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Jerusalem Attractions: The Jerusalem Corridor

At the end of 1947, following U.N. approval of the partition plan for Eretz Israel which excluded Jerusalem from the designated territory of the Jewish state, Abraham Granott, head of JNF, wrote: "Despite everything, Jerusalem will remain the eternal capital of the Jewish People. What has been sanctified by generations cannot be abolished," and he proposed an all-encompassing program to be carried out by JNF in and around the city.

At the end of the War of Independence, early in 1949, most of Jerusalem, apart from the Old City, was included in the territory of the Jewish state, along with significant areas around it that came under IDF control and Joined it to the Coastal Plain. Thus came into being the Jerusalem Corridor, a quasi-triangle with its apex in Jerusalem; its northern border - the old road to Jerusalem; its southern border - the HaElah Valley; and its western border - Shaar HaGai and the Beit Shemesh Road to the HaElah Valley and the Adullam Region.

In this extensive area of hundreds of thousands of dunams there was not a single Jewish settlement. Comprised of foothills rising towards Jerusalem, it was mountainous, rocky, remote from roadways and bare of trees and woodlands. It had been worked by Arab villagers who had eked out a living from winding, hillside, terrace agriculture and small plantations in the narrow valleys and wadis. The area had been abandoned in the war and had to be settled quickly in order to connect the capital to the foothills and the Sharon Plain and make it an integral part of the newly established state. The first step was to pave a new road through the Corridor, the only road at the time that led to Jerusalem.

Most of the Jewish agricultural settlements in the county had been built in the plains and valleys and lived off irrigated or dry farming, auxiliary farming and orchard growing on broad, flat plains. The new area, the Jerusalem Corridor, presented a different challenge. Moshavim and worker villages were immediately established, populated entirely by new immigrants who arrived in the country during the first decade of statehood. JNF ensured these moshavim an initial income base by employing members in afforestation and land reclamation. It also prepared auxiliary farms for them. In time, when they had land and had learned to farm, the settlements became independent moshavim. In this fashion, JNF reclaimed tens of thousands of dunams [one dunam = approximately 1/4 acre] for agriculture and helped to establish and sustain dozens of rural settlements. Its largest project at the time, however, carried out with the help of the settlers, was the afforestation of the barren hills and their transformation into wooded country.

The Jerusalem Corridor, Mateh Yehuda, the Hilly Region - all denote the area from Adullam to the Jerusalem Highway and Jerusalem itself. This area of hills and mountains, rocks and stones had little vegetation. Over the years JNF's planning, together with the work of the settlers, transformed it into the largest afforested region in the country. It was as if green carpets had been pulled over the desolate hills and mountains - over hundreds of thousands of dunams of rural settlements and the town of Beit Shemesh - from hill to vale, down among the different pine woods, cypresses, eucalyptus, carobs, figs, olive trees, mastics and oaks planted over 40 years and up among the native species of bush and shrub, laced with streams and springs - a settled land of all shades and hues. The forests, such as President's Forest that embraces the large tree nursery at Eshtaol, stretch out from the Jerusalem foothills, climb up hills, spread over peaks and slopes and are criss-crossed by dozens of kilometers of sinuous roads, built by JNF. They harbor plantations in valleys and on terraces, as well as fields and gardens.

A large land - Taoz and Tarom and Eshtaol and Ish'i from the foothills to Tzora; and Noham, Mahassia, Zanoah and Zecharya at the head of the road to the south; and mountain-top Azekah keeping eagle watch, and Agur and the Isaiah Hills and Tzafririm and Aderet, Roglit and Aviezer, that flank the HaElah Valley and look onto the Etzion Bloc in the Hebron Mountains, which were once across the border and inaccessible. And Netiv HaLamed Heh, named after the force of 35 that did not manage to reach the Bloc. And the HaElah Valley, where David fought Goliath, and Mata and Mevo Betar and Bar Giora and Nes Harim atop the mountains and in the ancient forests touching heaven. And across the deep wadi rising toward Jerusalem - the Sorek Riverbed, across the century-old railroad tracks to Beit Meir and Convoy Ridge, overlooking Shaar HaGai and the charred cars that never made it to Jerusalem, and from there up the hills to Shoresh and Shoeva and Givat Ye'arim and Kisalon and Ramat Raziel and Tzova and Kiryat Anavim and Maaleh HaHamisha and Neveh Ilan, nestling in the old forests from Mandate times, and from there to Tzova and Even Sapir and Ora and Aminadav and Beit Zayit and Mevasseret Zion and the Castel that remembers the blood of the battles waged there and still hears the cries of the fallen.

And most of these settlements, 35 in number, were established by immigrants from Yemen and Kurdistan and North Africa and Romania and Hungary, brought to unknown hills to make their home. Many years have passed, and the Jerusalem Corridor has become a large settled area, a shield and hinterland for Jerusalem. Hard and alien soil has become home and field, forest and plantation - a homeland to parents who came from afar 40 years ago and to children born here and to their children forever more.

Source: Shmuel Even-Or Orenstein, "A Crown for Jerusalem," JNF, 1996