What is the Negev?
The Negev is located in southern Israel - from north of Beersheva to Eilat on the Red Sea. The Negev comprises 60% of Israel's land and only 8% of the population! Though it is a desert, there are many green fields and even agriculture throughout the Negev.
What cities are in the Negev?
Beersheva is the largest city in the Negev with over 200,000 residents. Eilat and Arad are two other cities which many of you have probably heard of. Eilat is a fun resort town and is as far as one can get from the center of Israel. Arad is about 30 minutes northeast of Beersheva and is also close to the Dead Sea and Masada. Other cities include Sderot, Netivot, Yerucham and Dimona (20 minutes south of Beersheva). Sde Boker is a well known kibbutz in the Negev (thanks to Ben Gurion!) and Mitzpe Ramon is a small town.
Why live in the Negev?
Zionism! As only 8% of Israelis live in this huge piece of land, this is the last empty space under Jewish sovereignty. Israel's frontier! If you want to have a small impact on the State of Israel, this is the place.
Another reason to live in the Negev is quality of life. Besides Beersheva, every city and town in the Negev has a relatively small population (under 100,000 residents). A rule of thumb - the further you are from Israel's center, the less expensive the housing will be. Renting an apartment in Eilat, Arad, a kibbutz or moshav will be a lot cheaper than in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
What about transportation?
If you don't have a car, there are frequent buses from Beersheva to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. There is a new highway that goes around Beersheva - saving 20 minutes of driving through the city. The Trans-Israel Highway ("Road 6") ends just north of Beersheva and will one day go past Beersheva to other Negev towns. This highway is connecting the Negev to the center of the country and allows Israelis to live in the south and work in the center. Israel's train system goes as far south as Dimona.
What else is going on in the Negev?
The Israeli government and the Israel Defence Forces have begun building Ir Ha-Bahadim ("Army Training City"). The idea is to locate all of the IDF's training bases into one large complex. Today, they are scattered throughout the country and most of them were built during the British Mandate or in the early days of the state. Only 30 minutes south of Beersheva, Ir Ha-Bahadim will increase the Negev's population and will improve the Negev's infrastructure. Plans include a train station with regular transportation to Beersheva.
The Russian aliyah of the 90's significantly increased the population of the Negev. You'll hear more Russian than English throughout the Negev! French immigrants are buying houses in Eilat (which is full of tourists these days).
Or Movement is doing lots to encourage growth in the Negev. They're bringing Israelis and olim to new and existing towns and settlements, renovating the Old City of Beersheva and encouraging investment throughout the Negev and Galilee.
Ok, now tell me the part my aliyah representative isn't telling me.
Every silver lining has a touch of grey. (10 points if you know who sang that!) Eilat has its share of issues. As the most remote city in Israel, anyone wanting to disappear for a while heads down to Eilat. In fact, the mayor of Eilat has complained to the courts that judges often send defendants and other "bad elements" to Eilat. During the summer, Eilat is full of young Israelis - most of whom come to have a fun time and not bother anyone.
And then there are the development towns. Sderot, Netivot, Dimona and others were founded in the 1950's to expand the population of Israel's periphery and ease the pressure on Tel Aviv and the center of the country. Israel's population grew exponentially in its first years. Today these towns are still struggling to build an economic base. They're not nearly as crime-ridden and dangerous as their American and European counterparts but its not kibbutz life either. Unemployment is usually higher than in the rest of Israel and social workers have their hands full. Intel and other hi-tech companies have opened research & development parks in the northern Negev and this is slowly improving things.
Here are some cool places I've found in the Negev..
Ashalim is a small village not far south of Beer Sheva. We were in the area and needed a place to stay for the night and we
found "The Sculpture Garden" and gave it a try. Wow! The nicest guesthouse ("bed and breakfast") I've ever seen. The
owner, Margalit, is an artist who specializes in sculpturing. Our room (bedroom + family room and bathroom) was in the middle
of her scupture gallery. One family per night can stay there -- so you get personal attention and have the opportunity to spend
time with this amazing woman. As soon as we got there, we were invited to a gorgeous room with art everywhere and were
served delicious tea. We sat and chatted for over an hour.
The interior design of the guesthouse was out of this world - from candles to the furniture to the ornaments on the walls. When
we woke up, we were treated to a delicious breakfast. After breakfast, we went on a tour of the art gallery. Margalit answered
our questions and there's no way not to be impressed with her work. We said goodbye and headed on our way. We'll never
forget the night we spent in Ashalim! Above is a QuickTime VR of The Sculpture Garden. There's a panorama photo version of it
In the 1950's, David Ben-Gurion visited Sde Boker in the Negev and soon afterwards moved there with his wife Paula. He knew
then that Israel's challenge was and is to settle and grow the Negev - making Israel's desert bloom. Today Sde Boker is a
community -- a village, a field school, a tourist attraction and much more. There are dozens of hiking and driving trails in
the area. We did the well known Ein Ovdat hike - a short walk and you're at a spring which you'd never guess was there.
The top photo (and QuickTime VR) is one many gorgeous views from Sde Boker.
David Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula are buried in Sde Boker at a location overlooking a breathtaking panorama.
When I was on a few high school programs in the
late-80's, we visited Sde Boker. We visited Sde Boker on our own in the 90's. During my visit in 2005, I couldn't help but notice
how the place had grown and developed. Everything from the accomodations to the nature reserve office where you buy 23
shekel ($5) tickets to enter the nature reserve looked new and the people who worked there knew what they were doing. This
wasn't the "let's see how we'll do things" Israel of the 80's yet everyone was polite and helpful -- when we checked-in, the
person behind the front desk told us we should go speak to a guide who would help us plan our hike. We did and I appreciated
the 5 minutes of his time. I'm pretty sure the animal in the photo is an Ibex - they can be seen all over Sde Boker!
Our room had a view we'd never had before and next time we visit we know of at least two more trails we want to try!
45 minutes southwest of Beersheva is an area of a few small villages called "Pitchat Nitzana" -- "The Nitzana Region". 100
families live there and they're looking to grow. A group of 10 families are looking to build a new village, Beer Milca, on a sand dune
with a 360 degree view of the Negev and into Egypt's Sinai Desert. While they wait to move into their homes (ain't easy to start a village!), they live in Kmahim, a desert village of
25 or so families. We visited and inquired about it - I've always dreamed of joining a "garin" - a small group of people who
found a town or village in Israel. There are two QuickTime panoramas above and large panorama photos
here and here.
Who knows, maybe we'll be there sometime in 2006!
I have lots of respect for those who move to Israel's periphery with dreams and goals to build something from nothing.
Nitzana is a youth village in the Negev that was founded in 1987. My high school program visited Nitzana during Passover 1988. A bunch of mobile homes on an almost barren hilltop. We spent a week on this sand dune southwest of Beersheva, minutes from
the Egyptian border. We visited in January 2006. Only a few mobile homes remained - Nitzana matured into a mid-sized campus. The above photo is a view about two kilometers from Nitzana. I wanted to include Nitzana within a desert scape.
If you have QuickTime installed, you'll see a bigger 3D panorama that you can move around with your mouse.
What's new in the Negev?
As of October 2008.. The Israel Air Force moved a major base from the Ben Gurion Airport to Nebatim, just outside of Arad. Groundbreaking has begun on "Ir Ha-Bahadim" (IDF Training City). A taxi driver told us that whereas a year ago, there were lots of apartments available for rent in Beersheva, today there are none left! Army officers and their families have already started buying homes in Beersheva. Presumably, this will spread to other communities in the area over the next year. We'll see.
Though I no longer live in the Negev, I'm still a fan! I respect those who live there - Israel needs to populate the Negev. Its not easy. I hope the train will one day make it to Arad and Eilat.
If you're interested in Israel, visit my other related pages...
Israel Culture in Israel
Arad Eilat The Negev Kibbutz Ruhama The Israel Trail Jerusalem in the Snow
Jerusalem during Passover 2009