Monday, 5 April 2010

The Story behind St Catherine Road - הדרך לסנטה קטרינה - דרך זיוה

After the 1973 war, the Israel Department of Defense  found itself with many D9 bulldozers which were used in building the Bar Lev Line on the Suez Canal.  These deep green bulldozers were idling in the center of Israel when someone had the idea that they could be used to build a road from Nuweiba to the Santa Catherine monastery in Sinai.  This was a joint civilian military undertaking commanded by the legendary Gavroosh (Gabriel Rappoport) of Beit Alpha.

The main challenge for this road was how to cut through the granite mountain range that runs along the coast of Sinai in this region.  As the Israelis were highly respectful of the  Bedouins and especially of the Muzzeina tribe who were the true masters of the mountains and wadis, Gavroosh asked the advice of the sagacious bedouin chief Ranem.  Now Ranem being the biggest hashish smuggler, knew this challenge well as he had to send his hash loaded camels towards Egypt in exactly the same area of the planned road.  In fact, he had a secret mountain path, a Nakeb, as it is known in Arabic, going down toward the picturesque Wadi Raazala. It is exactly there where he took Gavroosh and told him that there he should create the path and downgrade of the road.

 April 2010 
click on photographs for enlargement
It took six months to blast and bulldoze the hard red granite and then to push dirt up in order to build a downgrade for the road which was planned to adhere to international highway standards.

Today right before the climb, the travelers see a green truck with a big painted smiley sitting on a top of a rock and wonder how did it get there.
The story behind this truck as follows:
In the 1956 Sinai Campaign , the IDF 9th brigade was going through Wadi Raazala on its way to capture Sharem El Sheikh. As there were no roads, only sandy wadis, many vehicles got stuck and had to be abandoned.  This truck is one of these vehicles.  As Gavroosh was a company commander in this desert voyage he had no difficulty in recognizing this truck and one fine morning with his remarkable heavy equipment usage skills hoisted the truck up the rock as a homage to the 9th Brigade campaign.
 April 2010
Watching it today I was reflecting whether it is not  a monument to the futility of all expeditionary military campaigns.

In the beginning of 1977, being a young lieutenant in the IDF, I was appointed to be Gavroosh deputy on the Zeeva Road as it was known then.  I knew Ranem well, clearly remembering his piercing blue eyes and his wisdom.  Today this personal history is much appreciated by his sons and daughters who are always happy to meet someone who knew and respected their father.

On the right is Ranem's son Saalman. He is a desert guide:


Nadya lives in the Muzzeina village in Nuweiba:


I have met Nadya before, but when her younger sister Salma heard that I was there,  she insisted that I would come to dinner at her house that night.  It was one of the best chicken dishes I have ever ate:

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