Sunday, January 22, 2012

Daniel Gerdes

Israel Blog, Day 14: Mitzpe Ramon and Sde Boqer ( A Kibbutz where Ben Gurion lived and is buried).

We said goodbye to Eilat this morning, and started making our way to Be’er Sheva, in the far northern part of the Negev Desert. We drove for roughly one hour where we stopped at a site called a makhtesh, something that looks similar to a crater. A makhtesh is a geological phenomenon that is caused by movement of the earth’s tectonic plates.

Tens of millions of years ago, there was a vast desert of sand dunes that existed on the land that is the state of Israel today. Slowly the ocean rose to cover those sand dunes. After millions of years of sedimentation, layers upon layers of calcium and other minerals were deposited on the floor of the ocean, covering the sand dunes that were swallowed up by the ocean.

Eventually the ocean began to recede again and the plates on the earth’s crust began to move. The crust started to elevate in one spot, creating anticline planes—a ridge with one very steep side and one very shallow side. Because the top rocks (usually limestone) are very hard and brittle, they break very easily when stress is put on them. Stress cracks began to form and eventually the peak of the new ridge split and created a large fissure. This fissure grew wider and wider as millions of years passed.

Now what you have today is a very large crater shaped valley in the desert of Israel. In the bottom—after the limestone ridges were forced open and away from each other—the sand dunes that were once buried under millions of years of sedimentation are now exposed. A makhtesh is usually drained by one narrow river or stream, which is dry during much of the year as there is little rainfall.

We got the best view of Makhtesh Ramon from the small town of Mitzpe Ramon, a town situated on one of the ridges on the north side of the makhtesh, where we also had lunch. We then moved on up the road to the outskirts of the Kibbutz where David Ben Gurion is buried with his wife Paula.

As one of the founders and the first prime minister of Israel, Ben Gurion is admired by many Israelis. As a socialist and a Zionist, Ben Gurion’s dream was to create a state where resources where shared with everyone, to allow everyone to prosper in Israel. One of Ben Gurion’s great visions rose out of the 1947 partition plan, which relegated Israel to a small parcel of land in the north, and nearly all of the desert land in the south.

Because much of the land that was given to Israel was desert land, Gurion’s vision was to convert the desert to make it prosperous and useful. He envisioned small kibbutzim and villages across the desert; little oases across the desert making infertile land fertile and versatile. That dream has become partially true. Although the mass movement of people towards the desert that Gurion envisioned didn’t happen, his dream of using the desert as a place of growth and production did come true as most of the produce that Israel exports comes from the Negev desert.

After learning about Ben Gurion’s dream for Israel we took a short hike through a valley nearby. The valley, the Tsin Valley, is a former Nabatean trade route which stretches all the way to Petra, Jordan. Ben Gurion’s grave sits at the spot he frequented after his retirement. He moved to a small kibbutz—Sde Boqer—in the desert after retirement and walked to a ridge overlooking the Tsin Valley; he is now buried at that ridge.

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