If you’re looking to combine a bit of modern Israeli history with unique sites and a walk through a sand dunes park, spend a day in Israel’s southern coastal region, making stops at Gesher Ad Halom (Ad Halom Bridge), Givah 69 (Hill 69), and the Nitzanim Nature Reserve.
Gesher Ad Halom (Ah Halom Bridge)
We recommend starting your day at Gesher Ad Halom, which is located in the eastern part of Ashdod. Gesher Ad Halom (which literally means “up to here”) marks the northernmost point that the Egyptians managed to reach during Operation Pleshet in the 1948 War of Independence. You’ll find several interesting landmarks here, so take advantage of the chance to acquaint and orient yourself with the stories that will forever be intertwined with the area.
In order to get to the parking lot, take Route 4 toward Ashdod until the Gesher Ad Halom (גשר עד הלום) intersection, where you’ll turn right. After passing the gas station, take another right. After driving for only about 40 meters, turn left towards Gesher Ad Halom. Park your car and proceed on the trail toward the sites.
You’ll notice a tall marble obelisk right next to the parking lot. We recommend checking it out at the end of your trip to Gesher Ad Halom, and so we’ll discuss it a bit more in depth further on in this write-up. Walk down the trail until you have the option to turn left and almost immediately turn right. Here, you’ll find an old wartime bunker; it is one of many that can be found in the surrounding areas. These bunkers were built to house soldiers for extended periods of time in the time of the War of Independence, and were ultimately utilized by troops during the war.
Continue down the path you were on before and turn right after the area with the picnic benches. Check out plaques that line the path here. Each one has the picture, name, and dates of leaders from around the world who ruled over and/or came to this area at one point or another. The names on the plaque include those of Napolean, Edmund Allenby, and many other well-known leaders who ruled all throughout history.
Turn right to stay on the path. You’ll walk over a large compass that points out what lies in the surrounding areas before running into the “pillbox” on your left. Pillboxes are concrete defense posts built by the British to defend and survey the areas they controlled all over the world. The one located near Gesher Ad Halom is pretty tall for typical pillbox standards, and served as a security post for British forces during their rule in pre-Israel Palestine. As soon as the British left Israel, though, Israeli forces used pillboxes such as the one you’ll find here to defend themselves from attack. The banks of the Lachish River were protected from this particular pillbox during Operation Pleshet. Across the way from the pillbox, you’ll see a memorial commemorating the Israeli soldiers who lost their lives in the battle at Gesher Ad Halom.
You’ll see a number of bridges after moving on from the pillbox and memorial. The first one is a railway bridge, and is used by the coastal railway (from Egypt to Lebanon). Ever since the mid-1990’s, the bridge has led trains into Ashdod. In 2005, the line was extended into Ashkelon. The third bridge you’ll see is where the Route 4 highway crosses.
The second bridge, which you’ll be able to easily distinguish thanks to its Roman arches and the older stones that it’s made up of, is the bridge that was at the center of attention between May 29th and June 3rd, 1948. With the goal of capturing Tel-Aviv and eventually Jerusalem, the Egyptian army moved its way up the coast until it reached this exact location. However, in order to prevent the the Egyptians from easily moving north and reaching the heart of the young Jewish country, members of the Israeli Givati brigade preemptively blew the bridge up on the 12th of May. This strategic decision ultimately saved Israel from the prospect of Egyptian forces reaching Tel-Aviv.
As soon as they arrived at the bridge, the Egyptians decided to construct a new bridge so that they’d eventually be able to cross over and invade Tel-Aviv. In response to this, Israel sent out four fighter planes to defend the area. The four pilots (one of whom was Ezer Weizmann, Israel’s eventual 7th President) were the first four men to serve in Israel’s brand new air force. Despite the fact that one of the pilots lost his life , the mission was considered a success, as it deterred the Egyptian forces from continuing to build a bridge and ended up forcing them to retreat back to Gaza in the south.
While this battle only last from May 29 to June 3, 1948, Israel’s ability to withstand and turn back the Egyptian forces proved pivotal to its victory in the war altogether and its eventual success as a young country.
When you’re ready to move on, feel free to either return in the direction of the parking lot or proceed down the trail towards a small nature reserve called Shmurat HaSheeta HaMalbeena (“Acacia Albida Nature Reserve” in English). This is a nice place to have a picnic as you sit under the shade of the many acacias and ficuses that are in the area.
Once you decide to head back to your car, go back the same way you came. On your way, stop at the tall marble obelisk, which is a memorial for the Egyptian soldiers who fell in battle here in 1948. The monument was constructed as part of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt in 1979, and was seen as compensation for Israel’s abandonment of outposts in the Sinai Peninsula. The monument is inscribed upon in four different languages: Arabic, Hebrew, English, and Hieroglyphics. When you’re ready to leave, get back in your car and start driving to Old Nitzanim.
The Battle of Nitzanim and the Dunes of Nitzanim
The next part of the day will take you to the old Kibbutz Nitzanim, where you’ll have a chance to learn about the Battle of Nitzanim before heading out to the area’s sand dunes. We recommend starting this walk at the Shikmim Field School (בית הספר שדה שיקמים), formally known as “the palace” on the old Kibbutz Nitzanim. To get there, turn right onto the main highway and head towards Ashkelon. Turn right at the sign for Nitzanim and Nitzan (Road 3631). Continue on the road, pass the entrance to Nitzan (where many people who were evicted from Gaza in the 2005 disengagement still live), turn right at the following intersection, and then immediately turn left. Head towards Shikmim and park your car by the entrance.
This field school is where the Jews famously surrendered to the Egyptians in 1948. In this area, you will also see a cemetery, which is the resting place of the former Kibbutz’s founders, with a separate section for the 23 fallen soldiers of the Givati Bregade, who lost their lives in the battle against the Egyptian forces.
Kibbutz Nitzanim was founded in 1943 and was meant to be a part of the Arab State in the United Nations’ plan for Palestine. It was attacked many times in the first 6 months of the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine. The Jews in Nitzanim fought back and defended themselves until the 1948 war against the Egyptian forces.
Egyptian forces were hiding out in Isdud, where they were suspected to be heading to Tel Aviv to attempt to capture it. They stopped at Ad Halom (where we were earlier in the day) on the way, where they were bombed and stopped advancing. After this, the Egyptians shifted their focus towards the areas they had passed, with a major focus on Kibbutz Nitzanim.
In the beginning of the war, Kibbutz Nitzanim evacuated as many of the children and women as possible during the night so that the men could defend their property, but after losing 23 soldiers, they surrendered to the Egyptians and 105 Israelis were taken as prisoners of war. This was the first major Egyptian victory of the war.
This event in history is seen with different viewpoints from Israelis today. This is known to be the only event of humiliation to the Israelis, as Kibbutz Nitzanim surrendered to the Egyptians. Others saw the kibbutz to have no other option but to surrender. Because of the differing viewpoints, the event remains a hot and divisive topic within Israeli society.
Today, the site where the battle happened is a historical site that is very well preserved. A new Kibbutz Nitzanim is exists across the road from the former site, due to tragic memories on the previous land. The site is surrounded by a nature reserve, with well-marked paths. This is a great place for a day trip with an interesting history, and a picnic area that’s perfect for a lunch break.
Drive your car down the road until you reach a parking lot. If you start out on the black trail, you’ll reach sand dunes that lead to a beautiful beach with views of Ashdod and Ashkelon. The walk is approximately five kilometers long, and should take you anywhere between two and a half to three hours. The nature reserve is surrounded by relevant sites: to the north is Ashdod, while the road from Ashdod to Ashkelon sits to the south. The sea sits west of the reserve, and the area’s agricultural lands are to the east. When you reach an intersection, turn left with the blue trail. You’ll now be heading west to the sea. The area is filled with plants and trees from all over the world, as many were brought to the region by British and Arab residents long before 1948. You’ll see a good deal of eucalyptus trees and acacia salignas.
The blue trail will take you all the way down to the sea. Walk south (left) when you reach the beach until you reach a more official beach. Once there, follow the road that leads out of the beach complex back to the parking lot where you left your car.
Givah 69 (Hill 69)
Givah 69 is a great place to stop when making this day trip. It is a very important site to the understanding of the events that took place in the 1948 War of Independence. Givah 69 is located near Nitzanim, and is also a historical site where the Egyptians continued to fight the Israelis.
During the battles, the Israeli army took Givah 69 and aimed to threaten the Egyptians at Isdud and prepare to recapture Nitzanim. On June 9th, one of the Israeli battalions managed to sneak into Nitzanim in attempt to capture “the palace,” but was ordered to withdraw when hit with heavy Egyptian forces. The Egyptians pursued the Israeli forces until reaching Givah 69. Here, the Egyptians attacked the Israeli’s company, and the IDF broke due to disorganization and resulted in 20 casualties. This was one of the many times throughout the course of its history where Givah 69 changed hands between Israel and Egypt.
Givah 69 is now a tourist site with explanations of what happened in the War against the Egyptians and various other monuments. There is a plaque that breaks down and detailing the site’s relevance, as well as explaining what the surrounding areas are (and what one was able to see from Givah 69 when the area down below was completely treeless). There are also three water towers on Givah 69, which date back to the British rule and were later used as defense posts and outlooks for soldiers manning the hill.
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