Schneider Aviel

The Promised Land – Small and Varied

Last week I went back to the desert with my sons

Negev Desert and the diverse Promised Land
Photo: Aviel Schneider

While out and about with two of my sons last week, I again realized just how small and diverse is our country. We spent 48 hours down in the south of the country near the Egyptian border. To get there, we drove nearly two hours from our village in the Judean Mountains. It was an overcast day in the center of the country. But the further south we drove, the more the sky cleared up. The sun was shining, but it was still cold.

We brought along an off-road motorcycle to speed across and enjoy the desert landscape. Overnight we stayed in a “mud hut” guesthouse in the isolated Negev community of Ezuz. It was difficult to find accommodation, actually, even down here. Everything in Israel is fully booked through Passover, and in many places even until mid-summer. Israelis still can’t fly abroad, so are taking the opportunity to enjoy their own country. Large hotels are still not open, and you need to be careful about “gathering,” but down here in the southern desert region, you’re unlikely to encounter the authorities. The Bedouins who live and operate here know that better than anyone. “The wild Canaan” is what my local friends call this part of the country.

In the mud hut

We enjoyed dinner sitting on the floor of a Bedouin tent. Low tables with cushions placed all around. Ezuz is situated not far from the Israel Today vineyard, and so our very own Simeon 2019 red wine was of course on the menu. The tent was almost completely full of people. Young families, retirees, everyone was happy to finally be “out” and enjoying life. After dinner, the 30 or so retirees gathered in a circle and suddenly began to sing old Israeli folk songs. Someone even played the accordion. The desert setting combined with these tunes gave a feeling of being transported back to the pioneer days.

It was freezing cold outside. This is the desert in winter. Fortunately, we had a fire in our mud hut. But no cell reception. Totally cut off. So the three of us sat outside with an oil lamp on the table and enjoyed the conversation. My youngest son, Elad, has finished his mandatory military service, and his brother, Moran, lives in Tel Aviv. It was good to catch up and enjoy one another’s company.

The next morning, well rested and after breakfast, we drove further south on a rocky old patrol path that was used to guard Israel’s border with Egypt. At last we reached a Nabataean water cistern.

Wasserzisterne

A small hole in the ground open to a large underground water basin. Not only was it cold, the water level was too high to climb down into the ancient bath. We often went swimming there in the summer.

Then we drove through the wide Wadi Nizanna to the Israel Today olive groves and vineyard. To the north, the desert becomes softer and more sandy. The motorcycle sped in front of us. My youngest son at the wheel of the jeep, and suddenly I felt like a spare wheel.

I enjoyed the time with my sons in the desert. At the vineyard we met our winemaker Oren and talked about the situation in the Negev. With all due respect, if Israel is not careful, one day it will lose control of the desert. The Bedouins number around 350,000 people, and their population doubles every 14 years.

Then we crossed the so-called “White Wadi,” which passes a few meters from our vineyard. Large dunes to the right and left. We stopped frequently to make ourselves a hot coffee either over a small camp fire or the gas burner. Deer, foxes and camels roamed about us. Like on safari. Cold, crisp weather, good music and a lot of fun.

But everything must come to an end. In the evening we headed back home. As we neared Beersheva, the dark clouds again appeared. A little further on, the landscape turned green. At Beit Guvrin, all the hills were lush with vegetation. Straight ahead we could see rain clouds watering the slopes of the Judean Mountains.

It was a beautiful reminder of just how small, yet how incredibly diverse and unique is the Promised Land.

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