Israel's Good Name

Army Trip: Mount Carmel & Shefayim Waterpark

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2014 at 5:04 AM

Back in June, the day after Shavuot our entire battalion went on a little trip, visiting two places: Mount Carmel and the Shefayim waterpark. Loading up on buses in the morning, we drove up the mountain not far from the base and parked at the first site, the memorial for the Carmel Fire – the enormous forest fire in 2010 that claimed 44 lives.

Carmel Fire Memorial

Carmel Fire Memorial

The greatest Israeli natural disaster in modern times, the Carmel Fire spread at an alarming rate and as various security forces and firefighters converged on the site, one Prison Service bus got caught in the blaze and 37 cadets and commanders were tragically killed. The fire spread over the next few days and destroyed all in its path. More than 17,000 people were evacuated and nearly 10,000 acres of forest was burnt. The blaze even came close to my base, at the western foot of Mount Carmel. In this aerial photo I found on Wikipedia, my base is obscured by the fire’s smoke (also visible from space and additionally photographed by NASA):

The smoke from the fire in 2010

The smoke from the fire in 2010

We all gathered at the memorial and the battalion commanders spoke, outlining the plan of the day and informing us that several SPNI guides were to be taking the Mount Carmel hike with us (SPNI – Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). After respecting the dead and photographing the memorial site, we head out on our mountainous hike – each company starting a few minutes after the previous one. Not much of a herd follower, I meandered around and took my time, the groups passing me by.

Misty mountain scenery

Misty mountain scenery

What I had imagined would be a simple, rather symbolic, hike was actually a legitimate mountain hike with craggy footholds and sheer cliff edges. One thing that I found interesting was the fact that many of the blackened trees stand exactly as they had several years back. We walked and walked, and then I came upon one of the SPNI guides giving some background on the region’s fauna. When that came to end, I hurried on ahead and climbed the trail’s rocky path, passing too many littered water bottles.

Up we go!

Up we go!

Eventually, with the howling masses at my heels, I finished the hike sweaty and invigorated. I enjoyed a quick snack and then ditched my M16 with the special vehicle and crew tasked with the job. Sitting beside a friend, we set off for our next destination, the Shefayim Waterpark. As this was my first waterpark, I was excited to have the new experience but rather apprehensive at having the experience with an entire battalion. Within an hour we pulled up at the waterpark, just north of Herzaliya, and we disembarked. Slipping into something a little more comfortable, we had lunch and then headed for the water. With so many choices, but so many lines, I first plunged into the main swimming pool. Then a different pool, and then an interesting tube ride. It was on that tube ride that we capsised at the end and lost track of our other friend.

Shefayim waterpark

Shefayim waterpark

Waterparks being waterparks, I don’t know what more to say – rumour is that the army is taking us to yet another waterpark, thanking us for our hard work during Operation Protective Edge.

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)

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