The Gilboa mountains have an exceptional, though tragic, place in the history of the Jewish People. It was here that the Children of Israel, led by King Saul, found refuge during their flight from the Philistines who, nevertheless, overtook them. The Philistines killed the sons of King Saul. The king, unwilling to be captured, took his life on the Sword.
In the Twenties, Keren Kayemeth Le Israel - Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) began purchasing the lands at the Gilboa foothills and in the Harod Valley. The Jewish settlements of Ein Harod, Tel Yosef, Bet Alpha and Hefzibah were established on these lands and their existence was constantly endangered by plotting residents of the neighboring highland Arab villages.
The Gilboa settlements were abandoned during Israel’s War of Independence, and Israel’s border with Jordan was demarcated along the mountain ridge. Although the Gilboa area remained inside Israeli territory, hikers dared not visit it without proper protection because of its closeness to the border.
In 1958, KKL-JNF was called on to improve the security situation in the Gilboa by building a patrol road along the border. The work was actually carried out under mortal threat and Border Police protection. A road worker and several Border Policemen were killed by the Arabs while constructing the patrol road.
After completing the road, KKL-JNF commenced wide scale afforestation in the area. The British had first attempted tree planting in the Gilboa in the Twenties, yet these were not successful, and it was generally believed that no forest could grow in the area. Fortunately, KKL-JNF’s efforts proved otherwise, and the Gilboa Forests now stretch across more than 20,000 dunams (4,000 acres or 2,000 ha.). Forest roads have been established and the present day visitors to the Gilboa Forests may enjoy the recreation areas, lookout points and signposted hiking trails which were all created for their benefit.
KKL-JNF has been a full partner in the establishment of Jewish settlement on the Gilboa Ranges, a project which begun in 1962 with land preparations for the Nahal outpost Ma’ale Gilboa, which in 1968 became Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa. In addition, KKL-JNF has built a road leading to the hilltop outpost and planted along the road. After the Six Day War, KKL-JNF contributed to the establishment of other settlements in the Gilboa area including Meirav and Malkishoah, and built a road which connects the Bet She’an Valley to the Gilboa.
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