Israel’s premium hiking trail will now include Judea, Samaria, the Jerusalem area and the Golan Heights for the first time.
By: Yona Schnitzer/TPS
The Cabinet on Sunday approved NIS 10 million ($2.8 million) in funding for a new Trans-Israel hiking trail, which will run through the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria for the first time.
A similar trail, dubbed the Israel National Trail, has been in existence since 1995, stretching 1,015 kilometers from Kibbutz Dan on the Israeli-Lebanese border all the way down to Eilat in Israel’s southernmost corner. The trail takes an average of 50 days to complete, has been selected by National Geographic as one of their “Epic Trails” worldwide, and as of 2016, can be explored in its entirety online using Google’s Street View engine.
However, while the Israel National Trail has proved a huge success, it has conspicuously avoided areas outside of Israel’s 1967 borders, including Jerusalem’s Old City.
“Unfortunately, it took 50 years from the Six-Day War for the Israel Trail to return to the main historical biblical parts of the Land of Israel, after years of not entering the Golan, Old Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and Hebron,” Dr. Haggai Ben Artzi, a historian, prominent tour guide and brother-in-law of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Israel National News website.
Netanyahu himself said: “The Israel Trail has tourist and historical implications. This is what is needed in terms of the tourism potential. On a personal note: I have walked thousands of kilometers. There is nothing that connects one more to love of the homeland than walking through the verses of the Bible, the history of the Second Temple period and the establishment of the State of Israel. We have beautiful countryside and a rich history. I will try to walk through parts of it. This is an outstanding enterprise.”
A press release from the Ministry of Tourism did not specify where the trail would in fact pass through and did not release a map of its planned route. “The decision to construct a tourist trail throughout the length and breadth of Israel is an important decision. The path will expose tourists to Israel’s landscapes and sites and will bring hikers to all parts of the country, including the periphery, thereby making significant economic contributions to these areas,” the press release stated.
In response to a query from Tazpit Press Service as to the route of the trail, the ministry replied: “For the first time, the government, in cooperation with the relevant bodies, will develop a strategic plan for a Trans-Israel Trail, including its route and infrastructure requirements from lighting and signage to food and overnight accommodation, in order to market the trail around the world as a tourism product. This, in line with similar government-managed and marketed trails in places such as New Zealand and Spain. The actual route of the trail, which will be determined by the inter-ministerial committee, will include Jerusalem and those relevant areas not currently within the scope of the Israel Trail.”
A spokesperson for Peace Now said that if the trail were to go through Judea and Samaria, it would be an “attempt to turn the Israel National Trail into the Israel Annexation Trail” and a “cynical use tourism and the pretext of strengthening the periphery as another step towards strengthening the settlements and changing facts on the ground.”