Beersheba, also Be'er Sheva (/bɪərˈʃiːbə/; Hebrew: בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע About this sound Be'er Sheva [be.eʁˈʃeva]; Arabic: بئر السبع About this sound Bi'ir as-Sab [biːr esˈsabeʕ]), is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it is the center of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in Israel, the eighth most populous Israeli city with a population of 207,551, and the second largest city with a total area of 117,500 dunams (after Jerusalem).
With an ancient history, and long used as a bedouin encampment, the modern history of Beersheva began at the start of the 20th century when a permanent settlement was established by the Ottoman Turks. The Battle of Beersheba was part of a wider British offensive in World War I aimed at breaking the Turkish defensive line from Gaza to Beersheba. In 1947, Bir Seb'a (Arabic: بئر السبع), as it was known, was envisioned as part of the Arab state in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Following the declaration of Israel's independence, the Egyptian army amassed its forces in Beersheba as a strategic and logistical base. In the Battle of Beersheba waged in October 1948, it was conquered by the Israel Defense Forces.
Beersheba has grown considerably since then. A large portion of the population is made up of the descendants of Sephardi Jews and Mizrahi Jews who immigrated from Arab countries after 1948, as well as smaller communities of Bene Israel and Cochin Jews from India. Second and third waves of immigration have taken place since 1990, bringing Russian-speaking Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as well as Beta Israel immigrants from Ethiopia. The Soviet immigrants have made the game of chess a major sport in Beersheba and the city is now a developing technology center. The city is now Israel's national chess center, with more chess grandmasters per capita than any other city in the world.
Beersheba is mainly dealt with in the Hebrew Bible in connection with the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac, who both dig a well and close peace treaties with King Abimelech of Gerar at the site. Hence it receives its name twice, first after Abraham's dealings with Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34), and again from Isaac who closes his own covenant with Abimelech of Gerar and whose servants also dig a well there (Genesis 26:23-33). The place is thus connected to two of the three Wife–sister narratives in the Book of Genesis.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Beersheba was founded when Abraham and Abimelech settled their differences over a well of water and made a covenant (see Genesis 21:22-34). Abimelech's men had taken the well from Abraham after he had previously dug it so Abraham brought sheep and cattle to Abimelech to get the well back. He set aside seven lambs to swear that it was he that had dug the well and no one else. Abimelech conceded that the well belonged to Abraham and, in the Bible, Beersheba means "Well of Seven" or "Well of the Oath".
Beersheba is further mentioned in following Bible passages: Isaac built an altar in Beersheba (Genesis 26:23–33). Jacob had his dream about a stairway to heaven after leaving Beersheba. (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7). Beersheba was the territory of the tribe of Simeon and Judah (Joshua 15:28 and 19:2). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beersheba (I Samuel 8:2). Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort there for his campaign against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beersheba when Jezebel ordered him killed (I Kings 19:3). The prophet Amos mentions the city in regard to idolatry (Amos 5:5 and 8:14). Following the Babylonian conquest and subsequent enslavement of many Israelites, the town was abandoned. After the Israelite slaves returned from Babylon, they resettled the town. According to the Hebrew Bible, Beersheba was the southernmost city of the territories settled by Israelites, hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba" to describe the whole kingdom.
Zibiah, the consort of King Ahaziah of Judah and the mother of King Jehoash of Judah, was from Beersheba.
In 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) proposed that Beersheba be included within the Jewish state in their partition plan for Palestine. However, when the UN's Ad Hoc Committee revised the plan, they moved Beersheva to the Arab state on account of it being primarily Arab.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, when military intelligence intercepted a telegram from Egyptian officers about plans to redeploy along the Beersheba-Gaza line, Yigal Allon proposed the conquest of Beersheba, which was approved by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, he ordered the "conquest of Beersheba, occupation of outposts around it, [and] demolition of most of the town." The objective was to break the Egyptian blockade of Israeli convoys to the Negev. The Egyptian army did not expect an offensive and fled en masse. At 4:00 am on October 21, the 8th Brigade's 89th battalion and the Negev Brigade's 7th and 9th battalions moved in, some troops advancing from Mishmar HaNegev junction, 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Beersheba, others from the Turkish train station and Hatzerim. By 9:45, Beersheba was in Israeli hands. Around 120 Egyptian soldiers were taken prisoner. The remaining Arab civilians, 200 men and 150 women and children, were taken to the police fort. On October 25, the women, children, disabled and elderly were driven by truck to the Gaza border. The Egyptian soldiers were interned in POW camps. Some men lived in the local mosque and were put to work cleaning but when it was discovered that they were supplying information to the Egyptian army they were also deported. Following Operation Yoav, a 10-kilometer radius exclusion zone around Beersheba was enforced into which no Bedouin were allowed. Following the conclusion of the war, the 1949 Armistice Agreements formally granted Beersheba to Israel. Beersheba was deemed strategically important due to its location with a reliable water supply and at a major crossroads, northwest to Hebron and Jerusalem, east to the Dead Sea and al Karak, south to Aqaba, west to Gaza and southwest to Al-Auja and the border with Egypt.
In 1953, Cinema Keren, the Negev's first movie theater, opened in Beersheba. It was built by the Histadrut and had seating for 1,200 people. Beersheba is the home base of the Israel Sinfonietta, founded in 1973. Over the years, the Sinfonietta has developed a broad repertoire of symphonic works, concerti for solo instruments and large choral productions, among them Handel's Israel in Egypt, masses by Schubert and Mozart, Rossini's "Stabat Mater" and Vivaldi's "Gloria." World-famous artists have appeared as soloists with the Sinfonietta, including Pinchas Zukerman, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Shlomo Mintz, Gary Karr, and Paul Tortelier. In the 1970s, a memorial commemorating fallen Israeli soldiers designed by the sculptor Danny Karavan was erected on a hill north-east of the city. The Beersheba Theater opened in 1973. The Light Opera Group of the Negev, established in 1980, performs musicals in English every year.
Landmarks in the city include Abraham's Well and the old Turkish train station, now the focus of development plans. The Artists House of the Negev, in a Mandate-era building, showcases artwork connected in some way to the Negev.
The Negev Museum of Art reopened in 2004 in the Ottoman Governor's House, and an art and media center for young people was established in the Old City.
In 2009, a new tourist and information center, Gateway to the Negev, was built.
The Southern District (Hebrew: מחוז הדרום, Meḥoz HaDarom; Arabic: لواء الجنوب) is one of Israel's six administrative districts, the largest in terms of land area but the most sparsely populated. It covers most of the Negev desert, as well as the Arava valley. The population of the Southern District is 1,086,240 and its area is 14,185 km2. Its population is 79.66% Jewish and 12.72% Arab (mostly Muslim), with 7.62% Others. The district capital is Beersheba, while the largest city is Ashdod. Beersheba's dormitory towns of Omer, Meitar, and Lehavim are all relatively affluent, while the development towns (including Sderot, Netivot, and Ofakim) and the seven Bedouin cities are lower on the socio-economic scale.
Immigration to Israel during the late 1940s and early 1950s was aided by the Israeli Immigration Department and the non-government sponsored Mossad LeAliyah Bet (lit. "Institution for Illegal Immigration"). Both groups facilitated regular immigration logistics like arranging transportation, but the latter also engaged in clandestine operations in countries, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the lives of Jews were believed to be in danger and exit from those places was difficult. Mossad LeAliyah Bet was disbanded in 1953. The immigration was in accordance with the One Million Plan. The immigrants came for differing reasons: some held Zionist beliefs or came for the promise of a better life in Israel, while others moved to escape persecution or were expelled.
An influx of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab and Muslim countries to Israel during the first three years increased the number of Jews from 700,000 to 1,400,000. By 1958, the population of Israel rose to two million. Between 1948 and 1970, approximately 1,150,000 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel. Some new immigrants arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 people were living in these tent cities. Jews of European background were often treated more favorably than Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries—housing units reserved for the latter were often re-designated for the former, with the result that Jews newly-arrived from Arab lands generally ended up staying in transit camps for longer. Tensions that developed between the two groups over such discrimination persist to the present day. During this period, food, clothes and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the austerity period. The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea that Israel could accept monetary compensation for the Holocaust.
The city of Jerusalem is of special importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians as it is the home of sites that are pivotal to their religious beliefs, such as the Old City that incorporates the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Other locations of religious importance in Israel are Nazareth (holy in Christianity as the site of the Annunciation of Mary), Tiberias and Safed (two of the Four Holy Cities in Judaism), the White Mosque in Ramla (holy in Islam as the shrine of the prophet Saleh), and the Church of Saint George in Lod (holy in Christianity and Islam as the tomb of Saint George or Al Khidr). A number of other religious landmarks are located in the West Bank, among them Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, the birthplace of Jesus and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The administrative center of the Bahá'í Faith and the Shrine of the Báb are located at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa; the leader of the faith is buried in Acre. Apart from maintenance staff, there is no Bahá'í community in Israel, although it is a destination for pilgrimages. Bahá'í staff in Israel do not teach their faith to Israelis following strict policy. A few miles south of the Bahá'í World Centre is Mahmood Mosque affiliated with the reformist Ahmadiyya movement. Kababir, Haifa's mixed neighbourhood of Jews and Ahmadi Arabs is the only one of its kind in the country.
Despite limited natural resources, intensive development of the agricultural and industrial sectors over the past decades has made Israel largely self-sufficient in food production, apart from grains and beef. Imports to Israel, totaling $66.76 billion in 2017, include raw materials, military equipment, investment goods, rough diamonds, fuels, grain, and consumer goods. Leading exports include machinery and equipment, software, cut diamonds, agricultural products, chemicals, and textiles and apparel; in 2017, Israeli exports reached $60.6 billion. The Bank of Israel holds $113 billion of foreign-exchange reserves. Since the 1970s, Israel has received military aid from the United States, as well as economic assistance in the form of loan guarantees, which now account for roughly half of Israel's external debt. Israel has one of the lowest external debts in the developed world, and is a lender in terms of net external debt (assets vs. liabilities abroad), which in 2015 stood at a surplus of $69 billion.
Israel has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world after the United States, and the third-largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies after the U.S. and China. Intel and Microsoft built their first overseas research and development facilities in Israel, and other high-tech multi-national corporations, such as IBM, Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Facebook and Motorola have opened research and development centres in the country. In 2007, American investor Warren Buffett's holding company Berkshire Hathaway bought an Israeli company, Iscar, its first acquisition outside the United States, for $4 billion.
Days of working time in Israel are Sunday through Thursday (for a five-day workweek), or Friday (for a six-day workweek). In observance of Shabbat, in places where Friday is a work day and the majority of population is Jewish, Friday is a "short day", usually lasting till 14:00 in the winter, or 16:00 in the summer. Several proposals have been raised to adjust the work week with the majority of the world, and make Sunday a non-working day, while extending working time of other days or replacing Friday with Sunday as a work day.
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