(Israel Twitter)Beer sheva, בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע, Greek: Βηρσαβεε; Bersabee; Arabic: بئر السبع, Bi'r as-Sab`, Turkish: Birüssebi, is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it is the seventh-largest city in Israel with a population of 194,300.
Beer sheva grew in importance in the 19th century, when the Ottoman Turks built a regional police station there. 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 Beer sheva. In 1947, Bir Seb'a,بيئر شيبع, as it was known, was envisioned as part of the Arab state in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. When the Arabs rejected the United Nations resolution declaring Israel an independent state, the Egyptian army amassed its forces in Beer sheva as a strategic and logistical base. In October 1948, the city was conquered by the Israel Defense Forces.
Beer sheva has grown considerably since then. 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 immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. With the influx of Russian immigrants, chess became a major sport in Beer sheva. The city is now Israel's national chess center, home to more chess grandmasters than any city in the world.
There are several etymologies for the origin of the name "Beer sheva":
The oath of Abraham and Abimelech (well of the oath)
The seven wells dug by Isaac (seven wells), though only three or four have been identified
The oath of Isaac and Abimelech (well of the oath)
The seven ewes that sealed Abraham and Abimelech's oath (well of the seven).
Be'er is the Hebrew word for well; sheva could mean "seven" or "oath" (from the Hebrew word shvu'a).
The town was founded by the Israelites during the 10th century BC, on the site of what is today referred to as Tel Be'er Sheva, after the land was conquered by King David. The ruins of the original Israelite settlement remain largely intact. The site was probably chosen due to the abundance of water, as evidenced by the numerous wells in the area. According to the Bible, the wells were dug by Abraham and Isaac when they arrived there. The streets were laid out in a grid, with separate areas for administrative, commercial, military, and residential use. According to the Hebrew Bible, Beer sheva was the southernmost city of the territories actually settled by Israelites, hence the expression "from Dan to Beer sheva" to describe the whole kingdom. Beer sheva is mentioned in the Book of Genesis in connection with Abraham the Patriarch and his pact with Abimelech. Isaac built an altar in Beer sheva (Genesis 26:23–33). Jacob had his dream about a stairway to heaven after leaving Beer sheva. (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7). Beer sheva was the territory of the tribe of Shimon and Judah (Joshua 15:28 and 19:2). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beer sheva when Jezebel ordered him killed (I Kings 19:3). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beer sheva (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 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 slaves returned from Babylon, the town was resettled.
British Mandate era
Beer sheva played an important role in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in World War I. On October 31, 1917, three months after taking Rafah, General Allenby's troops breached the line of Turkish defense between Gaza and Beer sheva. 800 soldiers of the Australian 4th and 12th Regiments of the 4th Light Horse Brigade under Brigadier General William Grant, with only horses and bayonets, charged the Turkish trenches, overran them and captured the wells of Beer sheva in what has become known as the "last successful cavalry charge in British military history." On the edge of Beer sheva's Old City is a Commonwealth cemetery containing the graves of Australian and British soldiers. The town also contains a memorial park dedicated to them.
Beer sheva was a major administrative center during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine. A railway was constructed between Rafah and Beer sheva in October 1917; it opened to the public in May 1918, serving the Negev and settlements south of Mount Hebron.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 Beer sheva, although some returned occasionally. After an Arab attack on a Jewish bus in 1936, which escalated into the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, the remaining Jews left.
After Israeli independence, Beer sheva became a "laboratory" for Israeli architecture. Mishol Girit, a neighborhood built in the late 1950s, was the first attempt to create an alternative to the standard public housing projects in Israel. Hashatiah (lit. "the carpet"), also known as Hashekhuna ledugma ("the model neighborhood"), was hailed by architects around the world. Today, Beer sheva is divided into seventeen residential neighbourhoods in addition to the Old City and Ramot, an umbrella neighborhood of 4 sub-districts. Many of the neighbourhoods are named after letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which also have numerical value, but descriptive place names have been given to some of the newer neighborhoods.
The largest employers in Beer sheva 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 Beer sheva North Railway Station. A major Israel Aerospace Industries complex is located in the main industrial zone, north of Highway 60.
There are three industrial zones on the southeastern side of the city - Makhteshim, Emek Sara and Kiryat Yehudit - and a light industry zone between Kiryat Yehudit and the Old City. A high-tech park is located near Omer. A Science Park funded by the RASHI-SACTA Foundation, Beer sheva Municipality and private donors was completed in 2008. The tallest buildings in the city are the towers of the Rambam Square complex. Rambam Square 2 is the tallest apartment building in Israel outside of the Gush Dan Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area.
Culture and tourism
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 Pinhas Zuckerman, 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. Urban renewal projects are under way in the Old City. The Negev Museum reopened as an art museum, and an art and media center for young people was established. A new tourist and information center, Gateway to the Negev, was built. Other tourists sites in Beer-Sheva include Abraham's Well and the old Turkish train station, now the focus of development plans.
Urban development plans
As part of its Blueprint Negev project, the Jewish National Fund is funding major redevelopment projects in Beersheba. One project is the Beersheba River Walk, a 900-acre (3.6 km2) riverfront district with green spaces, hiking trails, a 3,000-seat sports hall, a boating lake made from recycled waste water, promenades, restaurants, cafes, galleries, boat rentals, a 12,000-seat amphitheater, playgrounds, and a bridge made up of Mekorot water pipes. Four new shopping malls are planned, including a 115,000-square meter ecologically planned mall with pools for collecting rainwater and lighting generated by solar panels on the roof. It will be situated next to an 8,000-meter park with bicycle paths. The streets and homes in the Old Turkish section of Beersheba are also being restored.
Beersheba is the central transportation hub of southern Israel, served by roads, railways and air. 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, which connects to 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.
Inter-city platforms at the Beersheba Central Bus Station
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 municipality as the 'Be'er Sheva Urban Bus Services'. Inter-city buses to and from Beersheba are operated by Egged, Egged Ta'avura and Metropoline.
Mexico Bridge from train station to Ben Gurion University
Israel Railways operates two stations in the city that form part of the railway to Beersheba: the old Be'er Sheva North University station, adjacent to Ben Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center, and the new Be'er Sheva Central station, adjacent to the central bus station. 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 Be'er Sheva North University station is the terminus of the line to Dimona. All stations of Israel Railways can be accessed from Beersheba using transfer stations in Tel Aviv and Lod. Currently, the railway line to Beersheba uses a slow single-track configuration with several sharp curves limiting speed. However, its alignment is being improved and the entire line converted to dual-track. The project will be completed in 2011 and significantly decrease travel time from Tel Aviv and Haifa to Beersheba, at a cost of NIS 1.885 billion.