Wednesday 29 January 2014

It's hard to tell. Tel Gezer

Those of you who know a thing or two about ancient Israel will know that Gezer was about as important a city as you could get. Predating the arrival of the Israelites, it is mentioned many times in Tanach, the Jewish Bible, and it's location has hardly been a secret. Sitting at the junction of the Via Maris, the ancient coastal route from Egypt to Mesopotamia, and the road to Jerusalem, it was almost inevitable that it would become occupied and fought over many times. Recent excavations have shown a well fortified Israelite city with the now familiar Solomonic Gates, although we all now understand that they may not have exactly been the sole invention of King Solomon himself!
So when you see the Tel Gezer National Park marked on a map, not too far from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, you would immediately think that once again, Israel has managed to combine our story, history and recreation. And you would be wrong.

The Tel Gezer park does indeed exist, and the access from route 40 is almost easy to find, if you keep your eyes peeled. But do not expect an easy walk to the excavations, as at Megiddo or Hazor, with well maintained signs, tracks, or even toilets. In fact, you can only reach the ancient site by a 4x4 track or a very considerable walk. What is easy to find, though, is a most attractive drive around the perimeter of the park, thoughtfully laid out by JNF together with some attractive picnic spots. As you drive - and occasionally stop - it is easy to see why Gezer had assumes such strategic significance. On a clear day, you can see right across the Shephela to the coast, or at least as far as the outskirts of Tel Aviv. In the other direction, you can see the foothills of the Judean mountains and can imagine yourself mounting sentry guard at the gate. Well, at least you could if you could get there easily!
You can find the entrance to the park on route 44, just north of the junction with route 3.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Park Golda - far more than a place to stretch your legs

Driving in the Negev can be an amazing experience, but sometimes you need a break and somewhere to stretch your legs. Where better than Park Golda, a JNF project named after the fourth Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Golda Meir and conveniently located close to Route 40, as you drive south from Beersheva. 
It is no accident that this park was created near Kibbutz Revivim, which was established as an outpost in 1943, on the site of a Turkish railway station and British army camp. They all knew of the sweet water  well that existed here. One of Kibbutz Revivim’s founding members was Golda Meir’s daughter, so she spent a lot of time there, becoming her second home. Park Golda, created in her memory, provides a wonderful recreational site in the Negev as well as rehabilitating an old quarry that marred the impressive desert landscape. It also has started to have an important economic impact for Negev residents, as it now attracts many visitors from all parts of the country.

Despite the very arid climate of the region, with a very short rainy season, there are no dry areas in the park as the Revivim River, a seasonal stream, cuts through the park, and in especially rainy years a lake forms. If and when the groundwater level rises, it also fills the wells in the area of the park. The lake is also filled by the water that rinses the filters of the nearby Neve Midbar Baths. Bathing is not recommended!

Near the lake are extensive lawns, waterways and picnic areas, and play and sports facilities for children plus a new mountain bike track. A short but brisk climb from the lakeside will take you to the Tali lookout point, with breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

Park Golda is directly off Route 222, about 1 mile from its junction with Route 40, midway between Beersheva and Sde Boker.