Wednesday, July 09, 2003


Frankly, I have seen helicopters before. I used to pass by an army base in Bangalore occasionally, and there were always some perched on the ground. And sometimes, I'd even see a couple winging (uh..rotoring?) their way out. But nothing prepared me for the sheer abundance of helicopters that cover the skies here in Israel. When I first got here and I had no idea what my project would be or where I would work, I started assisting Efrat in her field work, trying to think of a project I could do. She works on spiders in agricultural systems and her site is located somewhere off Ber Sheva, in a place called Sde Teiman ('field of the yemenites'). The farm mainly grows wheat, corn and sunflowers. But the strange thing is that the site is located right next to an army base. This is not so surprising in Israel, because the Negev desert is also known as the IDF's playground. Dozens of bases litter the country, and their policy with respect to nature reserves is curious. You can have firing zones within a nature reserve. One of my friends here, who works on Oryxes lost an animal because it got entangled in parachute debris. That should give you an idea. Anyway, the base next to Efrat's field continuously boasted of activity. Helicopters kept buzzing by, all kinds of helicopters- civilian, attack, god knows what. Some incredibly menacing ones as well. I firmly believe that helicopters can be some of the more terrifying of all aircraft. It was a very strange feeling: standing knee deep in wheat, looking over a sea of green, and the receding desert in the distance, and then suddenly this posse of choppers comes over and slowly the rhythmic thumping takes over the entire sound space available, casually dismissing the birds and the wind. It was like one of those Vietnam movies, peasants working the rice fields juxtaposed with the helicopter.

still from the movie Apocalypse Now
Since I stay in Sde Boqer, which somewhat halfway through the Negev Desert, it's also en route to a lot of army bases. And any helicopter activity doesn't go unnoticed, though one does rather get used to it. Anytime there's an intense activity, it's a fair bet that something is happening somewhere, usually in Gaza, becasue it's rather close to Gaza from here. In the manner of cynical world weary veterans, we desert dwellers note the helicopters and say, fireworks tonight. And sometimes the prediction does hold true, but it's impossible to say if it was by chance or by design.