Beersheba (Be'er Sheva, بئر السبع, , Birüssebi) is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it became the sixth largest city in Israel in 2008 when the population reached 202,208. Located in the Southern District of the country, the city is the district's administrative centre and is home to the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Soroka Medical Center, and the Israel Sinfonietta Beersheba.
In the post-Biblical era, Beersheba only regained importance in the 19th century, when the Ottoman Turks built a regional police station there. This quickly expanded into a small town, and became a strategic point in World War I. Then a predominantly Arab town known as Bir Seb'a (بيئر شيبع), it was allocated to the Arab state in the 1947 Partition Plan. Soon after the Arab rejection of the United Nations resolution, the surrounding Arab countries invaded Israel following its declaration of independence (May 1948) and Beersheba became an important strategic and logistical point for the Egyptian army. The city was conquered by the Israel Defense Forces on 21 October 1948 in Operation Yoav, and has remained an Israeli city since.
Beersheba has grown considerably since Israeli independence in 1948; 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 newcomers from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The city is surrounded by a number of satellite towns including the predominantly Jewish Omer, Lehavim and Meitar, and the Bedouin towns of Rahat, Tel as-Sabi and Lakiya.
Be'er is the Hebrew word for well; sheva could mean "seven" or "oath" (from the Hebrew word shvu'a).
From the findings unearthed at Tel Be'er Sheva, an archaeological site a few kilometers northeast of modern day Beersheba, it is believed that the region has been populated since the 4th millennium BC. The city was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries.
Beersheba was the southernmost city of Israel in Biblical times, 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 in the area of 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 Beersheba in regard to idolatry (Amos 5:5 and 8:14).
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.
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 took over the region. Later, during Israel's War of Independence, the station was used as the headquarters of the Egyptian Army.
Beersheba was a major administrative center during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine.
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. With the Arab attack on a Jewish bus in 1936 which escalated into the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, the remaining Jews left Beersheba and did not return until after the battle with the invading Egyptian army in October, 1948.
On October 21, 1948, at 04:00 in the morning, the 82nd battalion advanced from Mishmar HaNegev junction, north of Beersheba. Part of the force attacked from the Turkish train station and part from Hatzerim. By 09:45, the Egyptian forces were surrounded, and Beersheba was in Israeli hands. On 20 November Leonard Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra played for the soldiers.
In the 1950s, Beersheba expanded northward. Soroka hospital opened its doors in 1960, and the Negev University, later renamed Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was established in 1970. In the 1970s, a memorial commemorating the fallen soldiers designed by the sculptor Danny Karavan was erected northeast of the city (approximately from the city entrance) on a hill overlooking the city.The Beersheba Theater opened in 1973, and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Beersheba in 1979.
Beersheba is located on the northern edge of the Negev desert south-east of Tel Aviv and south-west of Jerusalem. The city is located on the main route from the center and north of the country to Eilat 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.
In 1982, Israel evacuated by air a major portion of the Jewish community of Ethiopia. A large number of the community were settled in Beersheba. There are now approximately 10,000 Ethiopian Israelis living in Beersheba, with their own community center built in the 11th (Yud Aleph) Quarter of the city. To remind the members of the villages they left behind, the roof of the community center is a conic shape, much like their old homes.
According to CBS figures, 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.
The largest employers in Beersheba are the municipality, Israel Defence Forces, Ben-Gurion University and the Soroka Medical Center. 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 Station. Three main industrial zones exist in the city proper, as well as a high-tech zone in adjacent Omer. A major Israel Aerospace Industries complex is located in the main industrial zone, north of Highway 60.
The Beersheba municipality was plagued for many years by an ineffectual leadership, political problems and poor financial planning. In the last few years, the situation has improved only slightly and has been hampered by a workforce suffering from apathy. Since 2005, attention has been focused on developing parks and infrastructure. A new youth centre opened in 2005, and a new cultural centre is slated to open in 2007. 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 Beer Sheva depicts an eshel (tamarisk tree), the tree that Abraham planted, and the observation tower connected to the municipality building.
The city has the second biggest 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 also Israel's leading chess center. The local chess club has won many cups and national championships. It has 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 this club. Beersheba has a higher percentage of grandmasters than any other city worldwide with 8, many of whom are immigrants from the former Soviet Union; the city of 185,500 has one grandmaster per 23,188 residents.
Cricket (introduced by the British in the 1960s) is played in the city under the auspices of Israeli Cricket Association, whilst the city is also home to The Camels-ASA Beersheba rugby team whose senior and youth squads have won several national titles (including the recent Senior National League 2004-2005 championship). Wrestling, tennis and gliding are also popular sports. Beersheba's tennis center, which opened in 1991, features eight lighted courts, and the Be'er Sheva (Teyman) airfield is used for gliding.
Beersheba is the central transportational hub of southern Israel, served by roads, railways and air. Its central bus/train station area is one of the most crowded terminals in the country. Beersheba is connected to Tel Aviv 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, connected it with Ashkelon and the Gaza Strip to the northwest, and Dimona to the east. Finally, Highway 60 connects Beersheba with Jerusalem and the Shoket Junction, and goes through the West Bank. 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 Egged Bus Cooperative. Inter-city buses to and from Beersheba are operated by Egged, Egged Ta'avura and the Metropoline company.
Israel Railways operates two stations in Beersheba: Be'er Sheva North and Be'er Sheva Central railway station, on the old Railway to Beersheba. Between the two stations, the railway splits into two, and also continues to Dimona and the Dead Sea factories. An extension is planned to Eilat and Arad. The railway line to Beersheba uses the slow single-track configuration, and is being converted to dual-track, a project expected to end in Q4 2009 and significantly decrease travel time from Tel Aviv and Haifa to Beersheba, at a cost of NIS 1,885 million.