The southern district includes the southern portion of the coastal plain including the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, as well as the vast area of the Negev Desert. Sixty percent of the land of Israel is desert, and a large proportion of that land is found in the Negev, with the smaller portion being located in the Judean Desert. The Negev is divided into what is known as the Northern Negev, with its cities of Be’er Sheva and Arad, and the Negev proper, which together with the Arava, extends all the way down to the modern port city of Eilat. In between lies Dimona with its nuclear production and solar farms.
Be’er Sheva is fondly known as the opportunity capital of Israel, and the history of the city stretches back to the time of our forefather Abraham. In fact, Be’er Sheva is named after the well that Abraham dug in this area. It is the capital of the Negev and of the southern district of Israel, with the city itself having more than 220,000 residents and 750,000 people being included in the sub district of Be’er Sheva. The modern city was built by immigrants from 70 different countries, and to this day its residents come from a wide variety of communities. The demographic of the city's population is unique, being one of the youngest communities in Israel, with close to fifty percent of the residents being under the age of 40. The city boasts a thriving and growing university with close to 30,000 students, including the highest rate of students studying engineering in the entire country.
In terms of population size, Be'er-Sheva is the seventh largest city in Israel, although in terms of the size of its territory, it takes second place. The city covers 117.5 square kilometers/ 45.5 square miles, which is more than double the footprint of the city of Tel Aviv. Because of this, the district of Beer Sheva is highly significant because of the available land, and is important both for investors and entrepreneurs in this, the “startup nation”.
The sub district of Ashkelon has more than half a million residents, with Ashkelon being the closest city to Gaza. This district also includes the cities of Ashdod and Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi and Sderot. In ancient times this territory was occupied by the Philistines who were one of the bitter enemies of Israel at the time of King David and Solomon. Because of this, Ashdod hosts the world's only Philistine Museum. Ashdod has thriving cultural institutions and a rich variety of musical and sporting activities and education.
The ancient history of Ashkelon can be attested to by the finding of one of the most ancient arched entrances to a city which dates back to approximately 1750 BCE, to the time of our forefather Abraham. Today Ashkelon is popular among French and Russian speaking immigrants and has a large villa area close to the popular and bustling marina where many go to enjoy a meal by the water. In recent years the city has seen a great deal of investment and expansion.
The planned city of Ashdod boasts the largest port in Israel, and is the sixth largest city in Israel. It is located 20km/ 12 miles to the north of Ashkelon and has a population of around 225,000 people. Fascinatingly, the largest Moroccan and Karaite Jewish communities in Israel are found in Ashdod, as is the largest Georgian Jewish community in the world. Eighty five percent of the new immigrants who choose to settle in Ashdod are from the former Soviet Union. There is a beautiful 20 kilometer/12-mile stretch of sand dunes on the southern outskirts of Ashdod that is known as the Ashdod-Nitzanim Sand Dune Nature Reserve.
Eilat is located at the southernmost tip of Israel, and borders Egypt to the south west, and Jordan to the north east. It is located on what is known as the Gulf of Eilat, or in Jordan as the Gulf of Aqaba, on the northernmost tip of the Red Sea. Famous as a tourist destination, Eilat has a new international airport and a busy port. Israel's southernmost city has a population of more than 52,000 inhabitants, which is usually swelled by large numbers of domestic and international tourists. Eilat’s unique location is adjacent to the Egyptian resort city of Taba to the south, the Jordanian port city of Aqaba to the east, and is even within sight of Haql in Saudi Arabia, across the gulf to the southeast.
Eilat has a dry desert climate with temperatures often being in excess of 40 °C/104 °F in the summer, and 21 °C/70 °F in winter, with the water temperatures maintaining a range of between 20 and 26 °C/ 68 and 79 °F. Eilat averages three hundred and sixty sunny days a year. This is the place for you if you enjoy the heat!
The vast majority of Eilat's permanent population are Jews; around ninety six percent. However, Eilat has a large number of foreign workers, who work as caregivers, hotel workers and in construction. Eilat also has a growing Israeli Arab population, while many wealthy Jordanians and Egyptians like to visit Eilat in the summer months.
There is a campus of Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Eilat with one thousand one hundred students, as well as a Field School on the outskirts of Eilat. Scuba diving among the corals or dolphins are favoured pastimes in the most southern city in Israel. For the more spiritual or adventurous, the Timnah National Park - with what could well be the copper mines of King Solomon - and the Tabernacle Model are a must.
Arad is located on the border of the Negev and the Judean Deserts, 25 kilometres/ 16 miles west of the Dead Sea and 45 kilometres/ 28 miles east of Beersheba. The diverse population of over 25,000 includes Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, secular and religious, as well as Bedouins, Black Hebrews and new immigrants.
Arad was founded in November 1962 as an Israeli development town and has the honour of being the first planned city in Israel. Arad's population grew significantly with the waves of immigration, or Aliyah, from the former Soviet Union. Ancient Arad can be visited outside the city at the Nation Park of Tel Arad, which has a fascinating history. There is also a domestic airfield and even Israel's first legal race circuit. The city also boasts an annual summer music festival.
There are also smaller desert settlements in the Negev, which up until 1946 was almost devoid of Jewish inhabitation. In order to prevent the Negev being written out of the land of Israel as was stipulated by the Morrison Grady plan of July 1946 for the division of Palestine, the pre-state institutions decided to greatly increase the numbers of Jewish settlements in the Negev. After the sunset of the fast of Yom Kippur on October 6th 1946, four hundred pioneers reached eleven appointed destinations, establishing eleven settlements simultaneously on this night.
These eleven "Points" of the Negev are named Kedmah and Galon in the north-east, Shoval and Mishmar ha-Negev a little further south but still to the east; Nevatim and Hatzerim near Be’ersheva, and Urim to the west, near Gevulot; and, finally, the four "Points": Tekuma, Be'eri, Kefar Darom, and Nirim, bordering the Gaza Strip. During the War of Independence, these pioneers defended the new born Jewish State against the Egyptian armies. Since that time, they have turned vast areas of yellow desert into green pastures.
David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime Minister, had a very strong vision for the Negev desert, believing that her development was crucial to Israel’s survival. He had a home in Sde Boker and was buried there. You can visit the little museum and memorial.
The 200mm line, as it is known, is just above Be’er Sheva and represents the line below which the land does not receive enough rainfall for traditional agriculture. Thus, up until modern day agricultural innovations and technologies, it was very hard to farm south of this line. However, in ancient times, a nomadic group of people lived in this area were known as the Nabateans. They lived from trading precious spices along the spice route that is today recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. They would travel from Oman with their caravans of camels carrying precious wares that included frankincense and fragrant perfumes, all the way to the port of Gaza. These valuable goods would be exported all the way across the sea to Rome. In fact, the mother of King Herod the Great was a Nabathean princess!
The Nabatheans had three main rules; not to drink alcohol, not to build houses and not to grow crops in a fixed location because these rules made it very difficult for rulers to control them. However, during the late Roman Period, they began to build very large homes in this region, the remains of which can still be visited in Avdat, Shivta and others. What is most notable about these locations is their use of ancient water technology, which they used to grow food and provide water for their settlements. We could say that it was the first use of agricultural innovation in the desert; almost 2000 years ago. Because such a large portion of the land of Israel is the Negev desert, this has forced modern day Israelis to be innovative in order to increase the amount of land that can be used for agriculture. Consequently, much of the agricultural innovation that Israel is famous for comes from the desert; including drip irrigation, which gives a specific amount of water and nutrients to each plant. In some locations, strawberries are grown at hand height to facilitate picking, and owls are used to control unwanted populations of mice in order to reduce the use of pesticides.
In the desert tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, carrots and olives can be grown, to name just a few examples. A fascinating fact; when fruits and vegetables are given brine water, the plant is forced to fight against the salt, which actually makes the produce even sweeter!
Today a modern day nomadic people dominate the desert landscape: the Bedouins. They have two types of settlements, the first are recognised by the State and have homes and modern infrastructure provided by the state. Then there are those that are not recognized, without modern infrastructure, where they live in tents and makeshift structures.
The three makhteshim, or large craters, including the heart shaped Makhtesh ha Gadol, or Big Crater, define the landscape of the Negev.