Israel's Negev Desert

 

Following a visit to Palestine in 1867, Mark Twain described the Negev Desert in his book "The Innocents Abroad" as "a desolation that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…".

Rarely does one find a country so small with landscapes so varied as in Israel. In this tiny country of approximately 8,000 square miles (a little smaller than the state of New Jersey), it takes a few hours to drive from the snow-capped mountains in the north to arid desert expanses in the south.

"Negev" in Hebrew means south. Israel's Negev Desert, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob tended their flocks, comprises 66%, over 6,700 square miles, of Israel. Triangular in shape, with the resort town of Eilat at its southern apex and Beer Sheva as its northern base, the Negev has an arid and semi-arid climate, defined according to average rainfall (2 - 6 inches), type of soil and natural vegetation.

Five different ecological regions fall within the area of the Negev::

  • The Northern Negev, with 12 inches of rain annually, is called the "Mediterranean Zone", with fairly fertile soils.
  • The Western Negev is characterized by 10 inches of rain per year, with light and partially sandy soils. Sand dunes can reach heights of up to 90 feet.
  • The Central Negev, with the city of Beer Sheva in its midst, has an annual precipitation of 8 inches 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 stands 1200 – 1800 feet above sea level with extreme temperatures in summer and winter. The area has only 4 inches of rain per year, with inferior and partially salty soils.
  • The Arava Valley along the Jordanian border stretches 111 miles from Eilat in the south to the tip of the Dead Sea in the north. Defined as very arid with barely 2 inches of rain annually, the Arava has inferior soils in which little can grow without irrigation and special soil additives.

Having such poor conditions, the Negev was largely undeveloped and sparsely populated during Israel's first five decades. In spite of this, Israel has succeeded in becoming a world leader in combating the desert and preventing desertification of fertile lands. Through responsible water and soil conservation programs, Israeli techniques have become models in sustainable land management, with worldwide implications. The Negev Foundation, wishing to follow in the footsteps of David Ben-Gurion, has recognized the potential of the Negev and actively promotes desert agricultural innovation in all its spheres, so that not only will the region become economically viable, but also be attractive for settlement.