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Beersheba ( , Be'er Sheva; ; , ; ) is the largest city in the Negevmarker desert of southern Israelmarker. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it is the seventh-largest city in Israel with a population of 186,100.

Beersheba grew in importance in the 19th century, when the Ottoman Turks built a regional police station there. The Battle of Beersheba was part of a wider British offensive in World War I aimed at breaking the Turkish defensive line from Gazamarker to Beersheba. In 1947, Bir Seb'a ( ), as it was known, was envisioned as part of the Arab state in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. When the Arabs rejected the United Nations resolution declaring Israel an independent state, the Egyptian army amassed its forces in Beersheba as a strategic and logistical base. In October 1948, the city was conquered by the Israel Defense Forces.

Beersheba has grown considerably since then. A large portion of the population is made up of Jews who immigrated from Arab countries after 1948, and has been significantly boosted since 1990 by immigrants from Ethiopiamarker and the former Soviet Unionmarker. The city is surrounded by a number of satellite towns including Omermarker, Lehavimmarker and Meitarmarker, and the Bedouin towns of Rahatmarker, Tel as-Sabimarker and Lakiyamarker. Located in the Southern Districtmarker of the country, the city is the district's administrative centre and is home to the Ben-Gurion University of the Negevmarker, the Soroka Medical Centermarker, and the Israel Sinfonietta Beersheba.

Etymology

There are several etymologies for the origin of the name "Beersheba":
  • The oath of Abraham and Abimelech (well of the oath)
  • The seven wells dug by Isaac (seven wells), though only three or four have been identified
  • The oath of Isaac and Abimelech (well of the oath)
  • The seven ewes that sealed Abraham and Abimelech's oath (well of the seven).


Be'er is the Hebrew word for well; sheva could mean "seven" or "oath" (from the Hebrew word shvu'a).

History

Prehistory

The findings unearthed at Tel Be'er Shevamarker, an archaeological site a few kilometers northeast of modern day Beersheba, suggest the region has been populated since the 4th millennium BC. The city has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries.

Biblical era

According to the Bible, Beersheba was the southernmost city of the territories actually settled by Israelites, hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba" to describe the whole kingdom. Beersheba is mentioned in the Book of Genesis in connection with Abraham the Patriarch and his pact with Abimelech. Isaac built an altar in Beersheba (Genesis 26:23–33). Jacob had his dream about a stairway to heaven after leaving Beersheba. (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7). Beersheba was the territory of the tribe of Shimon and Judah (Joshua 15:28 and 19:2). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beersheba when Jezebel ordered him killed (I Kings 19:3). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beersheba (I Samuel 8:2). Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort for his campaign against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Amos mentions the city in regard to idolatry (Amos 5:5 and 8:14).

Ottoman era

Beersheba in 1917
The last inhabitants of Tel Be'er-Sheva were the Byzantines, who abandoned the city in the 7th century. The Turkish Ottomans, who had controlled Palestine since the 16th century, took no interest in Beersheba until the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, Beersheba was portrayed by European pilgrims as a barren stretch of land with a well and a handful of Bedouin living nearby.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Ottomans built a police station in Beersheba in order to keep the Bedouin in check. They built roads and a number of small buildings from local materials which are still standing today. A town plan was created by a Swiss and a German architect, which called for a grid street pattern, a pattern which can still be seen today in Beersheba's Old City. All houses built during that period were of one storey, and the two-storey police station towered above them. Most of the residents at the time were Arabs from Hebron and the Gaza area, although a slew of Bedouin abandoned their nomadic lives and built homes in Beersheba.
Turkish railway station
During World War I, the Turks built a military railroad from the Hejaz line to Beersheba, inaugurating the station on October 30, 1915. The celebration was attended by the Turkish army commander Jamal Pasha, along with senior government officials. The train line was active until the British army took over the region.

Beersheba played an important role in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in World War I. On October 31, 1917, three months after taking Rafahmarker, General Allenby's troops breached the line of Turkish defense between Gazamarker and Beersheba. 800 soldiers of the Australian 4th and 12th Regiments of the 4th Light Horse Brigade under Brigadier General William Grant, with only horses and bayonets, charged the Turkish trenches, overran them and captured the wells of Beersheba in what has become known as the "last successful cavalry charge in British military history." On the edge of Beersheba's Old City is a Commonwealth cemetery containing the graves of British and Australian soldiers.
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British Mandate

Beersheba was a major administrative center during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine. A railway was constructed between Rafah and Beersheba in October 1917; it opened to the public in May 1918, serving the Negev and settlements sout of Mount Hebron. In 1928, at the beginning of the tension between the Jews and the Arabs over Palestine, and wide-scale rioting which left 133 Jews dead and 339 wounded, many Jews abandoned Beersheba, although some returned occasionally. After an Arab attack on a Jewish bus in 1936, which escalated into the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, the remaining Jews left.

Israeli invasion in 1948

Israeli soldiers in Beersheba, 1948
The 1947 UN Partition Plan included Beersheba in the territory allotted to the proposed Arab state as the city's population of 4,000 was primarily Arab. The Egyptian army was stationed in Beersheba in May 1948. Convinced that Beersheba was vital for the security of the Jewish state, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion gave the green light for the city to be conquered. The order called for the "conquest of Beersheba, occupation of outposts around it, [and] demolition of most of the town."Israeli Air Force bombing raids began during the night of October 18/19, 1948. The Arab residents left en masse the next day on foot and in buses. More bombing raids followed that night, and on October 21 at 4:00 in the morning, the 8th Brigade's 89th battalion and the Negev Brigademarker's 7th and 9th battalions moved in, some of the troops advancing from Mishmar HaNegevmarker junction, north of Beersheba, others from the Turkish train station and Hatzerimmarker. By 09:45, the Egyptian forces were surrounded, and Beersheba was in Israeli hands.

Around 120 Egyptian soldiers were taken prisoner, and several were executed. The remaining population amounted to 200 men and 150 women and children, who were placed in the city's police fort. On October 25, the women, children, disabled, and elderly were expelled by truck and placed over the Gaza border. One woman was shot and killed. The Egyptian POWs were sent to POW camps, and the Palestinian men were put to work cleaning, while they lived in the mosque, until the IDF was told they were supplying information to the Egyptian army, at which point they were expelled too. Muslim residents living in the city today are still are barred from conducting services in its only mosque.

The Israeli troops engaged in wholesale looting of the city, as they had done elsewhere, to the annoyance of David Ben-Gurion and Dov Shafrir, the first Custodian of Absentees Property.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel

In the 1950s, Beersheba expanded northward. Soroka hospitalmarker opened its doors in 1960, and the Negev University, later renamed Ben-Gurion University of the Negevmarker, was established in 1970. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Beersheba in 1979. In 1982, Israel airlifted a large part of the Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel, and many settled in Beersheba. There are now approximately 10,000 Ethiopian Israelis in the city, with a community center built in the style of the thatched tukuls of Ethiopia.

Suicide bombings and rocket attacks

On August 31, 2004, sixteen people were killed in two suicide bombings on buses in Beersheba for which Hamas claimed responsibility. On August 28, 2005, another suicide bomber attacked the central bus station, seriously injuring two security guards and 45 bystanders. In response to Operation Cast Lead, which began on December 27, 2008, Hamas fired multiple Grad rockets from Gaza into Beersheba.

Geography and climate

Nahal Ashan, Beersheba
Beersheba is located on the northern edge of the Negevmarker desert south-east of Tel Avivmarker and south-west of Jerusalemmarker. The city is located on the main route from the center and north of the country to Eilatmarker in the far south. The Valley of Beer Sheva has been populated since thousands of years ago due to the presence of water which travels here from the Hebron Mountains in the winter and is stored underground in vast quantities. The main river in Beersheba is Nahal Beersheva, a wadi which floods in the winter. The Kovshim and Katef streams are other important wadis which pass through the city.

Beersheba has very hot summers, with temperature up to . In the winter, the temperature at night can be as low as . The average precipitation in the city is 260 mm a yearBetween summer to winter, Beersheba is prone to sandstorms that cover the whole city in dust. 200-250 tonnes/sqkm of dust are dumped in the area. Fogs and humidity at night are also unique to Beersheba and the Negev region, occurring for some 50% of nights a year and being caused by wet air coming from the sea being trapped under hot, dry air above, a condition known as a "thermal inversion." The relative humidity in the city reaches 86% through much of August.

Demographics

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Beersheba had a population of 185,400 by the end of 2006, compared to 110,800 in a survey conducted 20 years earlier. In the 1990s, the population was substantially increased by a large influx of Russianmarker and Ethiopianmarker Jews. In 2001, the ethnic make-up of the city was 98.9% Jewish and other non-Arab, with no significant Arab population (see Population groups in Israel). In 2001, there were 86,500 males and 91,400 females living in Beersheba. The population breakdown by age was 31.8% for 19 years old or younger, 17.4% for 20–29 year olds, 19.6% for 30–44 year olds, 15.8% for 45–59 year olds, 4.0% for 60–64 year olds, and 11.4% for 65 years of age or older. The population growth rate in 2001 was 2.9%. Many people live in Beersheba for short periods of time, e.g. while studying at the university or working at the nearby army bases.

According to CBS, Beersheba had 61,016 salaried workers and 3,010 self-employed citizens in 2000. Salaried workers earned an average monthly wage of 5,223 NIS. Men earned an average monthly wage of NIS 6,661 (a real change of 5.2%) compared to NIS 3,760 for females (a real change of 3.9%). Self-employed persons had an average income of NIS 6,533. A total of 4,719 persons received unemployment benefits, and 26,469 persons received income supplements.

Economy

Negev Mall Tower
The largest employers in Beersheba are the municipality, Israel Defence Forces, Ben-Gurion Universitymarker and the Soroka Medical Centermarker. There are also a number of electronics and chemical plants including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in and around the city. A large high-tech park is also being built near the Beersheba North Railway Stationmarker. A major Israel Aerospace Industries complex is located in the main industrial zone, north of Highway 60.

The city also has three main industrial zones: Makhteshim, Emek Sara and Kiryat Yehudit - all in the southeast of the city. An additional light industrial zone is located between Kiryat Yehudit and the Old City as well as a high-tech zone located in adjacent Omermarker. A Science Park funded by the RASHI-SACTA Foundation, Beersheba Municipality and private donors is slated for completion in 2008.The tallest buildings in the city are the towers of the Rambam Squaremarker complex. Rambam Square 2 is the tallest apartment building in Israel outside of the Gush Danmarker Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area.

Local government

The Beersheba municipality was plagued for many years by an ineffectual leadership, political problems and poor financial planning. Since 2005, attention has been focused on developing parks and infrastructure. A new youth centre opened in 2005, and a new cultural centre opened in 2008. Parts of the Old City are being renovated, and after many years of financial struggle,the municipality has achieved a balanced budget.The official emblem of the municipality of Beersheba depicts an eshel (tamarisk tree), the tree planted by Abraham according to Genesis, and the observation tower connected to the municipality building.

The mayor of Beersheba is Rubik Danilovich, who was deputy mayor under Yaakov Turner.
Mayors of Beersheba
Name Took office Left office Years in office
1 David Tuviyahu 1950 1961 11
2 Ze'ev Zrizi 1961 1963 2
3 Eliyahu Nawi 1963 1986 23
4 Moshe Zilberman 1986 1989 3
5 Yitzhak Rager 1989 1997 8
6 David Bunfeld 1997 1998 1
7 Yaakov Turner 1998 2008 10
8 Rubik Danilovich 2008


Education

Zalman Aran library, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
According to CBS, Beersheba has 81 schools and a student population of 33,623: 60 elementary schools with an enrollment of 17,211, and 39 high schools with an enrollment of 16,412. Of Beersheba's 12th graders, 52.7% earned a Bagrut matriculation certificate in 2001. The city also has several private schools and Yeshivot which cater to the religious sector. In terms of higher education, Beersheba is home to one of Israel's major universities, Ben-Gurion University of the Negevmarker, which is located on an urban campus in the city. Several local colleges also operate in the city, including the Kaye Academic College of Educationmarker, the Sami Shamoon Academic College of Engineering and the Practical Engineering College of Beersheba. Also in the city is a Government college (מכללה למנהל), a technical college, and an art and performance college. Furthermore, the Israeli Air and Space college (Techni) is located in the city.

Urban development and architecture

Beersheba is divided into seventeen residential neighbourhoods in addition to the Old City and Ramot, an umbrella neighborhood of 4 sub-districts. Many of the neighbourhoods are named after letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which also have numerical value, but descriptive place names have been given to some of the newer neighborhoods. Beersheba has always been a "laboratory" for Israeli architecture. Mishol Girit, a neighborhood built in the late 1950s, was the first attempt to create an alternative to the standard public housing projects in Israel. Hashatiah (lit. "the carpet"), also known as Hashekhuna ledugma ("the model neighborhood"), was hailed by architects around the world.

Culture and tourism

Beersheba is the home base of the Israel Sinfonietta, founded in 1973. Over the years, the Sinfonietta has developed a broad repertoire of symphonic works, concerti for solo instruments and large choral productions, among them Handel's "Israel in Egypt," masses by Schubert and Mozart, Rossini's "Stabat Mater" and Vivaldi's "Gloria." World-famous artists have appeared as soloists with the Sinfonietta, including Pinhas Zuckerman, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Shlomo Mintz, Gary Karr and Paul Tortelier.In the 1970s, a memorial commemorating fallen Israeli soldiers designed by the sculptor Danny Karavan was erected on a hill northeast of the city. The Beersheba Theater opened in 1973. The Light Opera Group of the Negev, established in 1980, performs musicals in English every year.
Urban renewal projects are under way in the Old City. The Negev Museum reopened as an art museum, and an art and media center for young people was established there. A new tourist and information center, Gateway to the Negev, is scheduled to open in 2010.

Sports

Hapoel Be'er Sheva plays in the Israeli Premier League, the top tier of Israeli football, having been promoted in the 2008-2009 Liga Leumit season. The club has won the Israeli championship twice, in 1975 and 1976. It won the State Cup in 1997. Beersheba has two other local clubs, Maccabi Be'er Sheva (based in Neve Noy) and Beitar Avraham Be'er Sheva (based in the north of Dalet). Hapoel plays at the Vasermil Stadiummarker, a 14,000-capacity concrete bowl located in the Bet neighbourhood. The stadium was also used by Maccabi during their spell in Liga Leumit.

The city has the second largest wrestling center (AMI wrestling school) in Israel. The center is run by Leonid Shulman and has approximately 2,000 students most of whom are from Russian immigrant families since the origins of the club are in the Nahal Beka integration camp. Maccabi Be'er Sheva has a freestyle wrestling team, whilst Hapoel Be'er Sheva has a Greek-Romi wrestling team.

Beersheba is Israel's leading chess center. The local chess club has won many cups and national championships. It represented Israel in the European Cup and hosted the World teams championship in 2005. The chess club was founded in 1973 by Eliyahu Levant, who is still the driving spirit behind it. Beersheba has a higher percentage of grandmasters than any other city in the world, many of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union - one grandmaster per 23,188 residents.

Cricket is played under the auspices of Israeli Cricket Association. Beersheba is also home to a rugby team whose senior and youth squads have won several national titles (including the recent Senior National League 2004-2005 championship). Beersheba's tennis center, which opened in 1991, features eight lighted courts, and the Be'er Sheva (Teyman) airfield is used for gliding.

Transportation

Inter-city platforms at the Beersheba Central Bus Station
Beersheba is the central transportation hub of southern Israel, served by roads, railways and air. Beersheba is connected to Tel Avivmarker via Highway 40, the second longest highway in Israel, which passes to the east of the city and is called the Beersheba bypass because it allows travellers from the north to go to southern locations, avoiding the more congested city center. From west to east, the city is divided by Highway 25, which connects to Ashkelonmarker and the Gaza Stripmarker to the northwest, and Dimonamarker to the east. Finally, Highway 60 connects Beersheba with Jerusalemmarker and the Shoket Junction, and goes through the West Bankmarker. On the local level, a partial ring road surrounds the city from the north and east, and Road 406 (Reger Blvd.) goes through the city center from north to south.

Metrodan Beersheba, established in 2003, has a fleet of 90 buses and operates 19 lines in the city, most of which depart from the Beersheba Central Bus Station. These lines were formerly operated by the municipality as the 'Be'er Sheva Urban Bus Services'. Inter-city buses to and from Beersheba are operated by Egged, Egged Ta'avura and Metropoline.

Israel Railways operates two stations in the city that form part of the railway to Beersheba: the old Be'er Sheva North Universitymarker station, adjacent to the Ben Gurion Universitymarker and to the Soroka Medical Centermarker, and the new Be'er Sheva Centralmarker station, adjacent to the central bus station. Between the two stations, the railway splits into two, and also continues to Dimona and the Dead Seamarker factories. An extension is planned to Eilatmarker and Aradmarker.

The Be'er Sheva North Universitymarker station is the terminus of the line to Dimonamarker. All stations of Israel Railways can be accessed from Be'er Sheva using transfer stations in Tel Avivmarker and Lodmarker. Currently, the railway line to Beersheba uses a slow single-track configuration with several sharp curves limiting speed, however, its alignment is being greatly improved and the entire line converted to dual-track, a project expected to end in 2011 and significantly decrease travel time from Tel Aviv and Haifa to Beersheba, at a cost of NIS 1.885 billion.

Notable residents



International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

The following are cities and towns with which Beersheba has a town twinning agreement:





See also



References

  1. Guide to Israel, Zev Vilnay, Hamakor Press, Jerusalem, 1972, pp.309-14
  2. Z. Herzog. Beer-sheba II: The Early Iron Age Settlements. Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University and Ramot Publishing Co. Tel Aviv 1984
  3. Beersheba, Capital of the Negev Desert: Function and Internal Structure
  4. An Empire in the Holy Land: Historical Geography of the British Administration in Palestine, 1917-1929, Gideon Biger, St. Martin's Press, New York, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1994, p. 23-24
  5. An Empire in the Holy Land: Historical Geography of the British Administration in Palestine, 1917-1929, Gideon Biger, St. Martin's Press, New York, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1994, p. 119
  6. Palestine Plan of Partition Map United Nations, 1956
  7. Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, p. 467.
  8. Palestinian Bomber Kills Only Himself Near Israeli Bus Station - New York Times
  9. Rambam Square 2, Beer Sheva
  10. Beer-Sheva Municipality Dun's 100, 2006
  11. Genesis / Bereishit 21:33
  12. [http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1082108.html Magic Carpet: The Carpet-Style Patio Homes of Be'er Sheva, Haaretz
  13. Sounds from the South
  14. http://[www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-103365216.html Beersheba is king of world chess]
  15. The Camels-ASA Beersheba Rugby in Beersheba


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