus, cyclamen, anemones, rare kinds of orchids and more.

תָּגִית מְצוּיָה: Scabiosa prolifera Photo:  GFDL י.ש
Cave in Ha-Masrek Photo:  GFDL י.ש

Imam Ali

Bab el Wad is the Arab name of the entrance to the Wadi Imam Ali, a narrow defile where the is a monument to the Imam Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. Shias regard Ali as the first Imam and consider him, along with his descendants, to be one of the divinely appointed successors of Muhammad.

Imam Ali site at Bab al-Wad on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. The Masrek, the row of trees at the top right as it was seen in 1934–1939 from Sha’ar HaGai Public Domain

The Tomb of Sheikh Ahmad al-Ajami

In the area of ​​the Masrek Reserve is also the tomb of Sheikh Ahmad al-Ajami. According to Vilnai, al-Ajami, he was the barber of the Prophet Muhammad, but there seems to be no basis for this legend. The building served as a place of prayer and around it were buried the residents of the nearby village of Beit Mahsir whose graves can still be found throughout the reserve. Following the Muslim tradition, Ahmad al-‘Ajami (i.e., “Persian”) was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and his personal barber. The remains of a rich Palestinian house, located in the ha-Masrek Reserve in moshav Beit Meir, are connected with Ahmad al-‘Ajami. Its dimensions are 10.21 x 13.45 m. Behind the double-vaulted portico (riwaq) there are two large rooms. Two small domes, decorated with conches (shells) from the inside, crown the second room. The mihrab is in the southern wall, it’s decorated with a modelling representing stylized plant with a bird on the top of it. A curious fact is that the construction was built above the cave; the collapsed entrance of this cave is still visible to the east of the building. A. Petersen said that “The cave is divided into two compartments. The exterior compartment contains a mihrab.” 

Grave of Sheik El Agemi Photo:  GFDL י.ש

The Burma Road

At the start of Israel’s War of Independence, the road that now leads from the Masrek Nature Reserve to Shoeva Junction (Route no. 3955) was used by vehicles making their way up from the Coastal Plain and along the Burma Road to Jerusalem. However, after the whole of Shaar HaGai came under Israeli control, the route fell into disuse. The echoes of war diminished, and today we can travel this road serenely and enjoy the views it offers as it makes its way through KKL-JNF forests, vineyards and the remains of natural woodland.

HaMasrek nature reserve near Beit Meir, Israel. Photo: Bukvoed

The Israeli War of Independence

During the War of Independence, fierce battles were fought for control of the ridges that dominate the road to Jerusalem that passes nearby. In the maps of the Palmach and Haganah fighters, the peaks of the ridges were marked with consecutive numbers (such as #17 in the photo below) that were used by them during the battles. And the nearby village of Beit Mahsir was built by the Harel Brigade of the Palmach during Operation Maccabi. The sign placed in the reserve describes the course of the battles.

A sign depicting the occupation of Sign 17 during the War of Independence in Operation Maccabi Photo:  GFDL י.ש
HaMasrek nature reserve near Beit Meir, Israel. Photo: Bukvoed

Defense Fortifications

When hiking in the Masrek Reserve, the remains of defense  fortifications can be seen, especially on the northern side of the reserve, as well as in a system of concrete bunkers at its summit near the bush tomb. These also belong to the fortifications of the inhabitants of Beit Meir during the Sinai War (1956) were held for perimeter defense around the summit of the reserve in case of the Kingdom of Jordan joining the war. Remains of similar fortifications can also be found near the Bar Giora junction and other settlements in the Judean mountains that were prepared for protection in a similar manner.

Directions

On Road No. 1 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, drive south from Shoeva junction towards Moshav Shoresh. Four kilometers after passing Moshav Shoresh turn right to Hamasrek Park. There is a parking lot at the place.


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