Tour Israel: Lost cities, sunburn and Australian war memorials

The sites around Nitzana, including Kadesh Barnea winery (now called Ramat Hanegev), is testament to the layers of history here.

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October 14, 2014 13:44
Sde Boker

The springs and waterfalls at Ein Avdat are located in the Negev, south of Sde Boker.. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

 
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The Negev is a vast canvas.

Half the land area of Israel, with less than 10 percent of the country’s population, the extensive desert has swallowed up cities and travelers throughout the ages. For generations up until 1900 it had no fixed human settlements, and its residents were primarily nomadic Beduin – and the slaves and peasants who worked for them. We know that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wanted to make it “bloom,” and he was even buried overlooking one of its more striking expanses at Sde Boker. It never really bloomed, but for the traveler, hiker or tourist, that doesn’t matter much; if it had bloomed, who would be able to stand on the sun bleached ruins in the middle of nowhere and marvel at the fact that human inhabitation ever succeeded in this forsaken desert? Touring the Negev presents several initial challenges. The only way to get around is by car as public transport only serves the major towns and cities, such as Beersheba, frequently. Hitching rides is theoretically possible, but also only works best on well-traveled roads. So you’ll need a car, but even a car won’t get you to the places off the beaten track, since in the Negev “off the beaten track” literally means driving down a dirt track into the wastes of the desert, and requires not only a four-wheel-drive vehicle but a competent driver. What follows are a few suggested itineraries.

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