Pesach Journal Part 2: Back Towards Egypt
On the second day of chol hamoed (intermediate days) of Pesach, we decided to head due south from Beit Shemesh.
An hour and a half later, including taking stunning backroads through the vineyard-rich Lachish region, and bypassing Beersheva, we finally took a small desert road off the 211 to Shivta.
Shivta is a Nabatian town, dating back two thousand years.
The ancient houses, streets and public buildings are remarkably as-is, from when the town was destroyed in an earthquake almost 1500 years ago.
The Nabateans were a nomadic people who controlled the spice roots from Yemen towards the Gaza coast.
In order to preserve their culture and livelihood, the Nabateans apparently had three rules (also recorded in the Tenach, Jeremiah 35):
1. Do not build permanent houses
2. No agriculture
3. No wine.
By the time Shivta was built, all three Nabatean rules had clearly been broken - at least by the residents of the town.
The houses were as close to permanent as one could reasonably imagine, having survived a couple of millenia; there are extensive remains of ancient farming, including terraces; and there are wine presses in the town.
The Nabateans eventually became Christian (there are two early churches in Shivta - one illustrated above) and finally Muslim. Whence they appear to have disappeared from the pages of history.
The best known Nabatean site is the hidden city of Petra in Jordan.
Despite the Pesach holidays, Shivta was clearly off the tourist map, and fellow visitors were sparse.
After the visit to Shivta, we stopped off at some spectacular desert sand-dunes...
|Some folks had hired sand sledges for the occasion|
|Yael and Yonatan enjoy the sand dunes|
There was a group of visitors, at the bottom of the dunes, who told us they are the staff from The President's House in Jerusalem.
In jest, I asked if Shimon Peres Himself would be visiting the dunes - and they said he was indeed due down there within the hour.
We decided to move on, rather than wait for Mr Peres. After all, we have busy schedules too, you know.
We headed further down the 211, until we arrived at the now-blocked-off and disused Peace Border Crossing between Israel and Egypt. We recalled the heady-days of the Camp David accords, and the Noberl Peace Prize shared by Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin - and the more subdued decades of the Cold Peace with Egypt.
We heads a short distance back into the Negev, and visited Nitzana, another Nabatean site, with spectacular views from the hill-top over the desert and nearby yishuv.
|Steps up to Nitzana, the Nabatean hill-top settlement|
This was also the location of a Turkish garrison town, apparently planned to be a logistical stepping stone for the Ottomans towards the lucrative Suez Canal.
Although they built a railway down to Nitzana, the Turks never did make it to the Suez - which remained under the control of the British and French, until Egypt nationalised it in 1956.
The Nitzana hilltop was the site of fighting between the Israelis and Egyptians in the 1948 War of Independence, during which a hospital building, built by the Germans in the 19th Century, was destroyed and is still pock-marked from bullets and shrapnel.
We discussed the possibility of Shimon Peres, then enjoying the sand dunes down the road, coming on to Nitzana, and giving us a personal guided tour. He could tell us about the Suez Crisis (when Israel teamed up with France and Britain to jointly attack Egypt - only the "bloody Brits" and "Frogs" backed out on the Israelis, when the going got tough), the War of Independence, the Camp David Accords, and much more besides.
One may not like his politics, but one cannot deny Shimon Peres' personal connection to most of Israel's history.
Shimon would indeed make quite a tour guide, when he retires.