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About the Negev

CDNG - The Center for the Development of the Negev and Galilee

About the Negev


Even in the days of the Patriarchs, the Negev was populated by Jewish people.  They lived in the tents they had built near the wells they dug. When the Twelve Tribes were making their home in the Land of Israel, the Tribe of Judah settled the northern Negev and the Tribe of Simeon inhabited the south. Further Jewish settlement of the Negev took place when the Babylonian exiles returned to the Land.


At the beginning of the Second Temple Period, Edomites migrated from the eastern side of the Jordan River to the Negev. However, the Hasmoneans stood fast and created territorial contiguity, keeping the region populated by Jews. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Negev became the eastern border of the Roman Empire. Later the region was populated by Christians, who developed agriculture and built permanent structures such as houses, churches and reservoirs.


In the 7th century CE, the Negev settlements fell into ruin. Bedouins entered the area, turning the farmland into pastures. Thus the Negev remained uninhabited for many generations - until the Jews began to return in the early 19th century.


Modern Jewish settlement of the region began with the establishment of Kibbutz Ruhama in 1914. The development of local communities in the 60 years following the declaration of the state has been accompanied by far-reaching changes in all spheres. The traditionally successful mineral industry (mainly potash and phosphates) has since been supplemented by sophisticated and knowledge-intensive industries.


For years, the Negev was home to a highly successful textile industry. In recent years, however, this industry has been waning, and is being replaced by high-tech. Farmers are adapting their agricultural methods for local market needs and export. Despite the greatly increased level of security after the signing of the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the armed forces still use a great deal of territory for training purposes.


The ever-evolving leisure culture necessitates more and more vacations in natural surroundings, leading to the construction of national parks, natural reserves, the Timna National Park, visitor centers, hotels, and more. Educational institutions are being established in order to further scientific research and development.


There is great potential in the country's largest natural region; we still have a long way to go. The people of Israel have not abandoned Ben-Gurion's vision for the Negev. Most national development programs take the Negev into account.


The Negev is the vast desert region of southern Israel. It is shaped like an inverted triangle whose apex is the city of Eilat and its sides are the Jordanian border in the east (along the Arava) and the Egyptian border in the west. Somewhere north of Be'er Sheva, there is an undefined line that separates the arid, Negev climate from the semi-arid Mediterranean climate.


 The Negev comprises 60% of the territory of the State of Israel yet is home to less than 10% of its population. The geographic uniqueness of the Negev stems from its location. The Negev lies along the boundary of the geographic connection between two tectonic plates, and this connection creates amazing natural landscapes concentrated in a small area of just a few dozen miles.


 The western part of the Negev is lowland, where hard chalk rocks create a panorama of rounded hills 300-400 meters in height. Most of the Negev is a plateau with scattered valleys and plains. Here and there we find mountains reaching a height of 1,000 meters above sea level. The Negev is the site of the Ramon Crater as well as two smaller craters.


Part of the Negev is covered by loess soil, part by various flint stones and part by moving sands. The latter are coarse dune sands that are windswept onto the land, thereby endangering the farming areas. The Negev also features various minerals such as phosphate, sand and quartz.


The Negev is full of seasonal streams, which pass through deep channels decorated by cliffs. Some of the streams head toward the Mediterranean, with the largest and most ramified one being Nahal Habesor. Other streams flow into the Arava and the Dead Sea. Although water flows in these channels only during the rain season, in a particularly rainy season they are dangerous and occasionally flood the surrounding areas.


Vegetation in the Negev is scarce, and includes limited types of trees, the most popular ones being the tamarisk, acacia and jujube. The furze grows at the bottom of the channels and desert wormwood in the sands.


The main fauna of the Negev is comprised of snakes, lizards and other reptiles, as well as jackals and foxes. In ancient times, according to the Prophet Joshua, the region was also a lion habitat.


The Negev lies at the northern border of the global desert strip. Its northwestern part borders the Mediterranean, and its desert-like character is less pronounced and can be defined as semi-arid. The desert conditions increase as we go southeastward from the Mediterranean Sea.


The Negev can be regarded as a continuation of the Egyptian desert, which lies along the coast of North Africa. The annual precipitation along this coastline is approximately 100-150 mm, and it decreases as we go further south. The rain regime in the Negev is a direct follow-up of the rain regime along the Egyptian coast, with certain changes linked to the topography of the Negev and the Arava, and also because of the coastline shape, that in our area rises northward and eastward. The decrease in rain quantities from south to north in the Negev depends on increased distance from the Mediterranean which comprises the source of moisture.


Kibbutz Lahav

The construction of Be'er Sheva, which was planned to become the center of the Turkish regime in the area, began in 1899. Since then, and until the establishment of Israel, Be'er Sheva was just a small town surrounded by experimental towns from various periods. These places represented an attempt to permanently settle the Negev.


These towns also included three stations that explored the feasibility of permanent agriculture in the region: Kibbutz Revivim, Beit Eshel and Gvulot were founded in 1943. Further impetus came in 1947, when 11 new communities were founded simultaneously in the Northern Negev. However, these communities were small, isolated and remote, and did not significantly alter the overall desolation.


The real turning point came after the War of Independence, when dozens of kibbutzim and moshavim were established during the first decade of the state. Most of theses communities were founded in the Western Negev, including several development towns, some on the Negev Plateau. The second wave came in the 1970's, mainly in the Arava, followed by another wave following the peace treaty with Egypt, and exemplified by Pit'hat Shalom and opening of Nitzana. The 1990s were characterized by two major lines of local development: considerable urban expansion as a result of mass immigration from the former Soviet Union and the process of privatization in the settlements. Large neighborhoods were built on the fringes of Be'er Sheva and the development towns, accompanied by expansion of private building in the Moshav's and three communities surrounding Be'er Sheva: Omer, Metar and Lehavim.


In general, there are three types of communities in the region:

Ø     Agricultural communities - The 'plains' terrain of the Negev, which, until the beginning of Jewish settlement, was outside the range of permanent settlement, became a center of new agricultural settlement. Thus man pushed the desert southward and expanded the boundary of the permanent living. Most of these communities are moshavim. In the northern mountainous Negev, the difficult topographical and climatic conditions prevented farming from taking hold in the region.


       In the few flatlands left in this region, the communities of Revivim, Mashabei Sadeh and Sde Boker were founded. These communities succeeded in developing agriculture after having begun to import their water from the north, in addition to exploiting the floodwaters of the winter. Many communities are developing in the Arava, including Kibbutz Eilot, Elipaz, Samar, Yotvata, Grofit, Lotan, Yahel, Ketora, Tzofar, Merkaz Sapir, Ein Yahav, Hatzeva, Edan and Ne'ot Hakikar, which grow vegetables sold in the other regions, and sell fresh milk products to Eilat, as well as first vegetables and winter flowers to Europe.


Small communities - an example to this type of community is the city of Yeruham, some of whose residents work in the quarries of the Big Crater and phosphorus plants in Oron. Some Mitzpe Ramon residents also depend on exploitation of the minerals in the Ramon Crater, together with workers from Arad who work in the Dead Sea Works.


       The Northern Negev city of Dimona is the largest settlement of this sort. Some of the city's residents also work at the Oron plants and some work at the Dead Sea potash plant and the Nahal Zin phosphate plants.


Ø    Urban communities - The largest community of this type is the city of Be'er Sheva, which developed from a small town in the days of the British Mandate into the administrative, commercial, industrial and cultural center of the Negev communities.

Another developing urban community is the city of Eilat, which is a thriving port and tourism center.

Industrial plants were founded in Dimona, which evolved from a mining town into a community of a strictly urban nature. Another example is Arad, which is evolving as a city of industry, road services and leisure.

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