Days 20-21: Midreshet Ben-Gurion

Days 20-21: Midreshet Ben-Gurion

Day 20, March 19: Relaxing day at Midreshe of watching a parade then sitting around reading. That's it.

I loved days like this while on the trail.

The parade, for Purim, was a pretty big attraction; a huge crowd showed up from all

over the country. The floats were made by kids from the high school at the Midreshe;

they'd been slaving over them all night when we arrived. Each grade picked a theme.

The first was "bugs"...

..."America" (Lady Liberty is listening to Lady Gaga, by the way)...

...more (slightly racist) America...

The America theme was my favorite; I found the Israeli kids' impressions of us hilarious

Not pictured are floats from the "Afterlife/Heaven and Hell" theme. The last theme was

"chickens." Although all the floats were amazingly well-done by any standards, let

alone those of high schoolers, I was pretty fed up with chicken-based techno remixes by

the time the last of this theme rolled by.

The text here says "Krav Tarnegolit", or "chicken fight." You may recognize the one word

if you've heard of the martial art "krav maga."

Day 21, March 20: Change of plan - skipping section from here to Arad. Mixed feelings but there are a lot of pluses. Downsides are, I wanted to do the whole trail, and the challenge would have been good for me. Upsides, it was going to be HARD and I would likely have been miserable carrying 6 days worth of food; avoiding problems with stolen caches and alleged Bedouin raids; saves time so schedule is not so tight; we get right to an easier and more enjoyable part of the trail, also to trees - anyway I'm kind of bummed also about the money I spent on caches, but it's probably better like this. Will see Masada tomorrow - also cool.

On this day, I took a hitchhike down the road to Tel Avdat, a ruined Nabatean city. The Nabateans are the same guys that built Petra. Avdat was considerably less epic, but still pretty interesting. This area was along an ancient spice trade route that headed down into Arabia. I'm just taking a stab in the dark here, but it might have been along this route that Abrahamic religions and their practitioners made their way down to Mecca where Muhammad could hear of them.

The group's decision to skip the last part of the desert was one I was sad to make, since I wanted to hike as much of the trail as possible, but I was also relieved as noted. The last part, from the Midreshe to Arad (the official end of the desert section of the trail) was going to be five full days without a chance to resupply. That meant carrying an unprecedented amount of food, and this part contained the most notorious section of the trail - the Karbolet, or "Cockscomb." Apparently, it's a huge, spiky monstrosity of a mountain that looks like a rooster's crest, and has no flat surface to walk on, so you're struggling along jagged, slanted ground for miles and miles - with deadly drops on either side of you, no less.

We didn't end up doing it of course, but I have no reason to assume its reputation is undeserved.

The decision to skip this part, though, was because of the water cache situation. We'd gotten word that someone had found one of our caches looted - all the water gone and only a note left that we'd included, with our contact information in case just this exact situation were to happen. Knowing that we were already missing a supply point, and that area being known for caches being stolen, made it seem unwise to continue and risk getting stranded in the middle of nowhere without water.

The Israelis in the group, though, had another fear: Bedouin attacks. They had seemingly all heard horror stories of people being robbed at knifepoint by Bedouins and left stranded in the desert and so on, and this area was supposedly a really high risk for it. Although there was surely some grain of truth to this (it could be Bedouins that steal the water caches) I was skeptical, first because I just assumed that prejudice against Arabs and especially Bedouins meant that all fears were exaggerated, and second because the guidebook did not mention any danger associated with the area other than that caches were sometimes stolen, and despite its many flaws, I trusted that this was something it would consider important.

Here's my theory: Israel is a really small country, where everyone is one or maybe two degrees of separation from knowing everyone else. On top of that, they're the only country that speaks their language, so their media consumption is mostly limited to what's produced right there "in-house" so to speak. This, I think, produces a kind of echo chamber where stories, rumors, and misconceptions get bounced around so much that they become as solid as truth in people's minds. The backpacking community within Israel is an order of magnitude smaller, so I'd say the effect is amplified. This can happen anywhere, obviously, but particularly in a setting such as I've described.

So here's how I think it goes: One person gets robbed by Bedouins (which to my now-considerable knowledge, is quite a rarity) and now has a story; they tell everyone they know; these people all tell lots of other people, and so on. Through the grapevine, the story changes and takes on different details, as stories do. Pretty soon, people are hearing new versions of it from all different soures, and they have no way to know it's from the same original story. It keeps multiplying, and pretty soon, every backpacker in Israel is convinced that getting robbed by Bedouins is a regular occurrence on that section of the trail. After all, you've heard so many stories of it!

I have no way of knowing if this whole scenario is true or not, but I would not be at all surprised. It does resemble the way much of the rest of the Israeli worldview seems to be formed, and would also explain why to some degree, a lot of them seem to inhabit a wholly different political reality than that of the rest of the world. Ideas as well as stories can, I think, be affected by that echo chamber until they seem universal. It's bad enough in America, where we can have access to the English version of almost any major world news agency, so imagine a tiny country that speaks a unique language!

In a cellar in Avdat

The remains of someone's mansion

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