Israel desert ablaze with Burning Man

2014-06-09 22:06
Israelis walk in the playa during the Israel’s first Midburn festival, modelled after the popular Burning Man festival held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. (Oded Balilty, AP)

Israelis walk in the playa during the Israel’s first Midburn festival, modelled after the popular Burning Man festival held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. (Oded Balilty, AP)

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Negev Desert - For the Bedouin Arab shepherds tending their flocks in Israel's Negev desert last week, it was almost as if aliens had landed from outer space.

Around 3 000 people set up a colourful encampment in the dusty moonscape, swinging from hoops by day and burning giant wooden sculptures by night.

It was Midburn, Israel's first Burning Man festival, modeled after the popular carnival held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Midburn is a mix of "midbar," Hebrew for desert, and the English word "burn."

For five days, participants - mostly Israelis - created a temporary city dedicated to creativity, communal living and what the festival calls "radical self-expression."

Some came costumed in cape or corset. Others, from babies to grandparents, went nude. Participants brought their own food and water, and shared with others. The only thing on sale was ice because of the scorching heat.

There were workshops in sculpture, drawing, and touch therapy. There was music and theater. At the "tent of heaven and hell," participants were chosen at random for one of two fates: getting massages or doing chores.

During the day, Bedouin shepherds meandered to the fence surrounding the festival to observe the spectacle. When day turned to night, a larger-than-life wooden sculpture was set on fire.

The festival took place a few miles southwest of the desert gravesite of Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who dreamed of making the Negev desert bloom — though he probably didn't envision it blossoming with hula hoops and pyrotechnics.

At the end, participants were told to remove their own trash and leave the desert without a trace.

Here is a series of images by Associated Press photographer Oded Balilty of Israel's first Burning Man festival, called Midburn.

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