Midburn Damaged Ancient Site [Updates]

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

So much for Leave No Trace. Apparently Midburn damaged, perhaps even destroyed, a cultural site  150,000 years old. Ironically, they erected their Temple right above the site.

From Asssociated Press:

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli Antiquities Authority says revelers at a Burning Man festival famous for its pyrotechnic spectacles have accidentally torched some remnants of prehistoric man.

Archaeologist Yoram Haimi says organizers of Midburn, an Israeli affiliate of the Nevada carnival, burned a wooden temple Saturday on a hilltop scattered with flint tools from the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.

The site was discovered 30 years ago by an Israeli archaeologist. The area is not marked with signs and it is hard to see the ancient remains. He says the extent of the damage is unclear.

Eyal Marcus, Midburn spokesman, said antiquities officials only approached organizers in the middle of the festival.

“We are sorry,” Marcus said. “One of our principles is ‘leave no trace.’ We are not for destroying.”

From Haaretz:

the burning of the Midburn “temple” Saturday night, which caused a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

He also asked that the coals stoking the fire be removed manually, not with heavy equipment. On Monday, it was clear that neither request had been fulfilled.

Haimi plans to file a police complaint. “Maybe that will deter them next year,” he said.

Midburn’s organizers said they had received permits for the festival from all the necessary agencies, including the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”

Midburn was also interrupted by bomb disposal squads, who removed 2 unexploded bombs found at the site, and the tragic death of an experienced Burner.

From the Times of Israel:

organizers had to call in a bomb-disposal unit during the festival to take care of two unexploded ordinances, likely left over from Israeli military training exercises. Part of the camp was evacuated for a few hours while the bomb-disposal unit worked, but no one was injured and the bombs were disposed of safely.

There was also a death for the first time at a Midburn event: An older participant suffered a heart attack just 15 meters from an ambulance stationed at the event.

The man, in his 50s and a veteran of many Burning Man events around the world, collapsed from an apparent heart attack, likely unconnected to the festival or to substance abuse. Paramedics instantly began life-saving measures and stabilized the man before he was taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where he later died.

Other than that, it seems like a good time was had by all. More coverage, including photos, at:

The Guardian

The Globe and Mail

 [Update 5/28/15 8:06am PST]

Page 11 of the Midburn transparency report said that they were required to get an inspection by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. It seems this may have happened this year after the Temple had been constructed.

Midburn have released this official statement on Facebook:

Dear Midburners,

Today we read in the press that there is a concern we may have caused damage to an archeological site while burning the Temple. If this is true, we consider it a very serious matter. We’ve of course received all the necessary permits from all authorities (Nature and Parks Authority, the Regional Council, the Police, Israel Land Authority etc’) to hold the event in a lawful manner, including permits for the specific locations of the art installations and the city’s perimeter. Throughout the permitting process, we worked in full transparency and coordination with all the relevant authorities.

Nevertheless, Civic Responsibility is our guiding principle and that requires us to act as responsibly as possible and take measures that extend far beyond the minimum requirements of the law.

We will therefore examine the claims by Israel Antiquities Authority and continue to be a community that is involved and is aware of the environment in which it exists. We promise to investigate the matter thoroughly and to keep you updated.

Image: Midburn/Facebook

Image: Midburn/Facebook

[Update 5/29/15 4:04pm PST]

Say anything critical of something in Israel, and it won’t be long until someone throws Anti-Semitism into the social media trollfest. Like, there are all these special rules, that wouldn’t apply to discussing Kiwiburn or Burning Seed or Flipside or Element11.

That’s not right. Burners are burners, dude. Wherever they are, whatever they do for a living, whatever god they worship (or not). There are not “some special Burners” and then “the rest of the Burners”. Whoever is thinking like that needs to experience some Radical Exclusion and Civic Rejection.

I’m not even criticizing Midburn – kudos to them for more than tripling in size since last year, getting the support of a Nobel Prize winner and Royal Society Fellow, getting judges to back them, and overcoming all obstacles in their path. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there is some political backlash against them, and maybe that’s why the media is piling on.

Type “burning man” into Google and then in the Search Tools put “past week” or “past 24 hours”. That is what Burners.Me is here for: to share my opinions about what is being said on the Internet about Burning Man and the intergalactic (and inner-galactic psychonautic) realms of this Burner culture that is spreading around the world.

If you did what I just suggested, you’d see a lot of talk about Midburn. It’s not just me making things up, all of this really happened. And many people are taking the allegation of disrespecting a culturally sensitive site quite seriously. If I could speak in the vernacular of the Voices of Burning Man propaganda channel for a moment, I would say it thus:


Some say “the principles are just guidelines”, a vague and self-contradictory ethos.

Many Burners say “this is not just a festival, it’s not just a party in the desert, sex and drugs and sects and EDM”…this is a movement. Something substantial, and long-lasting, and growing and improving all the time. To many Burners, having Principles behind the movement means something in their lives.

All Burners around the world are now being smeared with this slur of trace-leaving. Did Midburn leave a trace? Or not? There is not enough evidence available yet to decide either way. But here is just a sampling of what is being said on the Internet over the last day or two.







Some original content re-blogged here from Tablet Magazine:


Ancient Archaeological Site Torched at Israel’s Midburn Festival

Flint tools from Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are history

Last week, the second annual Midburn festival—a radical five-day event of art and expression and self-reliance and sundry communal tomfoolery—took place in a “temporary city” in the Negev Desert. An estimated 6,000 attended, who, by virtue of being present, adhere to “The Ten Principles” as established by Larry Harvey, the founder of the U.S.-based Burning Man festival after which Midburn is modeled. But it appears that two principles, namely “Civic Responsibility” and “Leaving No Trace,” were violated.

On May 24, a Saturday night, festivalgoers watched a wooden temple burn on a hilltop. I imagine many danced, or gazed agape as they contemplated the meaning of it all, as the flames screamed upward into the night sky. Below the fire, however, and atop the hill, were prehistoric artifacts. Reports Haaretz:

…a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

Haimi told Haaretz that he will file a police complaint. Apparently, Midburn authorities covered its tracks, obtaining all the necessary permits.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”


Related: Israel’s First Burning Man, One Mile From Ben Gurion’s Grave

There is very little being said at Midburn’s English-language Facebook group. Where is the community of thousands of people who were at the event, rallying around to defend them?

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.16.34

That’s not a selection, at the time of writing – that’s it.

Over at their much bigger Israeli group, there seems to be very little concern about this.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.12

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.31.34 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.51 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.31

The above was taken out of about 14 comments. Blame Bill Gates if anything was lost in translation. Perhaps anyone fluent in Hebrew or with inside knowledge could comment here and update us if this is being taken more seriously in the homeland, in a discussion group we’re not yet privy to. I’m just gathering whatever I can find from the Internet and sharing what I think is the most relevant with you guys, the more detail the better. Anyone reading this can do the same, so please share with the group if you find something.

This story from US News says that Eyal Marcus has an official antiquities authority map of the site that shows no archaeological sites there – curiouser and curiouser. There can’t be “no sites” and “some sites”, so somebody either has their facts wrong or is deliberately spreading misinformation.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.38.50

It would definitely be great if Midburn shared a copy of that map, in the spirit of transparency.

Why are we not hearing about any drug arrests? Perhaps because they didn’t happen? This seemed like the main police fear, and it seems like Midburn did very well on that. However that is purely speculation on my part, I have absolutely no evidence to back it up. Perhaps those with more information, might care to share the more positive aspects of this story like that. Greenpeace isn’t all bad just because they graffiti’d the Nazca lines. And I’m sure no-one in Midburn would intentionally disturb a sacred archaeological site. But if a Burn was held on my nice rug in my living room, shouldn’t “Leave No Trace” mean my rug is still fine the next day? Let alone things that were buried in the ground beneath it for tens of thousands of years…

“All of Israel is an archaelogical site, all of Israel is a bomb site”…these arguments don’t wash with me.

“It’s totally fine if we trashed the site because we got permits”…this attitude is atrocious, and reminds me of THIS.

“Political haters are trying to screw with Midburn”…that sounds plausible, though not convincing. If Midburn can produce some documentation supporting their side, or if the Israeli Antiquities Authority fails to produce any evidence of damage, this argument will look stronger.

The remains of the remains, remains to be seen. We must wait for the rainy season, so it seems.

2015 midburn_620

[Update 6/4/15 4:13am PST]

Much more detail about this story here. The concern was not the fire, but heavy machinery used in construction. It sounds like Midburn made an effort to co-operate with the IAA last year, and is doing so now.

Support Mid Burn Art [Updates]

midburn all seeing eye of horus hand of godIsrael’s Midburn needs help getting art out to the desert. I guess the Israelis couldn’t figure out how to make enough money from a sold out event, to actually get the art to it! Tickets cost 490 shekels, which is US$140. They sold 2000 of them, which is US$280,000.

In addition to this, they’ve raised $75,000 from the Israeli community. They still need another $18,000 – or $9 from each person attending. So far they have raised $211 of the $18,000 they’re looking for. What happens if they don’t get more? Will this first-time event be art-free? For some reason their Indiegogo runs for a month after the event, which happens in 9 days.

Caveat emptor, Burners…remember this is the Middle Eastern bazaar.

We hear Maid Marian is attending, let’s hope she (and her multi-million dollar non-profit  Burner culture spreading .ORG) are donating too. $18k doesn’t seem like much to spread Burner culture to a giant segment of the globe, with the first ever Middle Eastern burn.

From Mid-Burner Rachel:

20140521063253-Copy_of_Shavout-003What can I say – you have a sweet blog, and write about Burning Man …which is why I’m reaching out to you.  As part of Israel’s first Burning Man Festival- Midburn- My fellow Burners and I working hard to raise money to support artists contributing to the Midburn Art Project.

Here’s a link to our website: http://www.midburn.com

20140521062401-2hand_of_inspiration_-_Sharon_AvrahamWe already have over 30 artists and art projects underway for our festival this June, but we need to raise a bit more money to ensure that all this artwork makes it to the festival and beyond!

Here is the link to our Indiegogo campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-the-midburn-art-project-burning-man-in-israel-2014–2

midburn machine shop 2014It would mean the world to us if you could write a short blog post about our Indiegogo Campaign- or about our event in general.   Of course, we’d love you to donate too :), but we really need your help in spreading the world.

I cannot express how grateful I am to you for reading these words.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to thank you in person at the next burning man festival.

Burn On!


[Update: 5/25/14] Rachel has contacted us to ask us to change this post. I’m not sure which part she has a problem with – it seems accurate enough. Her explanation sheds further light on the funding compromises the organizers were forced to make, without support from BMOrg. She answers our question: yes, they’re not going to bring much of the art to the event unless they raise these extra funds – even though it is located close by. Apparently the reason the Israeli’s can’t pay the artists from their sold-out event is they underestimated what things cost in Israel. The fences have to be higher and the generators have to be bigger. Emphasis ours.

Please allow me to explain the campaign, it’s timing and expenses, so that you might consider changing what you wrote in your post, since we’ve seen it take a very negative toll already. 

1) Campaign timing
As this is our first ever burning man, we had to make estimations about how much money we would need to cover the event at the beginning.  Unfortunately, we ran into budget issues late in the game, and our artists are sadly the ones who we see need money the most. If we don’t get money to cover expenses, some art will not be able to make it to midburn (despite its proximity) and many artists will be in large debtIt will also take a toll on our desire to support the project in the future. So yes, the timing is unfortunate, but it was necessary.

2) Expenses: 
Israel is extremely expensive – at least 2x more expensive than the States. As we’re off in the middle east, surrounded by countries we have poor trade with, all supplies that might be considered to be cheap in the states are quite expensive here. This means that the money that we do have, doesn’t go nearly as far as you might think.

3) Security requirements: 
Israel has unbelievably strict security requirements. 
For Example: Only very specific and expensive generators can be used according to law. Gas requirements also leave us with far more expensive equipment than is required in the US. Lighting is extremely strict and requires way more lighting than would ever be required in the states. Fencing is also extremely strict- we have to invest in building a massive fencing encasing in order to get approval from the law. 

For all of these reasons and more we are running the campaign despite the timing, and despite the money we’ve already succeeded in bringing in

Perhaps Midburn would’ve been better to rent the fencing and lighting and generators for their first time event, rather than taking the cash windfall from the sold out show and “investing” in this gear. That way, they could still pay the artists, make profit for themselves, and charge even more for tickets next year. It seems like a mere $10 price rise on the tickets would have made the event profitable, not bad for a first effort. Coachella didn’t make money for years.

According to Haaretz, the promoters weren’t expecting the event to be so popular – it is now the third largest Burning Man event in the world:

We did not expect such a massive response, especially as we chose not to publicize the event,” admits Nir Eden, one of the organizers, who works as a logistics manager for a fashion chain. “There are about 300 people working nonstop on the Midburn festival. You have to understand, it involves building a temporary city.”…Midburn organizers claim theirs has quickly become the third-largest Burning Man-type festival in the world, behind the original in the U.S. (70,000 participants) and one in Africa (8,000 participants). 15 trucks and two shipping containers full of equipment will be brought down to the desert, along with installations and artworks created by 40 different groups. Midburn has a foundation supporting its artwork, which has granted 150,000 shekels to the artists. Eden, a perennial guest at Burning Man, says he has gladly spent tens of thousands of his own shekels on the festival. Representatives from the World Burning Man have recently arrived in Israel to declare the country one of the seven official areas where the festival is held.

Rachel confirmed that Midburn does have to pay a licensing fee to Decommodification LLC. This conflicts with the recent opinion of nay-sayers here. It also conflicts with Midburn founder (and BMOrg official contact) Rei Dishon, who says in the comment shared by Nomad below that they are not paying BMOrg any fees.

I know none of these people and am not attending the event, I have no dog in this fight and no axe to grind. I couldn’t tell you if both were authorized founders, or neither was, all I know is we now have two different people involved with two different stories. Let’s hope the truth gets out, we welcome everyone who has knowledge of the situation to come forward and tell us what is really going on behind the scenes. In my time I have met a fairly wide variety of party promoters around the globe, some successful, some only sporadically so. I’ve done business in the Middle East before, and have run into all kinds of “bazaar” situations in that part of the world. It’s no surprise to encounter two people who claim to be insiders and founders, but have completely different views about what is going on. Somewhere in this souk, agreements get made, things get worked out so everybody can move forwards, usually with everyone grumbling about something but getting enough to make it worthwhile. I have never been to Israel, but Burning Man’s Social Alchemist Bear Kittay told me “you’d love it. It’s just like Burning Man. People stop their cars in the middle of the street and get out and dance”.  Burners will need to make up their own minds about what is actually going on in Israel with Burning Man’s first ever official (or is it?) Middle Eastern regional.

Rachel’s claims that they messed up the budget because “we didn’t know things in Israel cost twice as much as the US” and “there are all these stricter regulations in Israel”, are called into question by reports that Midburn have been throwing Burning Man Regional events since 2012 – complete with art cars, a Man and Temple to burn, MOOP, Center Camp, costumes, gifting. The only difference here appears to be licensing the Burning Man name. Official affiliation doesn’t seem to have brought Midburn much, especially since they did not even have to publicize the event to sell all the tickets in advance.

Hopefully the Burning Man Project will step up and supply what’s needed to reimburse the artists and get the art to Midburn. It’s a chance for them to do something meaningful with that money – what better cause than the first Middle Eastern Burn, in the year that we have a Middle Eastern theme? It’s also a chance for BMOrg to demonstrate to the international Burner community that their charity cares more about Art than it does about The Founders Speaking. The $18,000 would be less than 0.1% of the Burning Man gate take (it’s 47 tickets), and about 4% of BMOrg’s annual travel budget. They’re a non-profit, they want to spread Burner culture around the world, and they’re going to get royalties back from this one which is the second biggest…so what’s the problem? Why wouldn’t BMOrg want to support the Midburn artists? Or invest in the fencing, lighting, and generator infrastructure that burns in the region require, so that the promoters can pay the artists instead of having to keep all this sophisticated equipment, which would only be used once a year.

If Burners donate to the Burning Man Project, is the money going to flow through to the artists, to get their art to Midburn? Or will it go to BMOrg personnel for first class international travel to the rave?

Burners who want to help out in the Middle East may also consider spending their dollars healing the damage done by fences, instead of putting up new ones.


The Mid East Show


This year’s theme for Burning Man is “caravansary”. It’s meant to evoke the tradition of the Silk Road . Many Burners probably haven’t been to the Middle East, so here’s a very funny cultural primer. It might give you some camp decoration ideas as well. Let’s hope this new show gets off the ground. You can support their Kickstarter at Caravan level for $20 and you get a t-shirt – that’s 7 t-shirts for less than 1 Burning Man scarf, sounds like a good deal and a good cause to me.