NEGEV (Heb. בֶגֶנ; from the root בגנ, "dry," "parched"), an area comprising those southern parts of the Land of Israel which are characterized by a totally arid desert climate, contrasting with the semiarid Mediterranean climate of the country's center and north.
On the map describing an inverted triangle, with an apex directed to Eilat in the south, the Negev covers an area exceeding 4,600 sq. mi. (12,000 sq. km.), i.e., about 62% of Israel's area. Compared with other regions (Sinai excepted), distances in the Negev are considerable, exceeding 150 mi. (250 km.) from north to south, and 80 mi. (125 km.) from west to east. Whereas the Negev's northern border is a climatic one, roughly following the line of 12 in. (300 mm.) annual rainfall, the eastern border is a topographical one, sharply delineated by the Edom scarps emerging from the Arabah Valley, while in the west and southwest there is a gradual transition into Sinai. Structurally, the main partition of Cisjordan–into the Coastal Plain, the hills and the rift–continues into the Negev, with the following subregions recognizable:
(1) the Negev Coastal Plain, linking up in the east with the Beersheba Basin;
(2) the Negev Hills, composed of the northern and central hill regions, the Paran Plateau, and the Eilat Mountains;
(3) the Arabah Valley.
Geologically, most of the Negev hills resemble the hills of central and northern Israel, where folding constitutes the principal tectonic element, and hard limestones and dolomites, or softer chalks with flint intercalations, are the predominant surface rock strata. Desert weathering, however, has imposed on these rocks dissimilar landscape features, which are mostly sharp and angular. The only exception is the Eilat Mountains, which, with their crystalline rocks and Nubian sandstones, form a continuation of the geological province of southern and southeastern Sinai. With the exception of the Beersheba Basin, arable soil is absent from practically all of the Negev, and wide expanses are covered with sharp flint or limestone gravel.
The Negev lies within the global subtropical desert belt of the northern hemisphere. Its climate is of the "continental" type and has two outstanding characteristics–sharp temperature differences between day and night, and summer and winter, and extremely limited amounts of precipitation, which diminish from an annual 10 in. (250 mm.) on the region's northwestern fringe to 2–4 in. (50–100 mm.) in most of its parts, and 1–2 in. (25–50 mm.) or less in the Arabah Valley and the Eilat area. Solar radiation and evaporation are strong during all seasons, and relative humidity and cloudiness remain low. Whereas the tempering influence of the Mediterranean
Sea reaches inland for a score of miles at best, the Red Sea and the Eilat Gulf do not exert any such influence on the adjoining land.
The Negev's vegetation cover is universally sparse, and practically absent over large expanses. Most of the Beersheba Basin, together with the highest reaches of the central Negev Hills, falls within the Irano-Turanian semidesert zone, while the rest of the Negev belongs to the Arabian Zone, which has full desert characteristics. Similarly, the Negev has a desert fauna, including a number of indigenous species; its animal kingdom has somewhat increased in numbers due to nature-preservation measures in force since the 1950s. In the Beer-sheba Basin, which gradually rises eastward from 350 ft. (less than 100 m.) to 1,650 ft. (500 m.) above sea level, a thick cover of yellowish-brown loess, in sections of the west overlaid by coarse dune sands (the Ḥaluẓah, Shunrah, and Agur dunes), determines both landscape features and farming possibilities. In restricted areas, gullying by flashfloods resulted in a broken badland topography, which, however, has since the 1950s largely disappeared thanks to leveling in the framework of the soil reclamation program. Almost the entire Beersheba region belongs to the drainage basin of Naḥal Besor, which crosses it from southeast to northwest and receives three important tributaries from the east and northeast – Naḥal Be'er Sheva, Naḥal Ḥevron, and Naḥal Gerar. The width of their beds bears no relation to the minute annual quantities of water running through them, which, at least during the last millennia, have been limited to occasional, short-lived winter floods.
In the central Negev Hills, whose folds attain heights of 3,000–3,400 ft. (900–1,035 m.) above sea level (Mt. Ramon, Mt. Sagi, Mt. Loẓ, Mt. Arif, and others), the most striking landscape feature is represented by the three huge erosional cirques (Makhtesh Ramon, Ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol, Ha-Makhtesh ha-Katan). The wild Zin Canyon divides the hills into a northern and central section. The Paran Plateau, whose topography is more monotonous, is inclined from the southwest to the northeast, descending from 2,000 ft. (600 m.) to 330 ft. (100 m.). Naḥal Paran, the longest and most spectacular of Israel's desert wadis, runs through the plateau. Although the peaks of the Eilat Mountains attain heights of only 3,000 ft. (800–900 m.), the landscape of this area is truly mountainous and of infinite variety, with rock towers, indented and crenellated crests, between which narrow clefts cut in various directions. There is a wide range of igneous rocks (granites, diorites, quartz-porphyry, diabase, gneiss, quartzite, etc.), as well as vividly colored (ocher, yellow, rose, red, white, black and so on) Nubian sandstones, but also strongly contorted limestones and other marine sediments.
The Arabah Valley, that section of the rift extending from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Eilat for 105 mi. (over 170 km.), is hemmed in by the continuous rock wall of Edom in the east and by the Negev Hills, of lesser height and uniformity, in the west. Its bottom ascends from 1,150 ft. (350 m.) below sea level in the Sedom salt flats over a relatively prominent step to 690 ft. (210 m.) below sea level near Ḥaẓevah, and thence continues to rise more gently to 755 ft. (230 m.), above sea level near the Sheluḥat Noẓah ridge, which protrudes into the valley 48 mi. (75 km.) north of Eilat; from that point southward, it gradually descends to the Eilat shore. The Arabah bears a cover of alluvium (sand, gravel, etc.) which obscures its rock foundations. Alluvial fans, mostly spreading in front of the Edom Mountains, obstruct the drainage of the southern Arabah and are the cause of the formation of playas (saline marshes), e.g., those of Eilat, Avronah, Yotvatah, and Sa'īdiyin. The central and northern Arabah are drained by Naḥal ha-Aravah, which is the lower section of Naḥal Paran. Springs in the Arabah are mostly weak and brackish on the western, but stronger and sweeter on the eastern, rim. Deep well drillings in the 1960s yielded water in previously unsuspected quantities.
In the Bible, Negev refers to southern and southeastern Judah, an area split up between various groups, each of which is connected with a Negev of its own: Negev of Judah, around Beer-Sheba; Negev of Caleb, north of it; Negev of the Cherethites (Philistines), to the northwest; Negev of the Kenites, to the east; Negev of the Jerahmeelites, to the southeast. Today the name is applied to the whole southern region of Israel, extending from Beersheba to Eilat. In prehistoric times, the Negev was a well-watered and settled region, till the desiccation which accompanied the Mesolithic period. In the Chalcolithic period, a new culture developed along the dry river beds around Beer-Sheba, with pasture-bred animals, underground dwellings, and the beginning of exploitation of the Arabah copper mines for a metallurgic industry. A chain of short-lived settlements of a seminomadic, pastoral populace again appeared in various parts of the Negev in the intermediate period between the Early and Middle Bronze Ages (c. 2000 b.c.e.). The suggestion that these were situated along the main routes in the time of Abraham is refuted by most scholars. At the time of the Exodus, the Amalekites roamed in the southern part of the Negev, while the Canaanites of Arad held strongly to the north. Attempts by the Israelites to pass through the Negev on the direct route to Canaan ended in failure. The northern region is included within the boundaries of the land of Israel (Num. 34:4; Josh. 15:3). After Joshua's conquest, Simeon had a weak hold on the northern Negev centering on Beer-Sheba. Saul and David fended off the Amalekites, and Solomon and his successors set up fortresses to guard the routes to Elath and Egypt. Uzziah made the greatest effort to develop the Negev in the Israelite period, keeping up his communications with Elath through this region, and, apart from extending agriculture (ii Chron. 26:10), building large fortresses at Kadesh, Arad, Ḥorvat 'Uza, and other sites.
After the return from Babylonian exile, Jewish connections with the Negev in the post-biblical period are tenuous. The northern part was held by Alexander Yannai (Jannaeus). It came under the control of the *Nabateans, who used its highway (the so-called "spice and incense" route) primarily for conveying caravans of goods (such as frankincense and myrrh) from their capital Petra and from their port Aila (Elath) to Gaza and the shores of the Mediterranean. Sites discovered include way stations, forts and towers, and regional roads. It was once thought the *Nabateans were the first to develop terraced agriculture in the Negev, but although they were undoubtedly masters in sophisticated water-gathering systems, which were especially important for the caravans of camels and men passing through the region, there is no evidence that they practiced wide-scale cultivation in the area, except perhaps in a very limited fashion. Toward the end of Nabatean rule in the Negev, settlements flourished along the trade route, as is now known from remains uncovered at Avedat, Mampsis, and Elusa, with inscriptions, temples, caravanserai, and other structures. After the annexation of Nabatea by Rome in 106 c.e., the importance of the region declined; it revived toward the middle of the third century c.e. and entered its most prosperous era in antiquity during the Byzantine and Umayyad periods. Impressive towns from these periods existed at Elusa (Heb. Halutza), Subeita/Sobata (Arab. Isbeita; Heb. Shivta), Nessana (Arab. Auja al-Hafir; Heb. Nitzana), Oboda (Arab. Abda; Heb. 'Avedat), Rehovot-in-the-Negev (Arab. Ruheibe), and Mampsis (Arab. Kurnub; Heb. Mamshit). Impressive churches are known at many of these sites. An important archive of manuscripts was uncovered at Nessana. It has been estimated that by the Late Byzantine/Umayyad periods 40,000 dunams (10,000 acres) of the Negev highlands were under cultivation; this was mainly achieved by the careful terrace and dam building and the efficient diversion and distribution of rainwater by channels. Numerous agricultural settlements have been investigated. The Negev settlements began declining in the Abbasid period.
[Michael Avi-Yonah /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]
At the earliest stages of the modern Jewish return to the land, the Negev was visualized as a possible area of settlement by men like Z.D. *Levontin, who aimed at founding a settlement south of Gaza (1881–2). Like other Jews at the beginning of the 20th century, however, they had to abandon attempts at purchasing holdings, mainly because Bedouin vendors could not produce title deeds entered in the land registry for the tracts they offered. Attention was again directed to the Negev when Theodor *Herzl took up Davis *Trietsch's proposal of the *El-Arish Project (1903), and a daring plan for a Jewish-Bedouin alliance was also put forward. After World War i, veterans of the Jewish *Legion tried to settle on state land offered by the British authorities near the tell of Arad, but they despaired when no water was found. After the end of the 1930s, the Jewish National *Fund took over, securing and enlarging scattered holdings in the Negev which had been acquired beforehand by Jewish individuals. Thus the three "observation villages"–Gevulot, Beit Eshel, and Revivim–were set up in 1943, followed by 11 more villages established on the night of Oct. 6, 1946 and four more–preceding the outbreak of the War of Independence–in December 1947. All outposts were modestly supplied with water from two pipelines drawn from the Nir Am and Gevar'am wells in the southern Coastal Plain. In the 1949 Armistice Agreements with Egypt and Jordan, Israel's hold of the entire Negev was endorsed, with the single exception of the Gaza Strip. Whereas the Negev Bedouin population, of which about 15,000 remained in the Negev after 1948, increased to about 27,000 in 1969, Jewish settlement was the principal factor causing population density in the Beersheba subdistrict (whose borders are nearly identical with those of the Negev) to rise from 2.85 per sq. mi. (1.1 per sq. km.) in 1948 to 36.5 per sq. mi. (14.1 per sq. km.) in 1969; in the latter year, 180,400 inhabitants were counted, of whom 153,300 were Jews and 27,100 were Arabs. By 2003 the population had increased to 534,700 (107 per sq. mi.; 41.3 per sq. km.), including 366,900 Jews and 135,400 Arabs living in 167 settlements. The Negev's population comprises about 7% of the country's total.
Rural settlement quickly progressed as great efforts were invested in bringing mounting quantities of water to the Negev, first through the reconstituted pipelines from the Nir Am area in the 1950s, from the Yarkon springs ("Yarkon-Negev line"), and in the 1960s via the National Water Carrier. In the pattern of settlement comprising over 70 villages, three groups can be discerned:
(1) the bulk of villages, mostly moshavim, concentrated in the northwestern Negev and arranged in regional projects (Benei Shim'on, Merḥavim, Eshkol regions);
(2) security settlements, preponderantly kibbutzim, along the border of the Gaza Strip;
(3) outpost settlements, of the kibbutz and moshav types (mostly in the Arabah Valley), which combine the task of border defense with pioneering new methods in desert and oasis farming. Agricultural initiative has brought citrus groves to the northwestern Negev and developed out-of-season vegetable and flower cultivation both in the western Negev (Eshkol region) and the Arabah Valley, while cotton, fodder crops, sugar beet (all irrigated), wheat, and other grain crops (the latter grown unirrigated or with auxiliary irrigation) are characteristic of the interior part of the northwestern Negev. However, present-day irrigation is no longer based only on the National Water Carrier; it also utilizes purified sewage water and wells. A number of kibbutzim have also developed industrial enterprises.
Among urban settlements, the city of Beersheba has surpassed all other centers in growth and contains nearly 34% of the Negev's total population; second is Dimona on the Negev Hills; and third is Eilat. Other urban settlements were established, in the northwest (Netivot, Ofakim) to serve as regional centers for agricultural areas and elsewhere to promote mining and industrial development (Arad, Yeroḥam, Miẓpeh Ramon). During the 1990s the region absorbed many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, a process that augmented mainly the urban settlements of the Negev, which include 82% of the Negev's population. However, by the beginning of the 21st century the Negev had not yet realized its full potential for settlement and development.
The Dead Sea minerals, as well as phosphates, copper, clay minerals, glass sand, and methane gas constitute the principal foundation for the Negev's industrial-development projects, whose important centers are the towns of Beersheba, Dimona, and Arad, the Oron and Ẓefa-Efeh phosphate mines, the factories near the latter site. The Sodom Dead Sea industrial zone has no resident population. However, high-tech industries have also begun to find a home in the Negev, mainly in Beersheba's industrial zones. Another economic branch, which developed mainly since the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, is tourism. The Negev offers many natural wonders, walking routes, and tourist attractions, among them Ben-Gurion's cabin, which became a museum located at kibbutz *Sedeh Boker.
The communications network of the Negev is of great importance in the framework of Israel's economic infrastructure. Among highways, the Sodom-Eilat road is particularly busy. Second, comes the Beersheba-Dimona-Miẓpeh Ramon-Eilat highway. The northern and western Negev has a well-developed road network. Railways link Beersheba with Kiryat Gat and Lydda in the north and with Dimona and the Oron and Ẓefa-Efeh mines in the south. Another important economic asset is the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline. Finally, the Eilat port and oilport are Israel's marine outlets to the south and east.
C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (1915); Y. Aharoni, in: iej, 8 (1958), 26ff.; 17 (1967), 1ff.; N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (1959); A. Negev, in: iej, 17 (1967), 46ff.; J. Braslavi (Braslavski), Ha-Yadata et ha-Areẓ, 2 (1947); idem, El Eilat ve-el Yam Suf (1952); D.H. Kallner-Amiran, in: iej, 1 (1950/51), 107–20; L. Picard, in: brci, 1 no. 1–2 (1951); 5–32: E. Loehnberg, Ha-Negev ha-Raḥok (1954): E. Orni and E. Efrat, Geography of Israel (19713), ch. 2; Y. Morris, Masters of the Desert (6000 Years in the Negev) (1961). add. bibliography: M. Evenari, L. Shanan, and N. Tadmor, The Negev: The Challenge of a Desert (1971); G. Barkay and E. Schiller (eds.), With One's Face Towards the Negev. Parts 1–2 (Heb., 2002); R. Rosenthal-Heginbottom (ed.), The Nabateans in the Negev (2003). websites: www.boker.org.il/meida/negev; www.negev-net.org.il.
desert region in southern half of israel; northeastern extension of the sinai desert.
The Negev is a triangular area with a maximum elevation of 3,300 feet and includes more than half of Israel's land area. The Negev Hills are a series of ranges with gentle northwesterly and steep south-easterly slopes. Some craters were formed by the erosion of upward-folded strata; they are 6 to 19 miles long, up to 3 miles wide, and surrounded on all sides by precipitous slopes. On their eastern side is an opening through which they drain into the Aravah Valley. August temperatures average 79°F, but they reach 90°F in the southern area and in Aravah. January temperatures average 52°F, reaching 59°F in the south and in Elat. The gateway from the north is the Negev's largest city, Beersheba, with a population estimated at 181,500 in 2002. To the south, the Negev opens onto the Gulf of Aqaba at Elat. The Negev has been irrigated in the northwest for agriculture; it contains some mineral resources, such as copper, phosphates, bromine, and potash, as well as natural gas and petroleum.
Under the British Mandate (1922–1948), the Negev was inhabited mainly by Bedouin. A few Jewish settlements were established by 1946. Control of the desert was contested by Arabs and Jews in the various partition plans. In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly's partition recommendation assigned parts of the Negev to the proposed Jewish state. In May 1948, Egyptian forces entered Gaza and the Negev in the opening days of the Arab-Israel War. With the conclusion of that war by armistice agreement in 1949, the Negev remained part of Israel. The late 1940s and early 1950s brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Israel. With an aggressive settlement program, by 2000 the Negev reached a population of more than 300,000.
see also arab–israel war (1948).
Gradus, Yehuda, et al. Atlas of the Negev. Jerusalem: Ben Gurion University of the Negev, 1986.
Levinson, Ester, and Yehuda, Gradus. Statistical Yearbook of the Negev. Beersheba: Negev Center for Regional Development and Negev Development Authority, 2000.
updated by yehuda gradus