THE WONDERS OF THE NEGEV
“In the Negev, the people of Israel and their country will be tested, because only in the united effort of a volunteer nation will we be able to carry out the great task of populating the wilderness and bringing it to flourish. This effort will determine the fate of the State of Israel and the status of our people in the history of the human race.” - David Ben-Gurion: January 17, 1955 -
According to David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, the Negev was the place where the Hebrew nation was born. Abraham went there for the first time on his journey to the land of Canaan and it was also from the Negev that the spies began their journey to Israel. Ben-Gurion believed that the ancient Biblical reference to the Negev is also relevant today, in the new Israel, and that the best scientific, educational and pioneering forces should be directed toward this incredible region. Ben-Gurion called for the flourishing of the desert in the Negev and when he resigned from the government, he moved to Sde Boker for about 14 months, exercising leadership by example. As part of his efforts to conquer the wilderness, Ben-Gurion called for immigrant absorption and settlement in the Negev. He went to youth gatherings across the country where he called on young people to settle in the Negev. Initially, the youth and the majority of the people responded with indifference to Ben-Gurion's call to come to settle there as the task seemed overwhelming. David Ben-Gurion, the primary founder of the State of Israel was born on October 16th, just this week, in 1886.
Inspired by his birth-date, his personality and beliefs, I would like to talk to you today about something very interesting in Israel. It is probably as famous as falafel or hummus, and is one of the first things that comes to people’s minds when they hear the name Israel. I am referring, of course, to the desert. Oh the desert, the Negev, with its vast sand dunes, its plentiful and magnificent colors, its interesting wildlife and fascinating topography. The Negev covers two thirds of the entire territory of Israel, yet only 8% percent of all of Israel’s citizens live there.
Perhaps due to inspiration from Ben-Gurion’s ideals and maybe because as Israelis we are used to making the most of what we have; over the years Israel has founded, invented and still seeks to improve many innovations for the heat, dryness, extreme changes in temperatures, unfit grounds full of sand and salt resulting in vast areas of unsettled lands found in the desert. Today in the Negev, there are almost one thousand yeshuvim or settlements which are small farming towns. Many of these towns are centered around the Negev’s agriculture, and dedicate their lands and people to producing all kinds of produce. Did you know that 60% of Israel’s fruits and vegetable exports come from only 9 farming villages in the Arava which is in the desert? Equally incredible is that 95% of Israel’s food is produced inside of Israel. There are around 20 huge natural reserves in the Negev, plenty of music festivals every year, beautiful hotels and many school field trips in the area all year round. In the 6 years that was I was in my secondary school, half of our class field trips were to the Negev. The drip irrigation system was invented in the 60’s to reduce the water consumption needed for agriculture, and the whole area is full of thousands of solar panels to optimize power consumption. These initiatives and others are put in place to increase tourism to the area, which strengthens both the Negev’s economy and popularity. This area has a rich history that goes back thousands of years, also resulting in a very interesting and diverse population such as the Bedouin who are a group of nomadic Arab "desert dwellers". They are a large and growing population, are all granted with an Israeli citizenship and many also serve in the IDF.
As we remember Ben-Gurion’s birthday, we are thankfully in a much better situation when it comes to the Negev. Happily, gone are the days of indifference and disbelief that Ben-Gurion faced back in 1955 when he made his important speech. Instead, Israel can now be proud that Ben-Gurion’s vision and his hope for the young state of Israel has bloomed as beautifully as the desert blooms vibrantly and exquisitely today.