Hatzerim Forest - An Oasis in the Israeli Desert

KKL-JNF has transformed a corner of the barren landscape into a miniature oasis, some six kilometers to the west of Beersheba, near Kibbutz Hatzerim.

Geographic location: Northern and western Negev

Identity Card



A sculpture by Yigal Tumarkin. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive


Region: Southern Israel, North-western Negev

Notable sites in the forest: Sculptures, the Ali Abu Yahya Well, Radar Hill.

• Additional sites in the area: The Israel Air Force Museum at Hatzerim, Beersheba and its sites, the Besor Trail, Eshkol Park, Ofakim Park, Gerar River Park, Sayeret Shaked Park.

Facilities: Marked path, Water.

How do you get there? 
From Beersheba: drive westwards (Sderot Tuviahu, following the signs to the Air Force Museum). Next to the Neot Midbar Hotel, turn left (southwards) along Sderot Yigael Yadin. At Rehov Joe Alon, turn right (westward) on to Route no. 2357, which leads to Kibbutz Hatzerim and the Air Force Museum. From there, you continue for about another five kilometers until the start of the Sculpture Trail.

Projects and Partners Worldwide
Hatzerim Forets was rehabilitated and developed thanks to a contribution from friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.

About the forest

Because volunteering for the benefit of society was the mantra of the project’s founders, with Marga and Yisrael Fishtein foremost among them, the artists who contributed their works to the Sculpture Trail received no remuneration.

The Sculpture Trail skirts Kibbutz Hatzerim to the south, and it is accessible to vehicles of all types. At two points along the route, KKL-JNF has provided recreational areas that allow visitors not just to enjoy the sculptures and the landscape behind them, but also to stop and take a break in natural surroundings.

About the area
The Sculpture Trail is located on the Negev Plain, which is the area south-west of Beersheba. In most years, its hills receive an average of 200 - 400 mm. of rainfall, a quantity that allows only desert shrubs to grow wild amidst the arid expanses.

The Beersheba River (Nahal B’er Sheva) is the main waterway that flows through the area, and its upper tributaries extend throughout the Northern Negev Hills and the South Judean Hills. This large river descends westwards, makes its way across the city of Beersheba and continues to the south of Kibbutz Hatzerim and beyond, until it drains into the Besor River (Nahal HaBsor).

The Hebron River (Nahal Hevron), one of the principal tributaries of the Beersheba River, flows from the Hebron Hills, which receive a generous quantity of winter rainfall that sometimes causes major flooding in the Beersheba River.

During the First World War (1914-1918) the hills around Hatzerim were of great strategic importance, as Turkish soldiers holed up in them and formed a line of defense against the attacks of the British army, after the British assault on Gaza, led by General Murray, had ended in failure. The British army’s high command decided to replace Murray with General Edmund Allenby, who, on Murray’s recommendation, transferred the theater of action to the Beersheba region. On October 3rd, 1917, after a diversionary tactic that successfully misled the Turks, the British launched a surprise attack on Beersheba. When all access routes to the town had been cut off and only an hour remained until dark, the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand) mounted divisions stormed the town and captured it swiftly with almost no losses.

Visitors to the city today can still see trenches, dugouts and large metal shards that are the remnants of cannonballs; all preserved as silent witnesses to this great battle.

Afforestation

The process of desertification underway in the region is characterized by soil erosion and a reduction in the variety of local flora and fauna species. One of the objectives of the afforestation program at Hatzerim is soil improvement, which, in turn, should bring about improved land fertility  and the provision of better habitats for animals and plants.

KKL-JNF has been planting trees sparsely in this region, in order to create a savanna-like landscape that will allow the development of herbaceous plants. Land preparation includes the construction of shichim, i.e., terraces or embankments that capture runoff water, an operation that reduces soil erosion and increases  the quantity of water available for the trees planted on the embankments.

Initial attempts at afforestation of the area took place in the early 1950s, in a joint project between KKL-JNF and members of Kibbutz Hatzerim. The kibbutz’s shoemaker Yisrael Kosif became famous for planting trees and making the desert green, an enterprise to which he devoted most of his life.

Over the years, trees – mainly tamarisks, eucalypti and Australian varieties of acacia – were planted in groves, in roadside avenues and as windbreaks along riverbeds. Twisted acacia (Acacia raddiana), Negev acacia (Acacia pachyceras), jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi), carob, South American mesquite (Prosopis alba) and fruit trees have been planted in more recent years. In the course of these afforestation efforts the rubbish dump located between Kibbutz Hatzerim and the Air Force Museum was discontinued and its land has been reclaimed.

The Loess Park
KKL-JNF, in conjunction with Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, is planning to establish the Loess Park on the plains of loess soil adjacent to Hatzerim Forest, which provide a unique natural habitat for a variety of animals, birds and reptiles. These include the leopard fringe-fingered lizard (Acanthodactylus pardalis), which lives only in the northern Negev; the houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata), a large sand-colored ground-dwelling bird that lives on the loess plains of the northern Negev; the cream-colored courser (Cursorius cursor), a medium-sized ground-dwelling bird; the long-eared hedgehog, which lives exclusively amid the dunes of the coastal plain; and the greater Egyptian jerboa  (Jaculus orientalis), a small rodent with short forelegs that moves in a series of kangaroo-like hops. It is to be hoped that the Loess Park will help to conserve the area and protect these creatures so that visitors can enjoy seeing them in the future.

Kibbutz Hatzerim
Kibbutz Hatzerim was founded immediately after Yom Kippur on October 6th, 1946 and was one of eleven communities settled in the Negev on that same day. It takes its name from the Biblical word hatzerim, which is usually understood to mean “enclosures” for flocks,  or “walled dwellings,” as cited in Joshua 19:8 “And all the villages that were round about these cities…,” the verse which enumerates the towns within the portion of land allocated to the tribe of Shimon, within which the kibbutz is situated.

During Israel’s War of Independence, Kibbutz Hatzerim became a command post settlement that was capable of protecting itself and which served as a springboard for the conquest of Beersheba, and, later, of the entire southern Negev. Initial attempts to farm the land were unsuccessful because of the high salinity of the local soil, and in 1959, the kibbutz members actually considered leaving the area altogether; eventually, however, they acquired the knack of cultivating this soil. In 1966, the kibbutz founded Netafim, the highly successful drip-irrigation manufacturing company that has brought prosperity to its members, who today number around 420.

Additional information for visitors

Time required: 2-3 hours.
Level: Easy; mainly by private car
Markings: KKL-JNF has signposted the entire route and marked it in green
Length of route: About 2.5 kilometers
Starting point: Approx 500 kilometers to the east of the Kibbutz Hatzerim access road
Finishing Point: Adjacent to the access road to the Air Force Museum
Recommended season: All year round
For Sculpture Trail tours and guides: Hatzerim Forest, Marga and Yisrael Fishtein: 052-5013520
The works to be seen along the Sculpture Trail are as follows (The numbering below follows the map from the direction of Beersheba towards the Air Force Museum):

1. Scenes – David Gavrieli
2. Hatzerim Window – Motti Meller
3. Chair – Yosef Ohion
4. Birdfish – Dina Merhav
5. Eroding with the Ground – Nira Savir
Good People in the Middle of the Road – Nira Savir
6. Making the Negev Bloom: Gateway – Marga Fishtein
7. Seven Spots of Color in the Desert – Ashley Koch
8. The Ship of the Desert – Reuven Seraf
9. Ants – Salo Shaul
10. Protecting the Tree – Noam Rabinowitz
11. Calm – Dov Amitai
12. Throwing the Discus - Chilling Out – Udi Dayan
13. Sun – Yonina Lamdan
14. The Return of the Birds – Gershon Haiman
15. Sababa – Varda Givoli & Ilan Gelber
16. Piano – Avraham Peleg
17. They Found Tumarkin’s Head in the the Desert – Igal Tumarkin
18. Palm Trees – Bernie Fink
19. Relay 9 – Yigal Meron
20. The Boy and the Ox – David Fein
21. Well Shrine – Dalia Meiri
22. Protective Memory – Zeev Krisher
23. Galioractor V – Igal Tumarkin
24. Land Conservation – Dov Or-Ner
25. Terra Nostra – Dov Heller
26. Freedom of Movement – Tanya Preminger
27. The Prayer Gate – Marga Fishtein
28. Sealed Gate – Arye Yamburg
29. Woman in White – Hayim Tadji
30. Tent of Congregation – David Gerstein
31. Lot’s Wife: Journey’s End – Zeev Krisher
32. Planting – Hayim Peri
33. The House of the Angels – Dina Merhav
34. The Drop of Life – Gina Gildelmann
35. Phenomeno-Horse – Udi Dayan
36. The King’s Chair – Mauricio Shiovich
37. The Shout – Mauricio Shiovich
38. A Clear Day in the Land of Canaan – Avraham Bornstein

Sites of Interest

The Well of Ali Abu Yahya
This is one of two wells formerly owned by the large Bedouin Abu Yahya clan that lived in the area until the War of Independence. Like many other Negev wells dug during the period of the British Mandate, this, too, dates back to the 1920s. It is over thirty meters deep and an engine is used to pump its waters up into an adjacent collection pool. For the first few years after they settled in the area, the early members of Kibbutz Hatzerim used water from the Abu Yahya wells. This particular well was once surrounded by a large orchard, some of whose trees still survive; KKL-JNF continues to tend them and has added some trees of its own.

Radar Hill
In May-June 1967, during the period of high alert prior to the Six-Day War, a small military unit was located on Radar Hill (Giv‘at HaRadar). The soldiers, who lived in tents, used the radar equipment to locate and identify enemy aircraft. During the war itself Egyptian orders to bomb the hill were found at El Arish. Ruined pillars and concrete bases are all that that now remain from this period in the history of the site.