Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Things You Can See in the Desert

The other day I drove down to Sdeh Boker, about 170 km south of Jerusalem, deep in the Negev. David and Paula Ben Gurion are buried out there, which is a fascinating story and a spot of breathtaking beauty. Nearby there's a cluster of research centers, and I went to talk to some fellows there. Driving down there gave insights into various issues.

The roads. I am very very old, so I can remember days when there was only one four-lane road in all of Israel (two in each direction, not four in one direction, or sixteen, like on your way into New York). The road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem had two lanes, except for a section to the west of Ramle where there were three (yep. Perfect for playing chicken).

These days things are different, of course, with six- and eight-laned roads backed up for miles with traffic. Sigh. Of course you can go all the way to Beer Sheva, and even around the city without having to drive through it, on modern 4-lane highways. South of Beer Sheva the highways are currently pushing south, with the section all the way out to Mashavei Sadeh under intensive construction in the blistering heat. It looks like the government has money to spend on infrastructure.

On either side of that section of road you can see ramshackle Bedouin settlements. In 1949 there were about 15,000 Bedouins in Israel; now there are 200,000. They take up a lot more space than they used to, and many of them now live on dusty hilltops that had nothing on them a few decades ago, and very little on them ten or 15 years ago. I'm not saying anything about who owns what land, since I'm not versed in the subject, nor am I making a value statement at all. I'm reporting on things you can see. That, and hoping the new road, which will serve those Bedouin, will prove useful in integrating them in the advancing economy and social fabric.

Further south, where it's too dry for most anything, you finally reach the area of Sde Boker- which is green, blooming with trees and other crops. Apparently, I was told, in spite of the lack of precipitation, there's actually no lack of water. The entire area, for many hundreds of miles, sits on an ocean of fossil water. It's a bit brackish, but that's what scientific research is for: to find solutions. Which are being worked on, and some are already operative: look at all those trees.

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