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Hiking from Gush Halav/Jish along the Gush Halav Stream

This hike starts in the Maronite village of Jish, which is on the northeast slope of Mount Meron. It was formerly a Jewish town called Gush Halav, and is still known by both its Jewish and Arabic names. There are a number of hiking options for viewing the spectacular scenery of the Upper Galilee and the chalk canyon of the Gush Halav stream, a year-long flowing stream. An ancient synagogue can also be explored and many may wish to walk only as far as the synagogue. The residents of Gush Halav are quite pro-Israel, and you can feel very safe exploring this quaint and prosperous town.



Time: About 3¼ to 3½ hours.

Distance: : About 7¾ Km.

Type of hike: Circular hike. 

Difficulty: The majority of this hike is on either paved roads or dirt footpaths. However, there is one section, an ascent on a snake-like dirt footpath which is slightly difficult because of the steep incline. There are two stream crossings, but the water is shallow and there are convenient boulders to cross on. Nevertheless, walking sticks can be helpful for this and for walking along the river bank.

Directions and parking: A convenient place to park is by Lamar Beauty in Jish. Enter “Lamar beauty, Jish” Close to it is a stairway. At the top of the colored stairway turn right. You are now on an initially paved green-marked trail that will take you past the lower synagogue. There are also many other places to park.

Public transport: There are bus lines to Jish from Safed, Tel Hai and Carmiel.  Enter into Moovit "Jish."

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Ruins of a mill on the Gush Halav Stream

Synagogue of Gush Halav.jpeg

Ruins of the synagogue built during the Roman and Byzantine periods.

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Gush Halav/Jish is inhabited by mainly Maronite Catholic Christians, some Melkite Greek Catholic Christians and a small minority of Muslims.


It has a rich history. Evidence has been found of Canaanite and Israelite habitation. It is not mentioned in the Bible but the Mishna tells us that the city was “surrounded by walls since the time of Joshua ben Nun.” It was inhabited by returnees from Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple, and the town continued to have a strong Jewish presence until the 16th century. The Christian scholar Jerome mentions that Paul of Tarsus lived here with his parents.


According to Josephus, Gischala, which was Gush Halav’s Greek name, was the last town in the Galilee to fall during the Great Revolt against Rome. John of Gischala, otherwise known as Yohanan from Gush Halav, was one of the main leaders of the revolt and he vied with Josephus for its leadership. After the fall of Gush Halav, he fled to Jerusalem and became part of the factitious leadership that was eventually responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.


By the Ottoman period the town was totally Muslim and then became Druze. Maronite Christians first settled here during the early 18th century when the Druze left because of conflict. An earthquake in 1837 led to widespread damage to the town.


Gush Halav was a base for Kaukgi’s Arab Liberation Army during Israel’s War of Independence and was subsequently captured by the Israel Defense Forces. After the war, many of its original inhabitants who had fled were not permitted to return and they became refugees. Maronite Christians forced to leave nearby Biram relocated here. On the hike you will pass Arab houses from as early as the 18th century that are described by signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English.



  • Assuming you have parked your car as above (although there are many other streets on which you can park), continue along this green-marked paved road, which soon becomes a dirt jeep road. After about a 20-minute walk you will see on your right the ruins of the ancient lower synagogue of Gush Halav. It is not signposted. In front of it is a dirt area for parking if you are coming by car (although this is not recommended as the jeep road is somewhat rough). You can see olive trees and pillars through the neat metal fencing. Enter the ruins through the open gate.pen gate.


Construction of this synagogue began in the Roman period during the 2nd or 3rd centuries CE and renovations were continued until about the 5th or 6th centuries. Note the rows of columns parallel to the walls, with foyers on either side of the columns. The synagogue faces to the south towards Jerusalem. A column on the right as you enter has a dedication inscription in Aramaic. There is a fallen lintel by the synagogue entrance with the image of an eagle with outstretched wings, a not uncommon decoration on synagogues. The congregants probably lived adjacent to the synagogue where fig groves are now growing, although these have not been excavated.

  • At the bottom of the hill, you will come to an easy shallow stream crossing. The crossing is, in fact, a bit easier if you take the path to the left where there is soon an additional crossing. However, just before the first crossing, it is possible to make a diversion to the spring of Ein Alva. It will add about 15 minutes to your hike (and this is included in the time and distance above). There are two possible routes to this spring. The first path involves crossing a very shallow tributary just to the right of the stream crossing and you will soon see a path leading up a hill. There is another path to the right just after crossing the Gush Halav stream that leads up a hill. Despite its first appearance, this path is actually less hilly than the first. Alternatively, go to the spring on one path and return on the other. The spring emerges from a concrete construction.

  • Return to the green-marked trail by the Gush Halav stream. When you come to a rusty gate, open it and continue on the trail. You will pass the ruins of a number of flour mills, which are several hundred years old. Beyond the third mill is another shallow and easy stream-crossing.


At this point, three options are suggested:


  1. Hike to Ein Halav. Then turn back the way you came. You will have the benefits of the views but no difficult, steep ascent.


  1. Hike to Ein Halav, cross the stream and continue to Givat Halav in a circular hike. This is a slightly challenging and long hike. This hike is shown on the map and the times and distance are as above.


  1. Hike up the cliff from a path that starts close to the stream crossing to the pool Ein Hakchala, and continue to Gush Halav as a circular hike. The ascent is moderately difficult, but it is a shorter hike than #2, and the pool is a pretty place to relax or have a picnic.

1. Hike to Ein Halav and then back on the same path:


  • Walk along the continuation of the green-marked trail to the spring Ein Halav. When you see a jeep trail a bit above you, take this trail as it easier to walk along. In any case, the green-marked trail soon joins up with it. Walk through the parking lot to the stream. There are picnic benches here, a working water tap and a short trail on the left to the spring.

2. Circular hike via Givat Halav:


  • From Ein Halav, cross the stream. This is not particularly easy. You could just wade across. It is not deep, but you will be walking on stones on the riverbed and will need appropriate footwear. Alternatively, cross on the boulders and then to turn to the left along the dry bank of the stream, although it is quite narrow.


  • Continue along the brown-marked road. At the fork, take the left fork (do not go up the hill). You will come to a sign indicating that you are entering Baram Forest. Shortly after this you will see a marking on a rock indicating the turn-off for a black-marked trail that ascends the hill. There are many black markings placed for your convenience on the rocks. However, it is easy to get lost going up the hill as many of the rocks have natural black staining. Initially, keep to the path by the fence, even after it goes through a gate.


  • This trail eventually reaches a green-marked road. Turn right on this road and then almost immediately turn left onto the black-marked road. This will lead you into town.


  • Continuing on this main road in Gush Halav, you will pass on your right a children’s play area. There is a map of the city below. Keep to the right on the forks until you come to a T-junction. Turn left here. From this road you can see Mount Meron on your right. This is the highest mountain in pre-1967 Israel, although mountains in the Golan are higher.  You will pass a number of houses of historic interest. The side turning on the right before the main street will take you a short distance to the tomb of Rabbi Yochai and his wife Sarah, the parents of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. The tombstone is fairly recent.

  • At the main road, turn right and walk down this main road. Follow the map below to the location of your car.


Other tombs of Jewish sages in this town are those of the 1st century sages Shmaya and Abtalion. They are close to the entrance of the town. Enter the restaurant Al Liali into Google maps and the tombs are a bit further along this road.

3. Circular hike via Ein Hakchala:


  • Very shortly after the third mill crossing, by a tree with sign markings is a footpath that goes up the gully on this side of the bank. Because of its steepness, this is a moderately difficult path, although it does not involve any rock climbing. It is also not a marked trail, although the footpath is fairly clear. With zig-zagging the path leads to the pretty pool of Ein Hakchala, so-called because of the blue color of its water. It is a seasonal pond formed from rainwater and is a nice place to stop for a picnic.


  • After walking around the pool on your left, you will see 3 paths ahead of you. Take the middle path straight ahead up the hill. At the next junction this will continue as a black-marked trail and will lead to the paved roads of Gush Halav. Continue as hike #2 to Givat Halav.

How do archeologists figure out when an ancient synagogue was built?


Deposits of coins have been found at the top of the foundations of at least 57 synagogues in Israel and the diaspora, including in the lower Gush Halav synagogue. By looking at when these coins were issued, archeologists can provide a time range for the construction of the synagogue.


But why were these coins placed here?


A foundational ritual for religious buildings was very common in the Mediterranean basin and beyond. At the beginning of construction, coins, figurines, sacrifices, inscriptions and other precious materials were deposited in important places in the building in the context of a religious ceremony carried out by a priest.


It is unlikely that the coins deposited in synagogues were part of this ritual. There is no mention in Jewish texts of such a ceremony, the coins were not associated with any other precious objects, they were not usually deposited in bundles at a major point in the building construction but rather scattered throughout the foundations, and they were usually placed by the floor rather than deep in the foundations.


It may be that the coins placed in synagogues were not part of a religious ritual but more in the way of a secular equivalent that had no religious meaning. Jews are forbidden by Jewish law to adopt pagan customs. Nevertheless, they saw value in throwing a few non-precious coins on top of the foundations of their synagogues, perhaps as a good luck charm or as a means of indicating for posterity when the building was erected

Maronite Christians

Although you will see church spires on entering Gush Halav, appreciate that this is not a typical Christian Arab town, as for example Nazareth or the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. This is because most of the people here are not Christian Arabs but Christian Maronites.


Christians constitute about 2% of the population of Israel and 78% of these Christians are Christian Arabs. Most Christian Arabs belong to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which broke away from the Greek Orthodox Church in the 18th century and joined the Catholic Church.


Maronites are also Catholic and are in full communion with the Pope and the rest of the Catholic church. They are followers of Maron, a 4th-century Syriac Christian hermit and saint who sent Abraham of Cyrrhus to convert the pagan population of Lebanon to Christianity. When the Muslims swept into this region in the 7th century, the Maronites resisted changing their faith. In the past they spoke Aramaic (as did the Jews), and their prayers are still in Aramaic (as are a few Jewish prayers).


Most Maronites in the Middle East live in Lebanon. Just over a million Maronites constitute about 32% of the Lebanese population. There are also small Maronite communities in Syria, Cyprus and Israel. There are approximately 11,000 Maronites in this country and most live in the north of Israel, in Haifa, Gush Halav, Isfiya, Acre, and Makr, and also in Jaffa. About 2 million Maronites live in the diaspora outside the Middle East.



Notice that all the store signs are in Hebrew and not Arabic. Maronite children are not required to join the Israeli army, but most high school graduates volunteer for the army or National Service. There is also a 2,500-meter Coexistence Trail for hiking and biking that links Gush Halav to the nearby Jewish town of Dalton and which has several lookout points.


In sum, you can feel very safe visiting Gush Halav.

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Mount Meron viewed from the town of Gush Halav.

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The spring Ein Alva.

Map of the circular hikes by Gush Halav Stream by two possible routes

To follow your location on your smart phone, click on for the entire hike and for the part of the hike in town. Click on the black box with a cross at the top left of the map and it should change color to green. It is not necessary to download the free app unless you wish to.

Continuation of the trails within Gush Halav. 

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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