Kurt wrote:One thing about making "Deserts Bloom" is that you need to ask yourself, "Why hasn't it "bloomed" before?" Mankind has lived in that area for a very long time and nothing permanent stands (well Petra does, but Trajan just sort of walked in and said he conquered it. Conquering East St. Louis would have been more difficult.) and this from a region that have been "cities" before Abraham strolled in. My guess is that Blue Print Negev will do what other desert "blooms" in history have done. Made people pat themselves on the back for being so clever, shovel time and resources into making the place bearable, then leave a ghost town for the Bedoines to be mildly annoyed while grazing goats.
"Making the desert bloom" has taken place at different times in the history of the Negev, but doing so requires constant attention and human presence. It is true that if the desert is left to its own devices, it remains a desert. The rock and soil there do not absorb water, so it just runs off in torrents and has little effect. But a bit of infrastructure goes a long way. The Nabateans did a good job of building and maintaining means of trapping and holding water when it did fall, and there are wide dry washes in the remote central Negev that still have remains of Nabatean walls and spillways that held floodwater across open areas where cereals could be planted. The monasteries that have lasted in the desert on and off since Byzantine times are often situated in places like Ovda/Avdat where the Nabateans had once done bigger and better things.
Often the human presence necessary to sustain that kind of infrastructure has come by way of trade routes and defensive lines. The Nabateans had the big spice route that ran from Petra to Gaza, and to protect such valuable goods they built forts and caravanserais a day's march apart from each other. I have walked that route and the amazing thing about it is that they managed not only to find and save enough water to enable the existence of outposts in otherwise-empty areas, but also to enable civilian settlements to spring up around those outposts. In every case, where there is a desert fortress, there is a complex of homes outside the walls. People lived there, but they did have to work at it. The spice route is one example, and it died when the Romans took control and shifted trade routes elsewhere. It wasn't that people couldn't live there; they just didn't need to anymore. But other desert fortresses and settlements sprang up, like the Limes Arabicus that formed a sort of buffer between Roman territories and the deep desert of the Bedouin. Those forts, too, have little towns around them, as do older fortresses in the same areas from the Israelite period.
Of course the Zionist project is a lot more ambitious, and no one is under the delusion that it is something naturally sustainable. Like the other projects, it takes work and investment. Instead of trade routes that sustain the area, there are highways constantly carrying people to Eilat and back, on the Red Sea. The Zionists had originally hoped for something that would be more of a draw, like a British-built port on the Red Sea during the Mandate period that would offer a secondary Indian Ocean-Mediterranean Sea route in case Suez was ever compromised. They envisioned oil pipelines through the Negev, railroads, etc. But the British didn't bite; they built up the Haifa deep-water harbor and made a Red Sea port in Aqaba instead, so as to give Transjordan shipping capability. So Israel was stuck having to build Eilat into a European-style resort town -- a vacation destination that would at least do something to pull the center of the country south.
Kurt wrote:However, it seems small settlements and small comunities could do well there. I think there is some Monastary or maybe more that have been in the area since late Roman Times. It shows that clever design and devotion of humans can over come anything, and perhaps a Hogan will be that design, but for supporting a large population I doubt it. Our engineering in combating deserts is not very different than it was 2000 years ago.
The motivation for trying to put larger populations in the Negev actually emerged from British immigration quotas during World War II and the prospect of partitioning the country. The Zionists weren't thinking in terms of being a minority Jewish population in a sea of Arabs; they knew that after the war, if the gates of immigration were opened completely, millions of Jews would pour in from Europe, and about an equal number would come in from the Middle East. But the British had to be convinced that the land could sustain that kind of population, so there were all these debates about the "economic absorptive capacity" of Palestine. The Zionists needed to make it appear that the land could hold a ton of people, despite all appearances, so they staked a lot on technology and said they could squeeze as much out of the country as possible. A lot of researchers actually backed them up, and that was how all the schemes to develop the Negev came about. Then, when the Jewish partition area as determined in 1947 gave the Jews a country that was mostly desert, it became a no-choice sort of issue.
What goes on there isn't the haphazard development you see in Phoenix or Las Vegas; it's carefully controlled and planned, and a lot of effort goes into trying not to waste any water. Most gray water and sewage is recycled or repurposed, and it's actually pretty impressive, but it's still a huge gamble. Water gets piped in from the Golan Heights and the Galilee, but that only provides a part of the water that is needed for large-scale settlement. Now they're building more desalination plants and hoping that what the area lacks in water can be made up for in energy. Natural gas is supposed to provide power for future desalination efforts (adding incentive to develop the Mediterranean gas fields and keep them out of Turkish and Lebanese control), and civilian power is supposed to come from huge arrays of solar panels that are being set up. Maybe in spirit such projects aren't that different from 2000 years ago -- basically hoarding water and bringing in as much from elsewhere as possible -- but the means of doing so are bigger and better.
So yeah, it's unnatural, and someday it'll probably disappear. But there are a lot of places where cities disappear without careful attention, and where survival is difficult, and not just in deserts. You have to play the hand you're dealt, I guess.
And there's this cool book you might check out sometime, Kurt -- it's called "The Desert a City" by a guy named Derwas Chitty, and it's about the history of monasticism in early Christianity. A lot of it is over my head because I don't know enough about church history, but the parts where he talks about these monks engaging with the desert and adapting to its lifestyle is pretty interesting.