The Negev

The Negev is one of the Jewish Nation’s safe havens” David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s First Prime Minister


The Negev, meaning “South” in Biblical Hebrew, extends from Beersheva in the north to the port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba in the south, with Jordan on its eastern border and Egypt on its southern border. The Negev has a deep history. It is the area where the Jewish nation’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, looked after their flocks. It is filled with dirt, rocks and canyons, as well as breathtaking landscapes, waterfalls, caves, archeological sites, cities and craters. Covering an area of 4,600 square miles, the Negev comprises over half the land mass, or 66% (over 6,700 square miles) of the State of Israel. Its elevation ranges from a height of 3,400 feet above sea level to 1,150 feet below sea level.

Five different ecological regions fall within the area of the Negev. These range from the “Mediterranean Zone,” with fairly fertile soils to inferior soils where little can grow without special soil additives. People originally thought the Negev was virtually uninhabitable, but as Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion realized “The Negev offers the greatest opportunity to accomplish everything from the very beginning.”

In 2005, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon restored David Ben-Gurion’s vision when he committed the government to a project titled “Negev 2015”. This incorporates a comprehensive $3.6 billion, 10-year plan to boost growth and development in the region, including infrastructure, housing, education, tourism and industry.

Critical Facts:

  • The Negev is mainly inhabited by Jews and Bedouins. 14.3% of Israel’s population currently resides in the southern part of the country. This includes 14.6% Jews. (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2007)
  • For centuries the Negev has been ‘home’ to Bedouins, who in recent years have increasingly settled into more permanent homes and left their nomadic lifestyle. Much of these buildings have been done illegally.  
  • Many Arabs want to use the Negev to divide Israel and connect areas of the Judean and Hevron Hills to Egypt and Gaza.
  • The growth rate of the population of the Negev has been negative since 1996 and continues to decline. National priority has been given to the Negev. The aim is to increase the population in the region from 535,000 in 2005 to 900,000 by 2015.
  • Many of the current IDF bases from the center of the country are expected to move to the Negev. This will have a positive influence on the development of the region.
  • Most of the land in the Negev is state owned. The land available for purchasing through the Israel Land Fund is mostly for agricultural purposes.

Southern Highlights:

  • David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister made his home in Kibbutz Sde Boker, in the Negev. The hut he used to live is a museum dedicated to his legacy.
  • The world’s largest solar power station is being planned in the Negev by Ben Gurion University together with the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research in Sde Boker.
  • The Negev has an arid and semi-arid climate with an average rainfall of between 2-6 inches annually.
  • Israel, through the Negev, is internationally renowned for combating the desert and preventing desertification of fertile lands. The Negev’s water and soil conservation programs have become models in sustainable land management worldwide.
  • The Negev Foundation is recognized for its promotion of desert agricultural innovations.
  • In 1959 Simcha Blass, considered the father of modern drip irrigation, developed the first drip irrigation system to irrigate Kibbutz Hatzerim, eight kilometers from Beer Sheva. He was also the person most responsible for drawing up initial plans to convey waters to the Negev from 1939.
  • Unlike other areas were reclaimed waters is poured into the sea, the Negev relies to a large extent on recycled water piped in from Tel Aviv. This is used mainly for agriculture and irrigation. Saline water from underground reservoirs is used for certain crops and plants.
  • The Negev is home to high quality educational institutions, such as Ben Gurion University and Sapir College, that attract thousands of students each year.
  • Four ancient Nabatean towns in the Negev have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Facts of Interest

  • Farmers use the year-round sunlight and advanced irrigation systems to produce fine crops of grain, fodder, fruit and vegetables. The Arava, on the eastern border of the Negev, produces over 90% of Israel’s melon exports.
  • The Negev has abundant prehistoric remains and remnants of early historic settlements. These include flint arrowheads dating to the Late Stone Age (c. 7000 BCE). Tel Arad, in the Eastern Negev, is the site of a biblical town that is one of the earliest known urban settlements
  • The Negev’s natural resources include potash, bromine, magnesium, as well as copper that is mined at Timna and natural gas at Rosh Zohar.
  • The Negev has six cities with Beer Sheva, known as the capital of the Negev, the largest. It has seven local councils and ten regional councils.
  • The town of Arad is popular amongst people suffering from asthma and allergies as it contains clean, dry air.
  • Kibbutz Yotvata in the Negev is one of Israel’s major dairies, and attracts visitors year round.
  • A prime feature of the Negev is its erosion craters (or Makteshim in Hebrew), surrounded by high cliffs. One of the best known of these is Maktesh Ramon. The craters were created by erosion of upward-folded strata or anticlines, together with horizontal stresses.
  • The Negev is set to become a world center of an important component used in the manufacturing of tires. An Israeli company based in the Negev, Dimona Silica Industries (DSI) has found a use for silica or silicon dioxide, which until now has been considered a waste product. DSI has developed an innovative way of turning silica found in the region from a solid form into liquid.