The Tower’s photographer traveled to the Negev, where the sun burns hot, the stars shine clearly, and the landscape looks like the moon.
Fully one half of Israel is composed of the extraordinary Negev desert. Steeped in ancient history and tradition, the Negev is home to the city of Beersheba, where the biblical Abraham made his first military pact, where Isaac built an altar, and which is seen in Jewish tradition as the inheritance and patrimony of all their descendants—the entire Jewish people.
In more modern times, Israel’s legendary first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, saw Israel’s future in the Negev, believing that the development of the region would be the great task of the reborn Jewish state, an endeavor he called “blooming the desert.” At one point, the prime minister went so far as to move to Kibbutz Sde Boker in the midst of the Negev, living the simple lifestyle of an agrarian socialist.
And in some places, the desert does indeed bloom, with kibbutzim and other communities living among the green of irrigated agriculture in the midst of a parched landscape. The region is also a place of science, with various institutions researching the possibilities of renewable energy; in particular, harnessing the region’s near constant sunshine for solar power. There is also Israel’s central nuclear research facility, located in the desert community of Dimona. And the clear and unpolluted air provides extraordinary opportunities for star gazing, drawing astronomers to the area in order to study the vast universe that reveals itself in the desert’s pure and unrelenting sky.
But elsewhere, the Negev remains pure and otherworldly, with areas like the Arava, with its red soil and massive rock formations seeming to spring from the surface of another planet. Tower photographer Aviram Valdman visited the desert to photograph this other world. There, he found the extraordinary Makhtesh Ramon, one of the world’s largest non-impact craters. Unlike craters formed by volcanic eruptions or meteor strikes, Makhtesh Ramon was formed by natural forces of erosion that caused the collapse of the upper layers of the topsoil into a massive depression, now a favorite spot for Israeli hikers.
Waldman also found the signs of mankind on this alien landscape: Factories and other forms of modern industry are springing up throughout the Negev as Israel follows in Ben-Gurion’s footsteps. He also found and photographed the Negev Bedouin, many of whom continue to live the nomadic desert lifestyle of their ancestors.
Most striking of all, however, are the extensive training grounds of the Israel Defense Forces. There, obsolete airplanes are set up as targets for IDF forces as they practice the art of defending their nation against its many enemies. Today, these threats stem from Hamas in Gaza and ISIS in Sinai, both of which lie on Israel’s long southwestern border, where many of Israel’s Negev communities are located.
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Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower