by Gil Gertel & Noam Even
The main road to Jerusalem passes the point where the vista changes from the open Judean plains to the closed, steep, mountainous view of the Jerusalem Hills. The area is known as the Shaar Ha-gai
in Hebrew and Bab-el-Wad in Arabic, or ‘Gates to the Valley’, in English.
The modern highway, Route #1 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is paved over the ancient road from Jaffa to Jerusalem. In ancient times, it took at least two days to walk from city to city so inns and guard-stations were built along the roadside.
Travelers to Jerusalem willing to spend a half-hour can enjoy a superb view by going to the Shaar Ha-gai lookout point. From the lookout, you will be able to see the remains of various buildings from different periods. A police station, from the British Mandate, the remains of a Turkish police station north of the road, an inn from the 18th and even the remains of a Crusader period fortress north of the gas station will all be visible.
The view from the top of the hill is in a northerly direction. The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway is visible as it passes through a panoramic view from left to right. At Shaar Ha-gai, the gas station stands out (in yellow). Behind it to the right is the British Police Station. To the left, 200 yards (meters) in a northerly direction, between the trees, the remains of the Turkish Police Station will be visible. On the southern side of the road, on the lookout point side, you can see two structures: a restaurant and an inn for travelers.
The historical significance of the inn was mentioned in the newspaper “Ha’Levanon” from the year 1873:
“The place called Bab-el-Wad at the heart of the road between Jerusalem and Jaffa, for many years has been known for its dangers to passers-by, being desolated and ideal for robbers’ hideouts. Even after the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem was paved and a wooden hut was erected to serve as a coffeehouse – there was no place for the weary traveler to rest and refresh himself.
Now it has occurred to the Central Government to build a large, spacious court. Under the court stables are planned for horses, and above the court – pleasant houses, furnished with beds, tables, lanterns, couches, dining tables with a well for freshwater. Wooden huts were erected opposite for the Arabs and Peasants so that they would not mix with the Europeans.”
Over the years, this area was left to ruin and only during the last year, building restoration began, making it suitable for visitors. The Shaar Ha-gai area is now being developed as part of Rabin Park, in memory of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Early in his military career, Rabin commanded the Harel Brigade that played such a crucial role in gaining access to Jerusalem during the War of Independence.
To reach the lookout point, take the Shaar Ha-gai interchange to the road leading south, Route # 38, towards Beit Shemesh. Three hundred yards (meters) after the turn-off ramp there is a dirt road to the right, which is your first possible turn. Take this turn and continue straight on the dirt road that climbs towards the top of the hill where you can park your car.
Clearly marked signs in Hebrew enable visitors to easily identify some of the important sites in the battles for the roads to Jerusalem. It is unfortunate that the JNF maintained site does not have signs in English (the signs on the way to the site are also all only in Hebrew). However, even without the tourist-oriented signs, visitors will be able gain a better grasp of how crucial control of the roads was and enjoy a great view.