Road Tripping through Southern Palestine

This weekend our group went on the first of our mini weekend trips. On friday we picked up rental cars and drove to a Bedouin community where Bustan is helping build an eco-tourism lodge, which will include several eco-domes and a larger building, as well as a billeting program to house larger numbers of guests. We helped work on one of the eco-domes, which is basically an igloo made from long bags of dirt, covered in layers of mud and straw. It’s a relatively ingenius building method, using lots of labour but virtually no resources other than the continuous bags in which you put the local earth. The work was divided into three teams – “mud people” who throw and smear mud on the walls, “dirt people” who dig dirt into buckets and pass them up to the “roof people”, who fill the bags on the roof to build up the walls. I worked up on the roof a little, but as it’s a bit precarious I mostly worked with the “dirt people”.

The traditional Bedouin dwelling is a tent. Raed, the founder of Bustan, spoke about how it was a trauma when as a child his family moved out of their traditional tent dwelling into a concrete house – he felt being cut off from nature in a visceral way, that altered his whole existence. While at the camp we slept in a semi-enclosed tent, which was only the 2nd time since this trip has started that I didn’t sleep under the stars.

After leaving the Bedouins, we drove through two massive craters, which really do look like the grand canyon, and frolicked in a place where the sand is many different colours. We slept on sand dunes, and woke up in the brutal desert sun.

On Sunday, we drove – probably too much. All the way down to the foot of Palestine at Eilat, where we saw the border with Jordan. Down there you really do feel the “pinch” – the state of Israel only possesses 2% of the Red Sea’s coastline – so Eilat is basically the whole bit of land between Jordan and Egypt. Back up towards Jerusalem we took route 90 and route 40, which are two lane roads that cross spectacular desert country. I feel like I drove one of the world’s “great driving roads”, and since they are almost empty you can make quite rapid progress along them. We were stopped by the police at one point, but for some reason we didn’t get a ticket.

Sunday night we ate with David (one of our peer-leaders) Aunt and Uncle in Sde Moshe. They had an interesting perspective on the situation. Living only 25km from the Gaza strip, they are obliged to have a security room in their house, and Gazan missiles have landed as close as 500 meters from their house. They view the history of their area as an empty area which was first settled by Jews. This view is problematic when you read that the area was to be in the Arab state according to the 1947 partition plan, and that the village of Iraq al-Manshiyya, which sat in the same area, was depopulated in 1948. On the other hand, their perspective on the Green Line and East Jerusalem was quite progressive – they referred to the old city as in East Jerusalem, and to East Jerusalem as the “West Bank” – which although I think this is the correct use of these terms, they are not the dominant meaning of the terms here.

Kobe, David’s uncle, criticized how quickly we had seen the south – that we would do better to chose less things, and spend more time. He is probably right. There is something about my generation that feeds of speed, that needs to see as much as possible – and this isn’t my favorite thing. I think I will take his advice and try to explore the old city more intimately – there is a lot more I can learn more just about Jerusalem, by taking more tours, and by exploring areas which you might have to pay to get into – like the caverns and tunnels beneath the wailing wall.


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