New desert promenade will take visitors on Ben-Gurion’s favorite Negev walk

Sde Boker, where the first prime minister lived after retiring, gets an upgrade that aims to draw tourists while keeping their footprint small

View of the David Ben-Gurion walking trail, Sde Boker, February 2023. (Courtesy/Dead Sea Preservation Government Company)
View of the David Ben-Gurion walking trail, Sde Boker, February 2023. (Courtesy/Dead Sea Preservation Government Company)

A new promenade that follows a walking path beloved by Israel’s founder and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in the Negev desert is in the works, as developers make headway on a NIS 2 million ($550,000) project for tourists and hikers around Kibbutz Sde Boker where the statesman famously lived for a decade after retiring from political life until his death in 1973.

The route of the 3.5-kilometer (2.2-mile) trail will run from the tomb of Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula in the kibbutz, to the east, with vast views of the desert and of the Zin River (Nahal Tzin), an intermittent stream that runs about 120 kilometers (74 miles) from the Ramon Crater to the Sodom plain, and into the southern end of the Dead Sea.

According to an announcement late last month by the Israel Land Authority (ILA), the first section of the promenade — nearly half of it — has recently been completed. The ILA is co-funding the development of the promenade together with the Tourism Ministry via the government’s Dead Sea preservation organization, the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute, and the Ramat Negev Regional Council, as well as other backers.

The promenade will have observation points and shaded seating along the dedicated path, which will help keep visitors on the designated path and thus reduce their impact on the surroundings and wildlife in the area. Work to slow the erosion of the river cliff has also been carried out, according to the announcement.

“The Ben-Gurion Promenade recreates the path of David Ben-Gurion, who walked here in the face of the incredible power of nature in the most beautiful desert in the world,” said Eran Doron, head of the Ramat Negev Regional Council, in the announcement.

View of the new David Ben-Gurion desert trail, Sde Boker, February 2023. (Courtesy/Dead Sea Preservation Government Company)

The project “deals with an important heritage site for the State of Israel,” said ILA Director Yankie Quint. “Many visitors come all year round to walk in the area and now they will be able to enjoy a safe walk along a paved path.”

The walkway will eventually connect, via a parallel cycle path, the Ben-Gurions’ tomb to the Ben-Gurion Hut, where the couple lived and which is now part of a museum.

Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in 1968. (Malcolm Stewart)

Thousands of visitors make their way to Sde Boker every year to visit Ben-Gurion’s tomb and the museum, which also houses a part of the late premier’s archives, according to the Tourism Ministry.

Ben-Gurion had spotted the huts and modest buildings that made up the kibbutz in its infancy while he was on an official trip to the Ramon Crater in 1952. He stopped for an impromptu visit and later wrote to the kibbutz members asking to join them in their mission to develop the desert. He was taken in as a sheep shearer (a now-defunct role) on the kibbutz’s work roster, according to a 1964 New York Times interview with Ben-Gurion about life at Sde Boker.

View of the old house of first Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion, at kibbutz Sde Boker, Israeli Negev desert. July 12, 2020. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The interview also revealed that Ben-Gurion took his daily strolls in the late afternoon and would start heading back after about an hour “as the first lights twinkle on in the simple concrete and wooden houses.”

Ben-Gurion and his wife lived on the kibbutz for two years in 1954-1955 and returned in 1963 when he retired from government until his death 10 years later.

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