Negev or Negeb [Heb.,=dry], hilly desert region of S Israel, c.5,140 sq mi (13,310 sq km), bordered by the Judaean Hills, the Wadi Arabah, the Sinai peninsula, and the narrow Mediterranean coastal plain; it comprises more than one half of Israel's land area. The Negev receives c.2 to 4 in. (5-10 cm) of rain annually. In the Beersheba basin, NW Negev, there are fertile loess deposits, but the region's aridity prevented cultivation until irrigation was provided by the National Water Carrier Project, which taps the Sea of Galilee. The Negev region also has a good mineral potential; copper, phosphates, and natural gas are already commercially extracted. In ancient times there were several prosperous cities along the principal wadis (watercourses) of the area. In modern times the Negev was the scene of much fighting between Egyptian and Israeli forces after the partition of Palestine in 1948. Many kibbutzim (see collective farm) are located in the Negev; dry farming has been attempted in some areas. The major cities in the region include Beersheba, Dimona, Arad, and Elat.

The Negev (Tiberian vocalization: Néḡeḇ) is the desert region of southern Israel. The indigenous Bedouin citizens of the region refer to the desert as al-Naqab (النقب). 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 Peninsula, and whose eastern border is the Arabah 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 Ramon, Makhtesh Gadol and Makhtesh Katan.

The Negev can be split into five different ecological regions: northern, western and central Negev, the high plateau and the Arabah Valley. The northern Negev, or Mediterranean 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 Beersheba, 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 (רמת הנגב, 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 Sea 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 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. The area actually was once the floor of a primordial sea, and a sprinkling of marine snail shells still covers the earth.

The Ramat Hovav toxic waste facility was planted in the area of Beer Sheva 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. 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 Machteshim 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.


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 Beersheba 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

Ancient History

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 Sinai between 1400 and 1300 BC.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the northmen 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. Beersheba was the region's capital and a center for trade in the 8th century BC. Small settlements of Jews in the areas around the capital and later further afield were existent between 1020 and 928 BC.

The 4th century BC arrival of the Nabateans resulted in the development of irrigation systems that supported at least five new urban centers: Avdat, Mamshit, Shivta, al-Khalasa (or Elusa), and Nitzana. The Nabateans controlled the trade and spice route between their capital Petra and the Gazan seaports. Nabatean currency, as well as 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.

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

Bedouin, the longest continuous inhabitants

(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 Musa and Petra areas in present-day Jordan

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.' Late in the rule of the Ottoman Empire, an administrative center for southern Palestine was established in Beersheba and schools and a railway station were built. The authority of the tribal chiefs over the region was recognized by the Ottomans.

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

Bedouin as nomads, Bedouin as citizens

Between 1948 and 1966, 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 Beer Sheba, Arad and Dimona 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.

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,' 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. 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.

Modern 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.

The region's largest city and administrative capital is Beersheba (pop. 185,000), in the north. At its southern end is the Gulf of Aqaba and the resort city of Eilat. It contains several development towns include Dimona, Arad, Mitzpe Ramon, as well as a number of small Bedouin 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 desert is home to the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 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-Gurion campus adjacent to Sde Boker.

Environmental picture

85% of the Negev is used by the Israel Defense Forces for training purposes. 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 Hovav, cell towers, a power plant, several airports, a prison, and 2 rivers of open sewage.

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.

In 2004, the Israeli Ministry of Health released Ben Gurion University research findings explicating the health problems in a 20km 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 publically discredited; however its final conclusions – 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 Hovav), 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.

See also


External links

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

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