Israel's Good Name

Paleomagnetism in the Golan

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2014 at 4:33 AM

This blog post is about paleomagnetism found in a rock in the Golan, a natural phenomenon of reverse polar magnetism. The dictionary defines “paleomagnetism” as: magnetic polarisation acquired by the minerals in a rock at the time the rock was deposited or solidified. This site in the Golan, a rock on the side of the road between Wasset Junction and Mount Bental, holds an ancient alternate magnetic field and displays reverse magnetism – a compass will point south instead of north. So, when I was driving by back in April and saw Vulcanic Park Golan I just had to stop and check it out for myself.

Vulcanic Park Golan

Vulcanic Park Golan

Despite the fact that I had no compass with me, I got out of my truck and gathered up the ingredients to make a homemade compass. There is a scene in The Edge where Anthony Hopkins makes an impromptu compass and so the skill and know-how was passed on to me. I took a staple from some military documents and some water and walked over to the rock which is supposed to have the reverse magnetism.

Paleomagnetism

Paleomagnetism

Setting up shop, I found a leaf and a discarded plastic plate to hold the water in. Fighting against the consistent onslaught of wind, I placed the plate down and poured some water in, creating a pool to float the leaf on. I then took the staple, straightened it out and tried to give it a magnetic charge by rubbing it against my hair some 60 times (turns out, rubbing the metal against hair just gives it an electric charge). With the staple charged, I placed the leaf and the “needle” down in the pool of water. Unfortunately, the wind just whisked the leaf to the edge of the plate, ruining the chance of a proper polar-magnetic alignment for my weak compass.

First attempt

First attempt

Shielding the operation with my body, I tried again. And again. Eventually I realised that I could just float the “needle” on the water itself, the staple staying afloat due to surface tension. I tried that and got better results. However, despite the many attempts, I was never fully satisfied that the “needle” was, in fact, pointing south – like expected. I had read that sometimes the needle of the compass will spin crazily instead when placed over the paleomagnetic point. I don’t think that was achieved either. I tried different rocks, unsure which they intended me to use. Still, nothing scientifically solid.

Due north

Due north

Disheartened, I left the park and carried on with my mission that day. The following day I drove past the park with a soldier from Golani’s “Egoz” unit. I told him about the site and he got ahold of an actual compass. We intended to drive back but in the end did not, so I shelved the blog post idea. About a month later, I was up in the Golan and visited the site again – this time I had a compass packed in my backpack with me. I walked over to the rock and placed the compass down, eager to see the results.

Second attempt

Second attempt

I was disappointed. The compass pointed north, straight as an arrow. I tried the neighbouring rocks, I tried shaking the compass, I tried all sorts of things – nothing. It either pointed north or it didn’t point at all. So I turned to a blog post from MyIsraeliGuide.com that mentioned this paleomagnetic site and, in the comments, asked the blogger what his compass results were. He too could not confirm that the reverse magnetism works. And so, after two attempts to verify this natural phenomenon, I come up empty handed. I assume it has been verified by someone, or else they wouldn’t have built a park – perhaps one day I’ll try again and get favourable results.

Mount Hermon

Mount Hermon

With that I leave you with this above panoramic photo of Mount Hermon and the lower mountains that lay at the Israel-Lebanon border, as seen at the Vulcanic Park Golan.

Be’eri Forest

In Uncategorized on August 10, 2014 at 4:44 AM

During the past few weeks, due to the ground operations of Operation Protective Edge, I found myself at the Gaza border with infantry and armoured units. One day, I went to explore my surroundings and found that I was at the edge of the southern Be’eri Forest and that there were many interesting sites to be seen. The following is a summary of two hikes I made of the area, all just a few kilometres from Gaza.

Mador Ruins

Mador Ruins

The very first site I came upon was the Mador Ruins, a collection of Byzantine, Ottoman and British remnants just off Nachal Grar. I approached the main structure, and peered under the outer arched ceiling – to look into a seemingly bottomless well. A little research online and I discovered that this was an Ottoman “saqiya” well refurbished by the British – 26 metres (85 feet) deep.

26 m (85 ft) deep

26 m (85 ft) deep

Beside the well I found a mysterious sarcophagus of sorts, unmentioned in the Israel Antiquities Authority’s report of their June 2011 survey.

Mystery sarcophagus

Mystery sarcophagus

Seeing stone mounds in the distance, I kept walking on what became apparent as the Water Systems Trail. I passed a strange partially-covered concrete that looked like a buried vase, and then this, an IDF warning leaflet that was dropped over Gaza before a bombing run and had since blown over the border:

Warning leaflet

Warning leaflet

Walking north-west towards Gaza, I came upon the ruins of a British flour mill from WWII. According to the plaque, the British army set up a large camp to store supplies and ammunition for the battles against the Germans under General Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”. After the war, the camp was dismantled and the buildings abandoned.

British flour mill

British flour mill

Following some examinations of the several British ruins nearby, I heard a boom coming from Gaza and noticed that a terror tunnel had just been blown up by the IDF forces within Gaza. Here’s a photo of the immediate aftermath:

Gaza tunnel being blown up

Gaza tunnel being blown up

With that, I looped back to our camp and was temporarily finished with my exploratory hikes. However, at about 4pm on Tuesday the 28th of July, I embarked on another exploratory hike, this time heading slightly southwest. Walking through the thick powdered dirt (created by tanks and APCs) I crossed the dry Nachal Grar and came upon the Re’im parking lot, but not before finding this skink.

A skink in the powdered dirt

A skink in the powdered dirt

At the official entrance to the recreational park (which includes picnic grounds, biking trails and more), there is this British well and storage pool. The British dug out and/or renovated dozens of wells in the area and this particular one had a diesel pump and a concrete-coated storage pool.

British well and storage pool

British well and storage pool

Consulting the site map, I decided to walk east with the Se’ora Ruins as my goal. I set out and came across the first oddity quite quickly. The ground in the area near Nachal Grar had collapsed and thus there are numerous cliff edges in unlikely places. My theory is that the underground water tables have dried and so the land collapsed. We know that this area was sought after for its water even back to the times of Abraham, where he watered his flocks. So, thinking of all the people and all the animals that were supplied water from these underground water tables, I think it seems reasonable that the land should collapsed down on the emptied pockets.

''Danger! Abyss''

”Danger! Abyss”

Even now the ground sinks, as can be seen here on the trail. I just wonder how much more will collapse.

The path are a'crumblin'

The path are a’crumblin’

After recrossing Nachal Grar, I came upon the edge of the forest and had to walk in the sun – being about 5:20pm. I kept walking, passing a large amount of discarded sheep wool and then a seemingly abandoned Bedouin encampment. As I worked my way towards this ruins I saw, I heard a loud whistling sound followed by a BOOM in the direction of our army camp. I had a sense of dread and kept checking the news sites to see what had happened. There was a gag order of sorts, as at first nobody reported the mortar that landed in middle of our camp – killing four soldiers and injuring more. It was a miracle that I wasn’t there at the time; I may have not been in the path of the mortar but simply being spared the sights of carnage is a blessing enough. Back on the hike, I wasn’t sure just what had transpired so when I did make it to the Se’ora Ruins I wasn’t as interested as I would’ve been ordinarily. I had a quick look, again seeing a “bottomless” well, and then headed back to my camp.

Se'ora Ruins

Se’ora Ruins

It wasn’t long before we moved out and so I haven’t had the chance to explore the northern Be’eri Forest, but one day I shall. I’d like to end this post with a photo I took of the first Iron Dome interception I saw, the very first day I spent on the frontlines.

Iron Dome interceptions

Iron Dome interceptions

Until next time, and may we have only good thing to share! (A more in-depth and personal account of the mortar attack can be found HERE)

Hevron

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2014 at 3:28 AM

Taking the liberty of chronologically skipping some posts that I simply haven’t gotten around to writing and are long overdue, this is a summary of a really interesting day I had last week in Hevron (Hebron), of which I am quite eager to share. I started my day in the very Anglo town of Efrat, just south of Jerusalem, at the very start of the ongoing Operation Protective Edge. Without getting to into too much military detail, I then drove further south through Kiryat Arba and then into Hevron – quite an interesting drive. This drawing by Scotsman David Roberts does not at all depict how the drive was, but it is a nice drawing:

Hebron in 1839

Hebron in 1839

I thoroughly enjoyed driving the narrow, winding Old City streets and then passing Me’arat HaMachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) where key Biblical couples such as Adam & Eve and Abraham & Sarah are buried – a place I have not yet merited to visit. Continuing on down al-Shuhada street, we then turned up Tarpat street towards Tel Rumeida – where some antiquities and some Jews can be found. The first thing I noticed were the signs and the excavated ruins beside and beneath a housing building. Tel Rumeida is what’s left of the Biblical Hebron – a very important city in Judaism and King David’s first capital city. King David’s own father and great-grandmother, Yishai (Jesse) and Ruth, are even buried locally at Tel Rumeida. Excavations began in 1999 and the findings are remarkable: a huge wall built some 4,500 years ago, another wall from some 3,800 years ago and ruins of the ancient city with remnants from the times of the Kingdom of Judah and the Second Temple period.

The tomb of Ruth and Yishai

The tomb of Ruth and Yishai

Before spending time at the ruins I popped up into the tiny military outpost, set up to protect the local Jewish population, and headed for the tomb of Ruth and Yishai. On the way I saw the tiniest vineyard, it made me wonder how tasty the wine would be…

A tiny vineyard

A tiny vineyard

Beside the tomb pictured above, there is the ruins of an ancient synagogue and unlike any other ruined synagogue, this one is being brought back to into use, which is smart.

Inside the ancient synagogue

Inside the ancient synagogue

Leaving the holy site, I walked down to Tarpat Junction to gain some knowledge from the soldiers guarding at the checkpoint. They began to explain to me the dangers of the city; that every night there is rioting on the other side of the checkpoint, in the Arab-only Palestinian-controlled part of Hevron. I peered through the bulletproof glass and saw the rocks littered all over – probably recycled each night. What makes Hevron so volatile is that it is the only city in Palestinian control that is also inhabited by Jews, and therefore partially in Israeli control. The Palestinian controlled section of Hevron is known as H1 (in which no Jews are allowed) and the Israeli controlled section of Hevron is known as H2 (in which Arabs are partially allowed) – a real mess. While I was learning all this a jeep pulled up and three officers strode up. I was startled to see a brigadier general approaching, later identified by myself as BG Tamir Yadi, commander of the Judea and Samaria region. He was accompanied by a colonel whose identity I don’t know, and a female lieutenant – probably his aide. The general wanted to go into H1 and so I decided to tag along…

Entering H1

Entering H1

It felt really strange entering the Palestinian controlled area, passing the sign warning that Palestinian police have authority. We walked to the next junction and stood as spectators as the senior officers talked. I peered into a grocery store, watched traffic, spied a butcher blow-torching chickens, having a very Arab experience. I felt like I was a tourist in Egypt or Syria – but with an M16 at my hip – I didn’t spot any Hebrew anywhere, nothing glaringly Israeli. Suddenly an old man in traditional Arab garb and headpiece, with a cane gripped in his right hand, walked by and stopped by the senior officers to pay respects. I heard Arabic mumblings and then the officers wished the old man a “happy Ramadan” and away he shuffled.

A glimpse of the Arab shopping area in H1

A glimpse of the Arab shopping area in H1

The general decided that he had enough spectating and we walked back to H2, where the officers got back into their jeep and drove away. I bid farewell to the guards and walked back up Tarpat street to continue exploring Tel Rumeida. I stopped at the first ruins and got a better look. This here is residential structure from about 4,500 years ago and a “Four-Room House” from the time of Hezekiah, King of Judah some 2,700 years ago:

Archaeological dig under a building

Archaeological dig under a building

I then found the lookout to Me’arat HaMachpela, in a grassy plot with some olive trees, and I gazed out at the world’s most ancient tomb – so close yet so out of reach (at the moment in my day).

Olive trees and Hevron

Olive trees and Hevron

Convinced that there was more, that I simply wasn’t looking well enough, I began to explore. First I came upon an old rusted blue Schweppes delivery truck, then someone’s wine press and so I returned to the area of the tomb and the synagogue. While there I heard someone call out, in English, “Soldier, soldier!” I turned around and saw some people standing in an elevated garden calling out to me, cameras in their hands. I asked them what they wanted and they demanded that I remove the Jewish settlers from their land. Not wanting to get into some heated argument about a plot of land I knew nothing about, I explained that this was a very interesting moment for me and that I was sorry that they felt the way they did, probably not such good footage for their usages…

Disgruntled civilians

Disgruntled civilians

Exploring from a different approach up the hill, I stumbled upon the Antiquities Authority’s latest excavation but unfortunately it was gated and locked and there was nobody there for me to sweet-talk my way in. But while I was there, walking on a dirt path towards the al-Arba’in mosque, I found myself looking down on the ancient Jewish cemetery which had been in use for hundreds and hundreds of years until 1936 when the local Jews were evacuated by the British.

Ancient Jewish cemetery

Ancient Jewish cemetery

With so much more to say about Hevron, including camera-wielding Swedes and the trials and tribulations of Yusuf Aza who just couldn’t remember to bring his ID and clearance pass with him to enter the Jewish cul-de-sac, I fear for being long-winded and I shall therefore bring this adventure to a close. Hopefully one day soon I’ll get to visit the parts I couldn’t catch this time around…

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