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The Negev (also Negeb; , Tiberian vocalization: ) is a desert and semidesert region of southern Israelmarker. The indigenous Bedouin inhabitants of the region refer to the desert as al-Naqab ( ). The origin of the word Negev is from the Hebrew root denoting 'dry'. In the Bible the word Negev is also used for the direction 'south'.


The Negev covers more than half of Israel, over some 13,000 km² (4,700 sq mi) or at least 55% of the country's land area. It forms an inverted triangle shape whose western side is contiguous with the desert of the Sinai Peninsulamarker, and whose eastern border is the Arabahmarker valley. The Negev has a number of interesting cultural and geological features. Among the latter are three enormous, craterlike makhteshim, which are unique to the region; Makhtesh Ramonmarker, Makhtesh Gadol, and Makhtesh Katan.

The Negev is a rocky desert. It is a melange of brown, rocky, dusty mountains interrupted by wadis (dry riverbeds that bloom briefly after rain) and deep craters. It can be split into five different ecological regions: northern, western and central Negev, the high plateau and the Arabah Valley. The northern Negev, or Mediterraneanmarker zone receives 300 mm of rain annually and has fairly fertile soils. The western Negev receives 250 mm of rain per year, with light and partially sandy soils. Sand dunes can reach heights of up to 30 metres here. Home to the city of Beershebamarker, the central Negev has an annual precipitation of 200 mm and is characterized by impervious soil, allowing minimum penetration of water with greater soil erosion and water runoff. The high plateau area of Ramat HaNegev ( , The Negev Heights) stands between 370 metre and 520 metre above sea level with extreme temperatures in summer and winter. The area gets 100 mm of rain per year, with inferior and partially salty soils. The Arabah Valley along the Jordanian border stretches 180 km from Eilat in the south to the tip of the Dead Seamarker in the north. The Arabah Valley is very arid with barely 50 mm of rain annually. The Arava has inferior soils in which little can grow without irrigation and special soil additives.


The whole Negev region is incredibly arid, receiving very little rain due to its location to the east of the Sahara (as opposed to the Mediterranean which lies to the west of Israel), and extreme temperatures due to its location 31 degrees north.

The average rainfall total from June through October is zero.

Average climate of Beershebamarker Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average maximum temperature (°C) 17 17 20 26 29 31 33 33 31 28 24 18
Average minimum temperature (°C) 7 7 9 13 16 18 21 21 19 17 12 8



Nomadic life in the Negev dates back at least 4,000 years and perhaps as much as 7,000 years. The first urbanized settlements were established by a combination of Canaanite, Amalekite, and Edomite groups circa 2000 BC. Pharaonic Egypt is credited with introducing copper mining and smelting in both the Negev and the Sinaimarker between 1400 and 1300 BC.


According to the Hebrew Bible, the northern Negev was inhabited by the Tribe of Judah and the southern Negev by the Tribe of Shimon. The Negev was later part of the Kingdom of Solomon and then part of the Kingdom of Judah.

In the 9th century BC, development and expansion of mining in both the Negev and Edom (modern Jordan) coincided with the rise of the Assyrian Empire. Beershebamarker was the region's capital and a center for trade in the 8th century BC. Small settlements of Israelites in the areas around the capital and later further afield were existent between 1020 and 928 BC.


Ruins in the Negev.
The 4th century BC arrival of the Nabateans resulted in the development of irrigation systems that supported at least five new urban centers: Avdatmarker, Mamshitmarker, Shivtamarker, al-Khalasa (or Elusa), and Nitzanamarker. The Nabateans controlled the trade and spice route between their capital Petramarker and the Gazan seaports. Nabatean currency and the remains of red and orange potsherds, identified as a trademark of their civilization, have been found along the route, remnants of which are also still visible.

Nabatean control of southern Palestine ended when the Roman empire annexed their lands in 106 AD. The population, largely made up of Arabian nomads and Nabateans, remained largely tribal and independent of Roman rule, with an animist belief system.

Byzantines and Romans

Byzantine rule in the 4th century AD introduced Christianity to the population. Agricultural-based cities were established and the population grew exponentially.

The Bedouin: population and history 1000 A.D to 1948

 (See section on Changing Ways of Life)

Nomadic tribes ruled the Negev largely independently and with a relative lack of interference for the next thousand years. What is known of this time is largely derived from oral histories and folk tales of tribes from the Wadi Musamarker and Petra areas in present-day Jordanmarker

The Bedouins of the Negev historically survived chiefly on sheep and goat husbandry. Scarcity of water and of permanent pastoral land required them to move constantly. The Bedouin in years past established few permanent settlements, although some were built, leaving behind remnants of stone houses called 'baika.' In 1900 The Ottoman Empire established an administrative center for southern Palestine at Beersheba including schools and a railway station. The authority of the tribal chiefs over the region was recognized by the Ottomans.. A railroad connected it to the port of Rafahmarker. By 1922 its population was 2,356, including 98 Jews and 235 Christians.. In contrast in 1914 the Turkish authorities estimated the nomadic population at 55,000.

Prior to 1948 Censuses mentioned five major tribes in the Negev; the Tayaha, Tarabn, Azazma, Jabarat and Hanajra.

The tribal culture and way of life has changed dramatically recently, and today hardly any Bedouin citizens of Israel are nomadic.

The Bedouin in Israel 1948-present

Between 1948 and 1967, the new State of Israel imposed a military administration over Arabs of the region and designated 85% of the Negev "State Land." All Bedouin habitation on this newly-declared State Land was retroactively termed illegal and "unrecognized." Now that Negev lands the Bedouin had inhabited upwards of 500 years was designated State Land, the Bedouin were no longer able to fully engage in their sole means of self-subsistence – agriculture and grazing. The government then forcibly concentrated these Bedouin tribes into the Siyag triangle of Beershebamarker, Aradmarker and Dimonamarker [20899]. Today, at least 75,000 citizens live in 40 unrecognized villages.

In order to reinforce the invisible Siyag fence, the State employed a reining mechanism, the Black Goat Law of 1950. The Black Goat Law curbed grazing so as to prevent land erosion by prohibiting the grazing of goats outside one's recognized land holdings. Since few Bedouin territorial claims were recognized, most grazing was thereby rendered illegal. (Both Ottoman and British land registration processes failed to reach into the Negev region. Most Bedouin who had the option, preferred not to register their lands as this would mean being taxed.) Those whose land claims were recognized found it almost impossible to keep their goats within the periphery of their newly limited range, and into the 1970’s and ‘80’s, only a small portion of the Bedouin were able to continue to graze their goats. Instead of migrating with their goats in search of pasture, the majority of the Bedouin migrated in search of wage-labor.[20900]

In 1979 Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon declared a 1,500 square kilometer area in the Negev, a protected nature reserve, rendering a major portion of the Negev almost entirely out of bounds for Bedouin herders. In conjunction, he established the 'Green Patrol,' [20901] the ‘environmental paramilitary unit’ with the mission of fighting Bedouin ‘infiltration’ into national Israeli land by preventing Bedouin from creating facts on the land and grazing their animals. During Sharon’s tenure as Minister of Agriculture (1977-1981), the Green Patrol removed 900 Bedouin encampments and cut goat herds by more than 1/3.[20902] Today the black goat is nearly extinct, and Bedouin in Israel do not have enough access to black goat hair to weave tents. Denied access to their former sources of sustenance, severed from the possibility of access to water, electricity, roads, education, and health care in the unrecognized villages, and trusting in government promises that they would receive services if they moved, in the 1970s and 80's, tens of thousands of Bedouin resettled in 7 legal towns constructed by the government.(Falah, Ghazi. “The Spatial Pattern of Bedouin Sedentarization in Israel,” GeoJournal, 1985 Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 361-368.) However, the towns lacked any business districts and the urban townships have long been rife with the social breakdown resulting from near-total joblessness, crime and drugs.[20903]

Contemporary Negev

Today, the Negev is home to some 379,000 Jews and some 175,000 Bedouin. At least 80,000 Bedouin citizens live in unrecognized villages under threat of demolition; these citizens are subject to removal at any time via the Removal of Intruders Law. [20904]
The region's largest city and administrative capital is Beershebamarker (pop. 185,000), in the north. At its southern end is the Gulf of Aqabamarker and the resort city of Eilatmarker. It contains several development towns include Dimonamarker, Aradmarker, Mitzpe Ramonmarker, as well as a number of small Bedouin cities, including Rahatmarker and Tel as-Sabimarker. There are also several kibbutzim, including Revivimmarker and Sde Bokermarker; the latter became the home of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, after his retirement from politics.

The desert is home to the Ben-Gurion University of the Negevmarker, whose faculties include the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research and the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies, both located on the Midreshet Ben-Gurionmarker campus adjacent to Sde Bokermarker.

Today, the Negev has an enormous Israeli military presence and is home to many of the Israel Defense Forces major bases.

Contemporary Environmental Issues

85% of the Negev is used by the Israel Defense Forces for training purposes.[20905]. In the remaining portion of the Negev available for civilian purposes, a large number of citizens live together in close proximity to a range of types of hazardous infrastructure, which includes a nuclear reactor, 22 agro and petrochemical factories, an oil terminal, closed military zones, quarries, a toxic waste incinerator Ramat Hovavmarker, cell towers, a power plant, several airports, a prison, and 2 rivers of open sewage. [20906]
The Tel Aviv municipality dumps its excess waste in the Negev Desert, at Dudaim Dump. In 2005 the Manufacturers Association of Israel established an authority to begin marketing a project to move 60 of the 500 industrial enterprises currently active in the Tel Aviv region, to the Negev.

The Ramat Hovavmarker toxic waste facility was planted in the area of Beer Shevamarker and Wadi el-Na'am in 1979 because the area was perceived as invulnerable to leakage. However, within a decade, cracks were found in the rock beneath Ramat Hovav.[20907] From its inception, the facility developed a history of accidents and closures; in the past, regional councils regularly discovered that the evaporation pools of Ramat Hovav's Machteshimmarker chemical factory had overflowed or that waste was leaking from drainage pipes into their reservoir. Nearly ten years after its establishment, outcrops of the chalk under Ramat Hovav showed fractures potentially leading to serious soil and groundwater contamination in the future. [20908]

In 2004, the Israeli Ministry of Health released Ben Gurion University research findings explicating the health problems in a 20 km vicinity of Ramat Hovav. The study, funded in large part by Ramat Hovav, found higher rates of cancer and mortality for the 350,000 people in the area, amounting to a public health crisis. Prematurely released to the media by an unknown source, the preliminary study was publicly discredited; however its finalconclusions – that Bedouin and Jewish residents near Ramat Hovav are significantly more susceptible than the rest of the population to miscarriages, severe birth defects, and respiratory diseases – passed a peer review several months later.
The Jewish National Fund introduced its Blueprint Negev in 2005, a $600 million project aimed at attracting 500,000 new settlers to the Negev and constructing new settlements to accommodate them. The project says it will increase the Negev's population by 250,000 new residents by 2013, improving transportation infrastructure, adding businesses and employment opportunities, preserving water resources and protecting the environment. The Blueprint Negev's planned artificial desert river, swimming pools and golf courses raise concerns among environmentalists given Israel's water shortage. The main thrust of critics' argument is that the appropriate response to overpopulation is not to recruit hundreds of thousands of additional settlers, and the answer to over-development in the north is not to build up the last open spaces in the second most-densely crowded country in the developed world; rather what is required is an inclusive plan for the green vitalization of existing population centers in the Negev, investment in long-awaited service-provision in Bedouin villages, clean-up of its many toxic industries (such as Ramat Hovavmarker), and the development of a viable economic plan focusing on creating job options for the unemployed rather than promoting an influx of new immigrants and creating jobs for them.

Solar power

The Negev Desert and the surrounding area, including the Arava Valley, are the sunniest parts of Israel and little of this land is arable, which is why it has become the center of the Israeli solar industry. David Faiman, a world expert on solar energy, feels the energy needs of Israel's future could be met by building solar energy plants in the Negev. As director of Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, he operates one of the largest solar dishes in the world.

A 250 MW solar park in Ashalimmarker, an area in the northern Negev, was in the planning stages for over five years, but it is not expected to produce power before 2013. In 2008 construction began on three solar power plants near the city; two thermal and one photovoltaic.

The Rotem Industrial Complex outside of Dimona, Israelmarker has dozens of solar mirrors that focus the sun's rays on a tower that in turn heats a water boiler to create steam, turning a turbine to create electricity. Luz II, Ltd. plans to use the solar array to test new technology for the three new solar plants to be built in California for Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

See also


  1. Mariam Shahin. Palestine: A Guide. (2005) Interlink Books. ISBN 156656557
  2. J.M. Tebes (2008) Centro y periferia en el mundo antiguo. El Negev y sus interacciones con Egipto, Asiria, y el Levante en la Edad del Hierro (1200-586 A.D.) ANEM 1. SBL - CEHAO.
  3. Mariam Shahin. Palestine:A Guide. (2005) Interlink Books. ISBN 156656557
  4. Mariam Shahin. Palestine:A Guide. (2005) Interlink Books. ISBN 156656557
  5. Palestine, Report and General Abstracts of the Census of 1922, October 1922, J.B. Barron, Superintendent of the Census, page 10.
  6. ibid, Census of Palestine 1922,'Explanatory note',page 4 .
  7. Gali Berger. "Sin of waste / Municipal garbage that's out of sight, out of mind"; Haaretz, October 12, 2005
  8. Hadas Manor. "Manufacturers promoting transfer of 60 factories to Negev"; Globes - August 11, 2005
  9. Rebecca Manski. "The Bedouin as Worker-Nomad"; Bustan, 2005
  10. Sarov, Batia, and peers at Ben Gurion University: “Major congenital malformations and residential proximity to a regional industrial park including a national toxic waste site: An ecological study;” Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source 2006, 5:8; Bentov et al., licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
  12. Daniel Orenstein. "When an ecological community is not"; March 25, 2007
  13. Water use concerns
  14. Daniel Orenstein and Steven Hamburg. "The JNF's Assault on the Negev"; The Jerusalem Report, November 28, 2005
  15. Rebecca Manski. A Desert Mirage: The Rising Role of US Money in Negev Development;News from Within October/November 2006
  16. Ohalah resolution
  17. Neohasid's Save the Negev Campaign
  18. Head of Kibbutz Movement: We will not be discriminated against by the government, Ehud Zion Waldoks, Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2008.
  19. Giant solar plants in Negev could power Israel's future, John Lettice, The Register, January 25, 2008
  20. The solar vote, Yosef I. Abramowitz and David Lehreer, Haaretz, November 2, 2008.
  21. Solar energy could raise electricity prices Haaretz, 6 August 2008
  22. Calif. solar power test begins — in Israeli desert, Associated Press, June 12, 2008; accessed December 23, 2008.
  23. Israel site for California solar power test, Ari Rabinovitch, Reuters, June 11, 2008.
  24. [1]

External links

This article is about the southern region of Israel. For the light machine gun see IMI Negev.

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