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ISRAEL


“When my daughter was three years old,


she had many emotions about the war in Syria, so I took her to the border, and only then did she relax,” relates Tareq, rotating his blue-bead rosary around his thumb and explaining his belief that his daughter was possibly the reincarnation of a soul born in Syria, and getting close to her homeland again had calmed her. We’ve taken shelter from the wind’s


freezing gusts inside the Druze’s second- most holy site: the cave where prophet Sabalan lived atop the mount. Today, it’s covered with a sleek colonnaded shrine. “People think of the Middle East as


predominantly Muslim, but this trail covers a mosaic of religions. Here you have Bedouins, Jews, Druze, Circassians, Christians and Muslim Arabs — in the north we all live together. The trail is special because it passes through authentic villages that are home to both Christians and Druze — they’re good examples of comfortable coexistence.” Daniel had already pointed out Tarshicha, a town where Arabs and Jews live together. In a country fraught with religious tension, this is no small thing. Rather than trespassing through their


backyards, this trail has the potential to become a binding thread. “Will the promotion of Yam le Yam change your lives?” I ask. He rubs his black beard. “We’ll all gain something — it’ll help us all to learn and collaborate with each other more.” We call in at the local bakery to pick up a pair of sambusak — Druze-style savoury


90 nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel


turnover pastries filled with spinach or minced lamb — for our picnic. The husband- and-wife team take turns shaping the dough before shovelling them into the glowing brick oven. Swathed around her head is a distinctive Druze white headscarf. We pull into a car park, as instructed by


Tareq, ready to start walking. Right beside the gravel space, as unnoticed as if it were a bus stop, are the remains of an Iron Age settlement. Beside that, an ancient Roman wine press and, a little further on, an Ottoman corral for sheep. It was probably men shepherding these fleecy creatures that forged the trails we’re walking. We stride beneath oaks strewn with


Spanish moss, their sun-lit leaves dancing like shadow puppets on the ground. Occasionally, the rustle of a rodent stirs the bushes or the trill of a blackbird breaks through the conversation. Walking is never just placing one foot in front of the other. There’s a meditative repetition; something intimate that connects sole, soil and soul. Especially here. “In Israel, almost every rock has a story,” says Daniel. I’m snapped out of my musings. Coming


down the hill is Jonathan, a swathe of grey hair and wind-pinked cheeks. In his mid-50s, he walks these woods every week. “Lots of forests planted in the 1940s and


1950s were made up of pine trees. I prefer the indigenous forest and this trail is special for that,” he tells us, before striding off. We reach Mount Neria and the trees thin out enough to reveal 180-degree views.


ABOVE FROM LEFT: The Druze Israeli town of Hurfeish, seen from Mount Zvul; Ultra-orthodox Jews at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron


Walking is never just placing one foot in front of the other. There’s a meditative repetition; something intimate that connects sole, soil and soul. Especially here. “In Israel, almost every rock has a story,” says Daniel


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