Ben-Gurion Park in Dimona

Ben-Gurion Park lies on the edge of the city of Dimona. Most of it covers an area of around 370 dunam (approx. 92.5 acres) on a strip of land about 1.7 kilometers in length, to the north of Dimona. An additional 250 dunam of unbroken forest, without footpaths or recreation areas, border the city to the west. The park is named after Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and his wife Paula, who lived nearby at Kibbutz Sde Boker.

In the early 1950s KKL-JNF was already planting olive trees in Dimona, and a genuine forest, perhaps KKL-JNF’s very first desert woodland, was planted here in the 1960s to provide local residents with a little greenery to look at and a recreation area close to home. Veteran Jerusalem pines, olive trees and carob trees planted back in those days still add to the attractions of the city.

Thanks to a donation from Friends of KKL-JNF in Holland, Ben-Gurion Forest has undergone an upgrade, and recreation areas, cycle trails, children’s playground equipment, a magnificent lake and a science garden have all been added to it. This updated version of the park provides Dimona residents with a recreational space close to home, caters for visitors to the region and provides a way-station for travelers en route southwards from central Israel.

The park’s new lake. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik
The park’s new lake. Photo: Yaakov Shkolnik

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.

The city of Dimona

Dimona was founded in 1955 as a residential neighborhood for workers of the Dead Sea Industries and Oron Phosphates. The name Dimona is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a place on the southern border of the portion of land allocated to the tribe of Judah: “And the uttermost cities of the tribe of the children of Judah towards the coast of Edom southward were Kabzeel and Eder, and Jagur, and Kinah, and Dimonah, and Adadah,” (Joshua 15:21-22). Some believe that the name has been preserved in the name Harbaat Umm Dimna (Dimona Reservoir), which lies about a kilometer to the northwest of Ben-Gurion Park. At the time Dimona was established, few people believed in the feasibility of founding a community in the middle of the desert, and some referred to the project as Dimyona (from the Hebrew dimyon, i.e., “imagination”) or Dim‘ona (from dim‘a, which means “teardrop”).

In the early 1960s large numbers of immigrants were sent to live in the new town, and they found work in the big textile factories that had been established there. In 1969 Dimona attained city status, and in the 1970s Black Hebrew Israelites began to settle there. Today they number around 2,500 people who live communally as part of the wider Black Hebrew Israelite community. Without regarding themselves as Jews, they nonetheless observe a good number of Biblical commandments.

After many of the city’s factories closed in the wake of the textile industry crisis, Dimona was beset by economic problems and demographic stagnation. In the late 1980s, however, immigrants from the former Soviet Union began to settle in the city, and by 2016 Dimona, which is zoned for a population of over eighty thousand, had about thirty-nine thousand residents. Ben-Gurion is the city’s main park.

Geography and history

The city of Dimona lies in a large valley between two anticlines (i.e., upfolds of rock) – the Dimona Hills ridge to the north and the Efeh Hills ridge to the south. The numerous rivers that flow from high to low ground carved out a valley in the depression between the two ridges. The small tributaries merge to form the Dimona Stream (Nahal Dimona) about two kilometers to the northeast of the city, and its waters flow down into Nahal Hemar, which spills into the southern Dead Sea.

The banks of the Dimona Stream are studded with the remains of ancient cisterns and terraced farmland. Excavations carried out in 2005, prior to the construction of the neighborhood adjacent to the park, revealed evidence of five settlement sites dating back to the Middle Bronze Age. These findings – walls of animal enclosures and flint tools without sickle blades – show that these sites probably served as seasonal waystations for herders. At Hurvat Rehava, slightly to the south of Route no. 25, the ruins of an Iron Age fortress (10th century BCE) were discovered, together with those of another smaller fort from the Roman period. Prehistoric remains were found in the area around the fortresses.

The lake

Visitors to the park are greeted at the entrance by a beautiful lake that extends over an area of about 10 dunam (approx. 2.5 acres). Construction of the lake, which was funded by donations from KKL-JNF Holland, was completed at the end of 2006, and the flowing curves of its banks are set amid lawns and young trees that, when grown, will provide welcome shade. The lake’s curvaceous aspect is designed to conceal each end of it from the other, in order to give an impression of infinite size.

At the northern end of the lake is a platform that enables visitors to observe activities at the site, and cafés will be added to its environs in the future. The lake is about 70 centimeters deep. At present it is full of potable water, but in the future the plan is to fill it with reclaimed water from the Dimona Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The lake and the landscaping that surrounds it will put Dimona on Israel’s tourism map. Today we already recommend the site for local picnics and as a spot where travelers on their way to Israel’s south can stop off for an enjoyable break.

Visitors must not enter the water, and fishing is forbidden.

The science garden

The science garden, which houses play equipment for young children, is located on the southern bank of the lake. As they make use of its facilities, children effortlessly study the laws of physics and learn about alternative energies while having fun at the same time. The science park is not connected to any external electrical source and it supplies all its own energy for operating the equipment.

When children spin the solar system carousel, they create kinetic energy while learning about the orbits of the earth and the moon, and the energy created by this movement provides illumination for the equipment they are using. Inside the cockpit, the energy created by moving levers hoists the helicopter and activates its rotor. The garden also contains a giant mushroom upon which children try to maintain their balance and an installation that allows them to experience lunar gravity. A vortex bicycle allows children to create a hurricane effect, while a special walker provides a practical demonstration of Pythagoras' theorem.

Environmental sculptures

Dimona Park also possesses three large sculptures on which children – including those with disabilities – can climb and play. Artist Ruslan Sergeev creates sculptures from industrial materials inlaid with glass and ceramic mosaics in a style reminiscent of works by the Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí.

The snail sculpture, which is twelve meters long, enables wheelchair-bound children to experience “sliding” through a tunnel. The sculptor has incorporated four different colored pairs of speech apertures into the work, and children must find pairs of the same color in order to talk to each other. Another sculpture resembles a giant lizard whose tail curls round to create a tunnel.

A variety of trees

Ben-Gurion Park is notable for the variety of trees it contains, which give it the appearance of a botanical garden comprised of over thirty different species. Here you can find fruit trees such as black mulberry, white mulberry, olive and carob, and typical forest trees such as Jerusalem pine and casuarina growing alongside many lesser-known varieties. The list below provides an introduction to three species found in the park.

The fever tree - Acacia (Vachellia) xanthophloea

A prickly tree whose trunk and limbs have a distinctive yellowish tinge. Its cruel thorns can be as much as eight centimeters in length. It grows wild in East Africa and South Africa in damp habitats, such as the banks of lakes and rivers, and in regions susceptible to flooding. When the first Europeans to reach Africa observed the connection between areas where this tree was found and the presence of malaria, they named it the fever tree.

The fever tree puts out yellow flowers between the months of March and May, and its fruit, unlike that of acacia varieties that grow wild in Israel, takes the form of completely straight pods. It is a fast grower and adapts quickly to conditions in the Negev.

The siris tree – Albizia lebbeck

In the wild this tree can reach a height of up to thirty meters, and its pinnate leaves can consist of up to four pairs of leaflets. Its most easily recognizable feature is its large pods (between 15 and 30 centimeters in length), in which the seeds can be seen bulging beneath the skin. The siris tree grows wild in the region between Indonesia and Northern Australia, and it is cultivated in parks and gardens throughout the world.

Cadaga - Eucalyptus torelliana / Corymbia torelliana

The unsuspecting visitor would never guess that this tree with the narrow crown and broad pale green leaves belongs to the eucalyptus family, as it in no way resembles other members of the species with which we are familiar.

This tree looks different because it originated in Australia’s rainforests rather than in the arid areas of that distant continent. Its beauty is enhanced by its reddish bark, its peeling trunk and the abundance of white flowers it produces in May.