Latest update: September 11th, 2012
The publication of the Morrison-Grady partition proposal of Palestine (1946), intended the exclusion of the Negev from the Jewish state and the prohibition of Jewish settlement there. A plan to establish eleven “points” of Jewish settlement in the Negev was devised by the Jewish Agency in order to assure a Jewish presence in the area prior to the partition plan and hopefully retain it as part of a Jewish state. After the Yom Kippur fast on the night of October 5,1946 settlers set up camp at eleven pre-determined locations in the Negev: Be’eri, Gal On, Hatezrim, Kedma, Kfar Darom, Mishmar HaNegev, Nevatim, Nirim, Shova, Tkuma and Urim.
As of 2010, the Negev was home to some 630,000 people (or 8.2% of the total population in the country). After withdrawing from the Sinai, the Negev also became the site of numerous military bases. Much of the Negev is used by the Israel Defense Forces for training purposes.
Beersheba is the region’s largest city and administrative capital (pop. 185,000). At its southern end are the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat and the resort city of Eilat. There are several development towns in the Negev, including Dimona, Arad, Mitzpe Ramon, as well as a number of small Bebouin cities, including Rahat and Tel as-Sabi. There are also several kibbutzim, including Revivim and Sde Boker; the latter became the home of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, after his retirement from politics.
The arid desert regions and the scarcity of water have provided a challenge. Since 1948, dedicated Israeli scientists have been hard at work to find ways to conserve water and to utilize the vast Negev region for agricultural developments.
We have witnessed much bracha in the sparsely populated desert area between Beersheba and Eilat which has played an important role in agricultural production. More than 40 percent of the country’s vegetables and field crops are grown in the Arava and Negev.
The Negev Desert and the surrounding area, including the Arava, are the sunniest parts the land. Its average temperature is 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.This is also why the Negev has become the center of the Israeli solar industry. Experts on solar energy propose that the energy needs of Israel’s future should be met by building solar energy plants in the Negev.
The new wave of “greening the desert” is heartening, especially since the supply of farmland in the country’s densely populated central region is shrinking as more and more farmland is being used for housing.
In the Negev, cultivation of new citrus varieties have resulted in yields 50 to 100 percent higher than those in the north. Giant citrus groves (10,000 acres) have been planted in the Negev. Olive plantations irrigated by brackish water have achieved per-acre oil yields that are six times higher than in traditional rain-fed groves elsewhere in the county.
The further south one goes, the earlier crops ripen. There are newly developed technologies for vegetables being grown in greenhouses. This makes it possible to grow crops for export to Europe during the winter months – October through March – when prices are highest, with less expenditure of energy than required elsewhere in the country.
Over the last few years, varieties of some crops, notably tomatoes and melons, have been adapted for growth in the desert with saline water irrigation. It is claimed that Negev saline-grown tomatoes are the sweetest and highest quality tomatoes to be found anywhere. Eggplant, yellow melons, potatoes, pears, and table grapes are also watered with this salty water and harvested in the Negev Desert.
Attempts to expand the growing of flowers and grapes for wine have taken off. There are 6 wineries on the Negev Heights. Despite the inferior and partially salty soil, Israeli farmers are successfully growing olives, pomegranates, pistachios and grapes for wine in Ramat Hanegev.
Once a distant second to citrus, the export of flowers and ornamental plants from Israel, now holds first place. A wide variety of flowers for export (over 100) are grown all over the country. Who would have thought that flowers could thrive in the Negev? Imagine beautiful first class roses, some of these roses are sold at the famous Dutch flower auctions, and Lisianthus in various shades of purple, pink, white, and combinations thereof, growing in the Negev.
About the Author: Originally from south Africa, Vardah has been living in Eretz Yisrael since 1974 and the more she learns about our glorious Holy Land the more she gets to love this prime property that Hashem has given to the Jewish People. She is studying to be a tour guide and hopes with the help of Hashem, through this column to give readers a small taste of the land.
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