When you run into the endless fields of Darom Adom in the northwestern Negev, the last thing you will want to do is take photos. It’s one of those places you can’t quite capture, where taking your camera out of your pocket is close to a betrayal of nature. But of course that doesn’t stop us members of generation digital, and so I did take photos. Many of them.
Darom Adom occurs only for a few weeks each year, between the end of January and the beginning of February, when the poppy-like Anemones bloom (try saying anemones in front of the mirror: An-e-mo-nes, ANEMONES, A N E M O N E S). Finjan, a Tel-Aviv based travel grouped named for the synonymous Arab coffee filters, took me on this adventure. We left from Tel Aviv’s Savidor central train station at 6:30 AM on a warm Friday morning. The early hour’s dark sky was brightened by freshly brewed coffee and platters of cookies. Thanks, guys!
The Western Negev itself is not a desert as I imagined. It looks far more than the hilly, greeny-yellow landscapes of Provence in France, including the thin but tall trees, the rows of hedges, the rows of orange trees and other plants. As we got out of the bus to see the anemones, though, that all changed.
It seemed like time slowed down; I felt calm, relaxed and happy at the sight before me. No, there weren’t “just flowers.” There was a snake of stands selling olive oil (I bought a bottle), strawberries (I bought a box), and oranges (my friend dragged me away). There was a beautiful donkey who looked very well taken care of. There were speakers blasting Hebrew folk songs. And there were professional photographers roaming around all around us.
I can’t be sure how long I strolled through those endless fields, but for lunch afterwards, we went to a small family-run Tunisian restaurant. They served Tunisian falafel, Tunisian vegetable stir-fry, Tunisian chicken… all in large steaming hot silver pots for sharing.
To conclude the day we got off on a pretty hill home to a playground, a picknick area, water fountains, and public bathrooms. The problem? This hill, with all its amenities, served the single purpose of being a tourists’ viewpoint of Gaza. Standing only 800m away from the most densely populated place on Earth, I felt uneasy, even nauseous at the paradox of it all: Here we were, drinking our freshly brewed coffee, staring at Gaza like tourists stare at the lion cage in the zoo. We were told that the electric generator 200 m to our right is frequently hit by Hamas rockets. It is the same electric generator that delivers electricity to Gaza. We were told that the IDF patrols the area and that it was a complete no-go zone during the Gaza war. We were told that local farmers can hear Hamas digging tunnels underneath their villages at night.
We were told that “the Red South” has a bitter-sweet double meaning. Yes, the anemones of late winter tinge the South red. But the blood that is spilled in this area year in year out, across national and religious lines, can also color the landscape red.