Be’ersheva, Eilat and the Negev Desert Travel Overview
The land expanse from Be’ersheva to Eilat forms the Negev Desert triangle. The north and northwestern region may have limited rainfall but are excellent for agriculture and support many of the farms, whether the kibbutz collective type or the semi-collective moshav style most of which were established over the past 60 years. During winters with average rainfall or beyond one can watch the greening of the parched fields.
About half of the area of Israel is desert. There are two deserts in the country: The small one, is known as the Judean Desert, is created by the mountain ridge of the Judean Hills while the second and much larger desert, the Negev, is the main desert of Israel. It covers all of the southern half of the country, and it is part of the worldwide deserts expanses which are found around the 30 degrees latitude north and south of the equator.
While mostly a rocky desert, the Negev has some sand dunes on its north-west and in small locations within the center and east. As you travel south, the annual rainfall declines. In Be’er Sheva, the northern edge of the desert there is approximately 200 mm of rain while further south in Mitzpe Ramon approximately 130 mm of rain falls annually. The most southern point in Israel, the Eilat Mountains, receives only 25 mm of rain on average.
Today the ancient city of Be’ersheva is a thriving city with some 200,000 residents and serves as the Negev capital. The city boasts the Soroka Medical Center, Ben Gurion University and a well developed industrial infrastructure. Sixty years ago, immediately after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence this former Beduin trading post town was earmarked for major development by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion who believed the Negev was the gateway to the future success of the Jewish State. Much of the massive immigration of the 1950s, in particular Jews from Arab/Muslem countries settled in and developed the town. Through the 1970s and again in the 1990s Russian Jews arrived as did Ethiopians in the last two decades.
Highlights include Hatzerim Airforce Museum-The Israeli Air Force museum showcases more than 150 planes on display and a museum full of history and artifacts.
The Tel Be’er Sheva National Park is UNESCO World Heritage archaeological park believed to be the remains of old Biblical Be’er Sheva. It is preserved and accessible to guests.
On the economic front Be’ersheva is Israel’s major manufacturing center in the south and is connected to Israel’s main port at Ashdod in less than an hour’s time by an efficient highway system. These two cities are the major pillars of Ben Gurion’s plan for moving the center of the country southwards through increased development, transportation and communications.
Be’ersheva and the Bible
Be’ersheva is mentioned in Genesis of the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh) where Abraham and Isaac dug wells and formed alliances by oath with the Philistine King Avimelekh. Seven sheep were set aside, hence the term “beer” meaning “well” and “sheva” which is the same root for “oath” and “seven”. Other references to Be’ersheva are made throughout the Biblical narrative.
Eilat and the Negev Desert
One traverses the entire Negev from north to south arriving at Eilat (pop. 47,000), Israel’s southern port city on the Red Sea established in the mid-1950s and serving as the gateway to Africa and the Far East. Eilat is mentioned in the Bible, and in particular the region was known for the development of Etzion-Geber, King Solomon’s southern port whose archeological remains straddle the border region with Jordan. The port was used by later conquerors of the Land of Israel. Situated between the Elot Mountains and the sea, one can go hiking north of the city, take a boat ride, swim and scuba dive or enjoy the hotel and night life in this seaside resort.
But from Beersheva to Eilat is half the distance of the State of Israel running north – south. To the northeast there are three major makhteshim or “craters” with wonderful hiking paths as exist throughout much of the Negev. Development towns established in the 1950s are scattered throughout the landscape in especially in the north with Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim situated between Beersheva and the Gaza Strip while Arad, Dimona and Yerucham are to the east. In the south central Negev overlooking Makhtesh Ramon we find Mitzpe Ramon. Except for the mainly agricultural communities lining the Arava highway bordering Jordan there is little human habitation from Mitzpe to Eilat as rainfall drops to several centimeters annually and summer temperatures soar to 40 – 44 degrees centigrade (104 – 111 degrees Fahrenheit).
Eilat and the Negev Highlights
Timna National Park- Located 25 km to the North of Eilat, this National Park has been mined since 5th century BCE for copper. There are both archaeological sites and great hikes to walk. Just be sure to bring enough water!
Machtesh Ramon- The world’s biggest machtesh- or “valley surrounded by steep walls and drained by a single wadi” (jewishvirtuallibrary.com) . It is 25 miles long and 5 miles wide at its longest point. Located by the city of Mitzpe Ramon, this site is a must see.