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Eilat Fun facts & enrichment

Meet Umm Rash-Rash

In a couple of days, I’m going to leave my beloved childhood city of Eilat and move to Jerusalem. Before I go, I want to tell you a story about Umm Rash-Rash. Now, what does that have to do with Eilat, you ask? Simple! Umm Rash-Rash was the original name of the area before it turned to Eilat.

If you happen to visit Eilat, you will probably see the mall that stands right next to the sea-line. That’s Mall Ayam. Beside it, to its south, lays a huge plaza. At the front of the plaza is an elevated area. On top of that area, there are a small clay building and an interesting monument, displaying a bunch of people crowded around a flag pole and a person hanging an Israeli flag at the top of that pole. That’s Umm Rash-Rash Plaza. 

A few weeks ago I went to the mall. I passed by the plaza, while a father and his little girl passed in front of me.

“Daddy, what’s this building?” the little girl pointed at the clay building.

The father didn’t reply. He was too busy staring at his phone.

The girl stopped and insisted. “Daddy, what’s this building?”

So the father had to take his eyes off his phone and look at the clay building that’s on Umm Rash-Rash Plaza. After a moment or two, he mumbled: “Well, it’s just a plain old building,” and the two of them continued, without taking another glance at the building.


A sign next to the clay building

So what’s the story?

The truth is, the clay building was declared an Israeli national site in 1994, so it’s not just a plain old building. Actually, it’s the last building left out of five Mandatory buildings that made up a police station complex. The other four were demolished due to Eilat’s expansion and because they weren’t declared national sites on time.

But before I talk about the building, I want to share with you something interesting I found out just two weeks ago. “Rash” means “Strewing” in Arabic (اش). “Umm” means “Mother” in Arabic (that I already knew, but maybe you don’t). So I wondered two weeks ago why did they call Eilat, back in the old days, “Mother Strewing-Strewing”. That’s a weird name. So I checked up the topic in many resources and found out that there’s a legend connected to this place:

Eilat, as you may or may not know, was part of the ancient route to the holy city of Mecca. The Muslim pilgrims walked all the way to Mecca, and their feet got swollen and hurt on the way. The area we refer to as “Umm Rash-Rash” was the residence of an old, wise woman who gathered herbs from the area and made medical powder out of them. Then she would strew the powder over the hurt feet and make them feel better. So those pilgrims started talking about that place on the way to Mecca, where they met “The Mother that Strews,” or better yet, “Umm Rash-Rash.”

That’s a nice tale, which not a lot know of, I suppose.

The Story of the Ink Flag:

A better-known story is that of the Raising of the Ink Flag, but maybe you haven’t heard of it either. This story explains the monument next to the clay building.

In March 1949, we were almost done with the Independence war. The only thing left was to sign a cease-fire agreement with the Jordanians. But they wanted the Negev to be part of their territory, although it was supposed to be ours according to the UN Partition Plan. Ben Gurion, the Prime Minister at the time, instructed the IDF to make it a fact that Israel is the rightful owner of the Negev. Eilat is included because it’s situated in the Negev’s southernmost point. So the IDF started “Operation Uvda” (in Hebrew, “Uvda” means “Fact”) and made their way down to conquer Umm Rash-Rash.

I won’t bore you with all the details about the operation. I’ll just skip to the end. The first IDF company to arrive at Umm Rash-Rash found no one there. It seemed the place got abandoned before they came. The only thing left were the five clay buildings of the Mandatory police station and a bare pole. The soldiers forgot the Israeli flag at home, so they had to be creative. The company’s secretary took a white sheet they had and painted the Israeli flag on it, with ink. Then the company’s commander went up the pole, which was not at all steady, and hung it on the top. Now Umm Rash-Rash, Eilat, was Israeli territory.

The flag was replaced by a real one when another IDF company arrived two hours later. To this very day, no one knows where the Ink Flag is. We lost it.

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Hope you have great fun in Eilat, now that you know some history about it!

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Yours,

Lior