Nazareth to Ma'lul, a Day Hike
I'm not usually bothering to include my various day hikes in this section, since there were so many of them, but this one is special because I made a pretty cool discovery. A little bit to the west of Nazareth, a marked trail picks up at Kfar HaHoresh, a nearby kibbutz or moshav (which, oddly, has an Arabic radio station located on its grounds). The path leads to a small network of trails in an isolated valley and the surrounding hilltops. The valley is very remote-feeling, although it's not at all far from the nearest large towns; the high hills around it and lack of any development make it seem like a wilderness area.
I first came through the area on a loop hike I did from Nazareth up to Zippori, then over to the west, and back down past Giv'at Ela, HaSolelim, and a few other towns. I slept in the woods and then, on waking up in the morning, headed toward what my map seemed to say was a campground, in hopes of getting water. It turned out to be (as far as I could tell) an abandoned youth camp, probably from Kfar HaHoresh, and it was quite an interesting find. There was a long row of buildings, all fairly low-budget and trailer-style, with labels such as "Boys," "Girls," "Kitchen," and so on. There was also a water tower with ladder access which provided a great view of the surrounding hills and of the outskirts of Nazareth. The whole thing was located among an attractive forest of well-groomed olive and oak trees and made for quite a nice chill spot.
While scouting out hiking routes, I came back to the area and walked all of its trails. One of them led out the western end of the "wilderness" area and passed near a spot that my map showed as containing ruins or antiquities, which was labelled "Ancient (or "old") churches." That sounded interesting, so I headed off-trail to see what I could find.
To my surprise, I began encountering the telltale signs of a Palestinian town destroyed after 1948: ruined foundations of old stone houses, rows of cacti grown raggedy and out of control, and JNF pines planted all over the area. But very unusually, two churches were still standing. Even more unusually, one was in very good condition. The western one was empty, run-down and derelict, but the eastern building was quite well-maintained. In a land full of oddities, this was one of the most unusual things I'd ever come across. The gates to the church were barred, but I found that one of the side doors had an opening at the top of its gate, and I scrambled up to stick my head over and see what I could see.
Bizarrely, the interior of the church was clearly maintained and in use! The paint was, if not fresh, at least clearly not abandoned for decades; there were plastic chairs stacked along the walls, and modern electric lightswitches and wiring had been installed.
This was unprecedented. Plenty of nakba'd villages have inhabitants living nearby; Saffuriya, a village near Nazareth on the modern site of Zippori National Park, was demolished even though the villagers had fled only a few kilometers away to Nazareth and had been given Israeli citizenship, and there are many more such internally displaced refugees. But a church kept in use is really weird.
I soon spotted a Hebrew-language sign posted by the JNF. I couldn't completely understand it, but I got enough to become even more baffled. It explained that this village (Ma'lul) had been inhabited by Christians and Muslims until 1948, and two churches were still standing - one Catholic, one Orthodox. I couldn't get the rest, and took a photo to be translated later, but I've somehow misplaced that. Still, this made no sense; the JNF's entire goal is to promote Zionist ideology, generally at the expense of acknowledging that anybody non-Jewish lived in this land between the middle ages and 1900. They plant forests over destroyed villages to help erase the memory of their existence. And here's a sign by them, explaining the site of one of those villages?
I later learned that the JNF, due to criticism, had said sometime in the 2000's that they would begin putting up educational materials about Palestinian history, in particular these nakba'd villages; but on reading that, I'd have been surprised to learn that they ever actually did such a thing. But here, it seems to have happened! I never saw anything else like it, but in this one corner of the Galilee, the JNF made an acknowledgement of Palestinian history and the Nakba, however vague and cursory. You never know what you'll find hiking in the Middle East.
Next to the ruins of Ma'lul was a military base - not shown on the map, as usual for army structures. We never saw anybody in there, but there were a couple of dogs, leashed up and with little huts, along the fence. On one hike there with some Fauzi volunteers, we saw that there was no water left in their bowls, and wondered how long it had been since someone came by to tend them. They were really friendly and let us pet them through the fence, and we thought we might have been able to unhook one of their leashes, but the presence of security cameras kept us from trying.
From the ruined town, it was a quick walk to the Haifa-Migdal HaEmek highway, so I/we usually hitched back to Nazareth after the day's hike. Still, of all the amazing and fascinating things I saw over there, this has to be one of the highlights, if only because I discovered it myself, and never heard anybody else mention having seen it.
There is some reading on Ma'lul here and here. The latter link mentions a mosque, which I saw but didn't recognize as such, and a Roman mausoleum, which I sure wish I'd noticed.
A view from near Ilut, along the walk from Nazareth to Ma'lul
I took some Fauzi volunteers on a hike once I'd ironed out the specifics of the route
One of the views from the water tower at the old camp. Lots of oak trees, not just pines!
And shady groves of olive trees
A creepy trailer full of weird things - including a wood stove
The better-maintained of the two churches still standing in Ma'lul. How these churches came to
be preserved when the rest of the village was wiped off the map, I do not know
A view of the derelict church
This disused church is the Greek Orthodox one, if the Arabic captions on some of the pictures
I've seen are correct
Peeking over the top of the gate (this picture shows the matching gate on the other side)
A modest but pleasant little church. You'd never know it was in the middle of a ghost town. From
the photos on palestineremembered.com, it looks like this church was also derelict until it was
renovated fairly recently
Not much in the way of decoration in the dome
Along the walk down to the highway