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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 28th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

December 4-6, 2014 I joined Genia and Yehuda Kedem – professional tour organizers – who with the help of Eilat based tour guide
Sam Caspi were taking about 25 people on a bus trip to the South of Israel with a two nights accommodation at the Leonard Hotel in Eilat. I write about this because we visited with four extremely interesting individuals or couples – who I felt espouse the heroic spirit of the country’s past, but also have input to the direction the State will take.

The trip was mainly to the Arava, (Arabah in Arabic) – that section of the Jordan Rift Valley running in a north-south orientation between the southern end of the Dead Sea and continues further south ending at the Gulf of Aqaba.

It is on the Eastern side of the Negev Desert joining the Kingdom of Jordan. Thanks to the ingenuity of the Jewish pioneers and their skill in using whatever water resources they could generate locally, then enhanced with a water pipeline from the more endowed North – great farm areas were developed here with various forms of agriculture.

But before I talk of the three people of the Arava proper, I will first report on a marvelous Beduin woman that plainly charmed all of us.

In the Yerucham region, filled with Israeli military installations and Bedui non-recognized villages – Salima is running her “Tent of Dreams” where she serves very sweet tea and tells her life story to tourists, and smiles showing off her beautiful little niece. Her clan has settled there after years of wandering in the desert – and as they could not produce a deed of ownership they are just tolerated – but their community is not recognized as a settlement. Like all other Bedui women she is the property of her husband, who has also other wives. But here the difference – he did not interfere with her drive to learn – and yes – she has learned to perfection both Arabic and Hebrew and even is going to the University in Beer Sheba to learn Hebrew literature.

Sure – she absorbed the Bedui culture, but the only learned culture she knows is the one that she managed to grab – the Hebrew culture. In effect we felt that she did better then some Jews that immigrated from Arab countries or from Russia.

The Bedui wanderers were historically at loggerhead with the Arab farmers, so when the Jews came they cooperated with them.
Bedui are the trackers in the Israeli army as they are native to the desert, but when Israel pushed to settle them, and then did not recognize their settlements – this created a change in the Bedui attitude towards the State. Salima is outspoken and we enjoyed seeing a an intelligent woman that grew out of nowhere, and managed to break many taboos. If she were not a woman I could see her as member of the Knesset – the Israeli Parliament – but she must nevertheless watch out she does not anger too much the Bedui traditionalists.

From drinking her tea and hearing from her about the life of the Bedui women, we continued to the Arava with first stop at the Vidor Center – an interactive museum and window to the Arava; nearby there is also the headquarters of the Arava District.
The Center is a research station for advanced agriculture alongside the desert’s soil and water challenges.

From there we went to the Moshav Ein Yahav where we visited some more greenhouses before going to meet the widow of one of the founders – the fascinating Cha Cha Porat who continued the bee-keeping business that she started with her husband. Now she passed the business to her son so she can spend her time with her love – making art.

Her home is an astonishing museum – all the sculptures paintings, constructs were made by her. She spent her whole life here and would not want to live anywhere else.

In the honey business they developed a bumble bee that thrives in the heat of the area.

The following day we first went to the Timna Park to see the old Copper works that were once believed to be King Solomon’s mines but now have been placed at a different time in history. In any case – it is clear that once there was here a thriving civilization. After this touristic site we continued to look up our third fabulous host at a private company that everyone calls the Botanical Gardens of Eilat. We visited there with Yoram Nadel of the www.BotanicGarden.co.il The place was once a military
strong-point but after the peace with Jordan the military decided to vacate the place.

This Botanical Garden is a unique Organic and Ecological Garden -the first organic farm ever established in Israel that grows and acclimatizes plants to desert conditions. The impressive collection of plants began as seeds from all over the world. Everything started here 16 years ago when there was nothing there – only desert.

The seeds sprouted side by side, in harmony regardless of geographical association, in desert soil reinforced with compost only.
Stone terraces were built over the years, in ancient Biblical style, to produce balanced growth areas and overcome the high salinity of the ground. They have here the Baobab tree, Cuban almond tree, Coconut trees, etc. They have a palm tree that was grown from a 1250 year old seed that was found jn an archeological dig at the Dead Sea.

The garden is watered solely by brackish water and for the fun of it they even built a spray system to give the impression of a rain forest!

From here we drove north and passed the place where a burst oil pipeline just caused a huge disaster by destroying some ecological sites that we just learned how hard it was to get them in the first place. Oh well – that is what is due to a country that has not done yet enough to disengage itself from the importation of oil. This is the pipeline that brings shipped-in oil from Eilat to the two Israeli Petroleum refineries.

Then we stopped for our fourth visit at the Arendal Farm run by a young couple that turned it into a hotel while planting olive trees and getting on the market a high quality oil product. The place is run as a green business – everything organic and energy saving. Originally also a military stroghold but the army gave it up when the relations with Jordan improved.
It was a pleasure to talk to the couple running the place and clearly they are pioneers. Nobody before them planted olive trees in the Arava – now the Jordanians are trying to copy them on their side of the valley.

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