Thursday, January 04, 2007

Israel's South

Continuing on our way, we passed through mile after mile of desert. The Negev desert actually constitutes 60% of Israel's land mass, but holds less than 10% of the population. Most of the Negev looks like this:

The northern Negev is populated by recently settled Bedouin, who settle pretty much wherever they feel like, and live without running water or electricity. Further south, beyond the range where the Bedouin can survive off the meager land, are the Jewish development towns. Mitzpeh Ramon, Dimona, Yerucham, and the like. These towns are populated largely by relatively poor Jews of North African descent. In Yerucham, our next stop, one friend told me that he's often heard Moroccan Arabic spoken on the street, in spite of the fact that the last Jews moved here from Morocco over 40 years ago.

Main street in Yerucham, the city that never sleeps.

Land is cheap, and some come here to buy houses they could never afford up north. A few years ago, a friend who was thinking of moving here told me about how he could get a decent sized house on its own land for $20,000 out here. By contrast, an apartment in Pisgat Ze'ev, the cheapest neighborhood in Jerusalem, can run you $300,000.

New housing developments.

The government is eager to settle this area of the country, so discounts and assistance is provided for those willing to move down here. The government also invests quite a bit in social and cultural programs. But most of the residents are still quite poor, so it's common to see shiny new buildings and manicured green spaces next to delapidated apartment complexes and rusted, burned out cars.

Our tour took us to Lake Yerucham, an artificial lake made from, well, I don't know where they got the water.

The sign for lake Yerucham.

One of the problems is that, while there is an official standard for transliterating Hebrew into English, everyone ignores it, so there are about ten different ways to spell every city in Israel. Ever tried spelling Hanukkah?

Arriving at lake Yerucham, we didn't actually get through the guards who wanted us to pay, so we stopped at the park and had lunch there. And of course, we pulled out the megaphones and MP3 players and started dancing.

A little dancing after lunch.
We arrived in Mitzpeh Ramon in time to light candles for Hanukkah. Lars, one of our German students, lights candles below.

And of course, after a day of hiking up big fin, through the colored sands, and dancing in Yerucham, we were too exhausted to do much of anything. Except... a Hanukkah party with a DJ!

Coming up next: Mitzpeh Ramon and the Ramon Crater.

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