During the summer, the snails in the Negev fields huddle along the length of a dry stalk, as if they are looking for a sense of security in close contact side by side. In winter the rains come, the soil gets wet and germination begins. This is the period of abundance of snails. They go down to the brown earth and the green covers and scatter them as far as possible from each other. “That’s how people behave too,” Roni Segev tells me, a childhood friend I dropped by to visit on the way to the south, a man as rough on the outside as any old Be’er Shevai, and reveals a philosophical musing mixed with sensitivity.
From Be’er Sheva drive south and turn west on a well-paved road to the Egyptian border and the ancient Tel Nitsana. From there, turn south on a narrow and bumpy straight road that follows the route of the railroad that the Turks built over a hundred years ago. Drive thirteen kilometers and arrive at Azuz, a place that looks at first glance like a cross between a walled settlement and a tower with coffee in Baghdad.
During my first days in Azuz, I camped in a grove in Nahal Barotyim, at the foot of the hill on which the settlement houses are built. But the tops of the trees hid the solar panels that refused to charge the Dayan batteries and I had to disconnect the refrigerator, my main electricity consumer, every evening. Besides, to be honest, I felt lonely. To be alone again at the edge of the desert, without friends, without a partner, just me to myself. Although I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the center, and I knew I was going to the most remote place in the country. I was still distressed, and I felt the need to get closer to the people who live here at the end of the world to the left.
So I moved the trailer into the settlement of Azuz. A small hill with two water towers, on one Saturday, a few houses whose dominant color is mud brown are scattered in the space, and seventeen families live here. Benzi the sculptor kindly agreed that I would place my small house under the Australian acacia tree in his yard. I settled in and arranged a small sitting area with a view of the desert that was visible in all directions.
Doron the visionary
Winter has arrived. Clouds and rain in the center of the country. The sun is shining here but it’s windy and cold outside. Everyone wraps themselves in fur coats, the last word in Jordan, even during the day. At night the cold penetrates the bones. I thank Nadav Benny for fixing the gas heating for me and I could indulge in a hot shower before bed. A hot bottle sets me up for a few hours of pleasant nap at night. In general, concepts of grandmothers such as a hot bottle and a miracle pot are regaining meaning among the campers.
Doron Akiva, the number one citizen in Azuz, was a member of the Nature Reserves Authority in the eighties and nineties of the last century. Many times he followed with his jeep the route of the Ottoman railway that was paved from Be’er Sheva to Nitsana, and continued to Kasima in Sinai, which is the biblical Kedesh Barnea. This was a stop in the forty-year journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Turks built a stone bridge over Nahal Barotyim, built a train station and a storage pond to fill water for steam locomotives, which they intended to fill from a brackish water well dug on the banks of the stream. Shortly after the completion of the track, the English occupied Beer Sheva and the Turks withdrew from the place without a single train passing through it.
After the establishment of the state, in the 1950s, a Nahal checkpoint was established at the site, whose practical role was to prevent the infiltration of Fedayeen terrorists. The point was abandoned after the Six Day War and the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula, leaving behind several concrete floors, barbed wire fences, and looted Ottoman stones. It seemed that everyone Forget about this place… except for Doron. The year was 1982 and a peace agreement was signed with Egypt. Israel withdrew from Sinai and a settlement boom began throughout the Negev. But peace prevailed in the south and the First Lebanon War had already broken out in the north. During it Doron met Dror, his friend from the reserves. During night talks in Jebel Blessed above Lake Kraon, their shared dream of establishing a new settlement in the desert was woven. On one of the rare vacations, Doron took Dror and his friend Celia to the abandoned creek on the hill. The young couple was impressed and announced on the spot that they were joining the initiative and coming with Doron to settle there. The three immortalized the moment They sat by the water well in the grove at the foot of the settlement.
On the benches of the settlement department in Jerusalem, Doron met with Sepi the Negev who, like him, came to Jerusalem with the aim of establishing a settlement in the Negev. This is where the two who were crowned the future of Shaharot and Azuz, who compete to this day for the title of the most remote settlement in Israel, met.
Doron and his friends felt great pride in being farmers from the land. Doron put the vision of the Yishuv in writing and called for the creation of an active community life, mutual help, joint cultural events. It is also written there that the members of the community will engage in desert agriculture, tourism, personal entrepreneurship and outside work in the area.
“In the beginning when we were only four families, and even when we grew to seven families, everything was like in the books” says Doron “We celebrated holidays together, we went on joint trips in the field, there was a lively community life. But naturally the settlement grew and the people who came to this place are individualistic in nature, and each He turned to his house and people closed in. Dror and Celia and I were partners in a herd of goats, but after a few years we saw that the herd could not support two families and I left and planted a large organic olive grove for olive oil, and this is my livelihood today.”
Dror and Celia, paradise in the desert
Dror and Celia continued to raise a herd of goats and make cheeses whose oil became famous throughout the country. In the morning I arrived at the small house. Several dozen goats jumped happily at the sound of the bells of the mothers approaching from the pasture. Jade, a volunteer from France, led the goats between the grove and the wadi and the smile that never left her mouth indicated that she was feeling wonderful.
Celia learned from her father who owned an agricultural farm in a distant land, that when you establish a farm and take the place of wild animals and birds, it is appropriate that you leave a natural area of land and water so that they can continue to exist. She and Dror also did the same, and added to the desert land a small pool of water, which is of great importance in the heart of the desert.
The wild animals and birds soon discovered the abundance and began to come all hours of the day to drink from the pool. Photographers and birders heard about Paradise in the desert and came to visit the place. On their advice, Celia and Dror built a viewing hide a few meters from the pool.
Celia showed me spectacular photographs of fox and deer meeting by the water, striped hyena, songbirds and waterfowl. I was particularly drawn to the photographs of flocks of cats, which come to drink from far away, the males lie in the water, absorb drops between their chest feathers, and fly back up to tens of kilometers to water, or shall we call it, “nurse” their chicks.
From the window of my trailer there is an endless view of the desert. Most of it is flat in brown, gray, yellow and white colors with green veins of winter sprouting in the channels. On the horizon rise mountains in the same colors but without the green. I feel that the desert is calling me to go on a familiarization trip. I go out with the jeep to the terrain, climb on foot to ancient citadels, descend into water cisterns, admire Byzantine farms and endless terraces, park in the shade of an acacia tree or a wide-topped ash tree for a break of food and sweet and hot desert tea. Sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for the whole day, and occasionally he stays to sleep in the field and returns the next day.
A trip to get to know Azuz and the area
Three challenging jeep roads connect Azuz to the rim of the Ramon crater and the city of Mitzpe Ramon. The one and easiest of all through Nahal Nitsana along its entire length. Up the stream it becomes narrow and the road leaves it and winds on the slopes of the mountains before it connects to the road. The second one leaves Nahal Nitsana on its way south and continues to meander through Nahal Akrab, passing to the tributary of Nahal Durban just below the Zagron fortress which effectively overlooks the confluence of the streams and the roads far above from the fortified point. The third and most difficult road of all goes south from Azuz through Nahal Horsha, passes to Nahal Alot and there winds for hours between these trees and long-stemmed Atlantic trees to the Lutz pits and the rim of the crater near Mount Ramon.
I am on a journey to get to know Azuz. I sat with Benzi in his artistic home and heard stories from life, Yotam the neighbor came in to see my trailer home, I talked with Tamar while pulling weeds from the cilantro bed, I drank coffee with Gali and got information about the place. I go outside every day and already feel at home on the desert trails.
A few minutes drive from Azoz on a dirt road and I’m in Nahal Nitsana. I climb a hill, sit on a tumulus, an ancient tomb, and look at the surroundings. In front of an open landscape and ancient dams still doing their work. I look back and see the outline of the Azuz landscape with the water towers. I think of these people who lived here two thousand years ago and knew how to live with the desert, respect it and receive from it life, water, soil produce, houses to live in. The anguish faded and gave way to a connection with the land, with nature, with the people then and now, with the story of the place.
Map of Azuz and Nitsana area
Source: כתבות – מסע אחר by www.masa.co.il.
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