New advances and opportunities in infrastructure, tourism, renewable energy, agriculture and land development continue to fulfill Ben-Gurion’s dream to develop the Negev in ways he could only have imagined / ilana Kraus Where others saw the Negev as a stadium, a high-tech park, the transfer to the south of the IDF bases, and renovations in the old city that will transform it into a tourist and envisioned a desert in bloom. Encompassing 60 percent of Israel’s land mass but only eight percent of the country’s population, it is still factor for the city. Of its 205,000 residents, the region with the greatest potential for de- 30,000 are students - 20,000 at Ben-Gurion Shamoon Academic College of Engineering, are recent infrastructure expansions and the the Technical College of Beersheva, the Kaye project for relocating IDF bases to the Negev, Academic College of Education and the Open The power of the desert, with its aura of University. Mayor Danilovitch notes with pride the plans for making Beersheva a thriv- infinite quiet has always attracted visitors, ing and lively city: “We are creating a variety as well as poets and artists. Over the last few stresses the importance of transportation, of events for the entire family and continuing years the Negev has been drawing more and “particularly the fact that the Trans-Israel to invest in cultural institutions, such as the more Israelis as well as tourists from abroad.
Highway has been extended to the entrance Beersheva Theater, the new performing arts “While Europeans are mainly familiar with of Beersheva and a second railroad track is center, the school of drama and performing the Dead Sea and Eilat, Israelis associate the being laid. When completed, it will take 43 arts, the Israel Sinfonietta Beersheva, the Bat Negev with hot weather and reserve duty,” minutes to go from Beersheva to Tel Aviv. Shmuel Rifman points out. “But the Negev A train route connecting Ashkelon, Sderot, is not really a desert. Mitzpe Ramon, which Netivot and Ofakim to Beersheva is already has become the capital of regional tourism, is 1,100 meters above sea level,” he notes. “The transfer of the IDF bases to the south In fact, the region contains a wealth of sites, will generate enormous opportunities and cre- where tourists can learn about geological phe- ate thousands of jobs for local residents and nomena, Nabatean culture, desert ecology and “One sign that the Negev is a land of op- for entrepreneurs and contractors during the portunity is the increase in property values building stages,” explains Minister Silvan Whether on mountain bike or atop a camel, in Beersheva,” boasts Rifman. Reiterating Shalom. By means of the Negev Development on foot, or in a jeep, tourists are rewarded with Rifman’s enthusiasm, MK Silvan Shalom, Authority, “we will make sure that as many unspoiled scenery, broad vistas and surpris- Israel’s Minister for the Development of the local people as possible are involved in build- ing discoveries. The Spice Route, for exam- Negev and the Galilee, declared: “Something ing and maintaining the complex of training ple, a relatively new tourist favorite, follows good is happening in the Negev. Real estate the trade route of the Nabateans, who estab- prices are on the rise, the demand for housing Work on this NIS 29 billion project is al- lished cities at Shivta, Mamshit and Avdat, in Arad, Yeruham and Dimona is greater than ready underway. “It will bring 20,000 soldiers a UNESCO world heritage site. This route the supply, and large flagship companies that and 3,000 families to the Negev. This is an linked the Nabatean capital of Petra with these understand the region’s potential are coming enormous leveraging of opportunities for the to the Negev. It is clear that from the economic Negev,” stresses Shmuel Rifman. Minister “We hope,” says Rifman, “that with warm- perspective, the Negev is the right place to in- Shalom notes that a center providing infor- er relations between Jordan and Israel, tourists mation, absorption and support services will will be able to travel the route of the Nabateans With large and ambitious projects on the be set up in cooperation with the Ministry of from Petra to the Negev sites.” In addition, drawing boards, Beersheva, the capital of the specially designated 4X4 routes and many Negev, will become the country’s fourth me- “Our job is to give all of those thousands bicycle trails of varying degrees of difficulty tropolis, promises Mayor Reuven “Rubik” of young families everything they need to have been marked out throughout the region, Danilovich. “The face of the city is changing,” make the move to the south. This huge project with new ones inaugurated this past year.
he asserts, “with the building of the Nahal will create economic activity for 20 years to Beersheva Park, a sports complex and new cilities, from hotels and luxurious B&B’s, to Whether on mountain bike or atop a camel, on foot or in a jeep, tourists in the Negev are rewarded with unspoiled scenery, broad vistas and surprising discoveries simple kibbutz guest houses, field schools ponic lettuce and dates, which are marketed and youth hostels. For those who want to be Another important opportunity, which only closer to nature, there are desert caravansa- Advanced irrigation systems and the use of the Negev can provide, is the development of ries, huts and camping areas located close to vast reservoirs of underground brackish water alternative forms of energy, particularly solar tourist sites and nature reserves. Over the next have also revolutionized regional agriculture. energy. Rifman underscores that the region few years, five hotels and guest houses will The salty water is used as is for growing crops offers large, uninhabited expanses, almost be built by local and outside entrepreneurs. such as olives and tomatoes, and desalinated year-round sunlight and much cleaner air than The Bereshit (Genesis) Hotel overlooking the to irrigate kibbutz gardens. It also feeds the elsewhere, which means that the sun’s rays are Ramon Crater is already under construction, while plans are moving forward for new ac- commodations in Shaharut, Tzukim, Mitzpe have been set up that combine agriculture and clean electricity,” he predicts, “the most sig- tourist services, such as gourmet restaurants nificant in Israel, and maybe eventually the The protected areas of the Negev, its un- and specialty shops selling regional wines, world. A 280MW solar power station is being usual natural phenomena and unspoiled scen- constructed in the area of Ashalim and other ery are a magnet for ecological tourism. The projects in the Negev and Arava are in various craters are like open geology texts, and the new opportunities in agriculture. “The world is stages of development,” Rifman confirms.
springs of Avdat and Ein Gedi never cease to getting ‘hungrier’ and the Negev in particular amaze with their waterfalls and desert flora not only produces 80 percent of the country’s like Beersheva Mayor Danilovitch, Shmuel and fauna. Some facilities even provide work- agricultural products, but also exports,” Rifman Rifman and Minister Silvan Shalom believe shops designed to “recharge the batteries” of asserts. “Israel exports farming technology as wholeheartedly, the Negev continues to be the those who have come to the desert to flee the well - advances that boost yields without in- Another area of potential development is Rifman reveals that Israel’s President, enhanced commercial relations with Egypt Shimon Peres, suggested cooperating with by means of the border crossing at Nitzana, Russia to create a “granary for the world.” where goods are currently being transferred at “They have the land and water, and we would a rate of 150 trucks per day. This could even- supply the knowhow,” Rifman explains. “In tually lead to increased trade between Israel Israel, for example, 100,000 cows produce and Africa as well. After all, visions have of- agricultural high-tech in the Habasor and twice as much milk as 4 million in Ethiopia. Arava regions has led to the development The dry climate,” he continues, “is actually of unique varieties of fruit and vegetables, more suitable for raising these animals be- For more information about the Negev region, please such as hanging strawberries, pitaya, hydro- cause the bacteria that thrive in humid areas


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