This post is a bit belated, but two weeks ago I spent three days in the Negev on a Pardes tiyul (trip).
Southern Israel is essentially completely composed of desert. This area, called the Negev (lit. meaning ‘south’ in Biblical Hebrew and from the word nigev, meaning dry), comprises more than half of Israel’s land. In addition the Negev, Israel also has a second, much smaller desert called the Judean desert. The Judean desert lies east of Jerusalem and descends south towards the Dead Sea.
The focus of the tiyul was hiking (the Negev is known for hiking), and we did our first trail in an area called Nahal Peres. Nahal means river in Hebrew, and the term refers to the common geological feature in the Negev of a canal created by a former river. In the present day, a nahal may fill a few times a year after heavy rainfall and flashfloods but most of the year it lies dry. Nahal Peres is located in the north-eastern part of the Negev. We hiked for about five hours, and the terrain was relatively easy with some scrambling. The views along the hike were gorgeous; we saw gorges, locations of former waterfalls, and water cisterns that filled with water from floods.
After a long day hiking, the group went to the inn where we were staying for the week, Shvilim Bamidbar – Hatzeva. The inn was similar to a lodge with several smaller rooms surrounding a central communal area. The communal area included lots of seating, cushions, and recreation tables. Shvilim Bamidbar also has a kitchen and serves breakfast and dinner each day (they also provided food for us to pack lunches with in the morning).
On the second day, we did a more technical hike through another nahal, following the steps of the Palmach (Israel’s defense forces before the creation of the state). The Palmach used the Negev for training and strategic advantage over the British, and the present-day Israeli military has continued to utilize the Negev for their purposes as well.
Along the hike, Noah took the lead in charging up some sand dunes:
Eventually the steps of the Palmach led us to the end of the nahal with only steep ledges on all sides.
Historically, a group of Palmach fighters did find themselves stuck here, being pursued by the British. They scaled the walls of the valley at great peril and survived. Now, the area is call Ma’ale Palmach (ascent of the Palmach), and ladders and horseshoe holds have been added along the ascent to help hikers. Nonetheless, it’s still a pretty scary climb up!
On our third and final day, we stopped by the site of the Biblical city of Beersheba whose archaeological ruins are a few kilometers east of modern day Beersheba. According to the Torah, Abraham and Isaac dug the wells here. Based on archaeological evidence, Beersheba is believed to be the first planned city in the region – including a grid system of pathways and an elaborate water system.
This tiyul was a lot of fun, and hiking in the Negev was unlike any other trip I’ve done. The terrain is so unique, and witnessing the barrenness of the Negev firsthand makes it impossible not to marvel at the Israeli efforts (and success!) of “making the desert bloom.”