Situation and characteristicsThe Negev ("desert", "arid land" in Hebrew), the most southerly part of Israel, is bounded on the west by the Egyptian-Israeli frontier and the Gaza Strip, on the east by the Arava depression and on the north approximately by a line running between Gaza and En Gedi.
In terms of geographical structure it merges into Sinai to the Southwest. The largest town in this huge triangle is Beersheba (Be'er Sheva), situated on the boundary between the northern Negev, which has been made fertile by irrigation, and the arid Negev desert to the south.HistoryThe Negev seems to have become an arid area between 10,000 and 7500 B.C. In the 18th century B.C. Abraham came from the north to Beersheba. In the later second millennium B.C. the Negev was occupied by three peoples - to the north, round Arad, those of the Canaanites who had advanced farthest south; to the south the Amalekites, whom David exterminated about 1000 B.C.; to the east, round the Arava depression, the Edomites, who moved north in the sixth century B.C., settled between Beersheba and Hebron and became known as the Idumaeans.From the first century B.C. the Nabataeans sought to settle and cultivate the Negev from their capital at Petra. They achieved this with the help of ingenious methods of irrigation, and towns like Avdat, Subeita and Mampsis were established. In the fourth-sixth centuries the Byzantines took over from the Nabataeans and developed the region still further. After the coming of the Arabs, who in other countries had improved irrigation methods, the irrigation systems of the Negev broke down, and for more than a thousand years the Negev became an arid region inhabited only by Bedouin.The situation changed when Jewish settlers came to the Negev. The decisive impulse to make the land fertile again was given by David Ben-Gurion, a member of the kibbutz of Sede Boqer, who established a university there for the study of the Negev. A scientific basis for the development of the region was provided by Michael Evenari, a botanist of German origin who established a farm at Avdat using Nabataean methods and founded a plant research institute in Beersheba. Of great importance for the resettlement of the Negev was the creation of the National Water Carrier, which brings water from northern Israel to the Negev.TopographySix different areas can be distinguished in the Negev: the northwestern coastal plain, the Beersheba valley, the Negev Hills, a high plateau in the Wilderness of Paran, the Arava depression and the Elat Hills in the south. The northwestern coastal plain, a densely populated region, also takes in the Gaza Strip. Well supplied with water, it forms a link between the Judaean coastal plain and the El-Arish plain in northern Sinai.The Beersheba valley is divided into two by the Nahal Be'er Sheva, a river which is dry for most of the year. To the east, between Arad and Dimona, the plain is narrow, but it becomes wider in the area of the Haluza sand-dunes. With the help of irrigation this area can be brought into cultivation. To the south, in the Negev uplands, the land rises, reaching a height of 1,035m/336ft in Mount Ramon. The central part of the area is dominated by the rugged Negev Hills, with their gorges and craters. Most of the rain which falls here is collected by the river Zin, which flows into the Arava depression and from there reaches the Dead Sea.To the Southwest is the Wilderness of Paran (Midbar Paran), part of a plateau which begins in Sinai at a height of 600m/2,000ft and extends to the northeastern reaches of the Arava depression. Through this area flows the river Paran, which is dry for most of the year but during the rainy season swells into a mighty torrent. To the east the Negev falls away to the Arava depression, which, like the Jordan and the Dead Sea, is part of the Syro-African rift valley system.The Elat Hills belong geologically to the Sinai peninsula. From Elat they extend north for some 30km/20mi, consisting of soft sandstones in shades of white, yellow and pink, with, here and there, veins of iron, copper and other ores. The famous Timna copper-mines are within this area.In recent years the immigration of Jewish settlers, the provision of improved irrigation and the development of tourist facilities on the Gulf of Aqaba have led to a massive increase of population in the Negev.Touring the NegevWith Beersheba, Arad or Elat as a base, it is possible to see something of the scenery of the Negev and to visit its ancient sites - though there are few good modern roads. See Beersheba,There are also organized trips in all-terrain vehicles.
The river Paran becomes much wilder in the rainy season and the Paran valley changes from waterless to a raging torrent. It travels from Elat to south of the Dead Sea.
Situation and characteristicsThe largest of the three elliptical craters known as "mortars" (makhtesh) in the Negev is Makhtesh Ramon, which is 30km/19mi long by 8km/5mi wide. It lies 86km/53mi south of Beersheba between the Wilderness of Zin and the Wadi Paran Makhtesh is not a volcanic crater but was formed 70million years ago by the collapse of the land over underground cavities. Huge fossils of saurians which lived 150million years ago were found here.ViewThe road from Beersheba leads to the little town of Mizpe Ramon, founded in 1953. On the south side of the town is a viewing terrace (restaurant) from which there is an impressive view into the crater, the bottom of which is 500m/1,640ft lower down. On the western edge of the crater Har Ramon rises to 1,035m/3,396ft, Har Ored on the south side to 935m/3,068ft. On the east side are the remains of forts, notably Mezad Mishhor, built by the Nabataeans in the first century B.C. to protect the caravan route from their capital, Petra, to Avdat and via Subeita to Nizzana.
Halusa is one of the four Nabatean towns listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Incense Route and Desert Cities in the Negev.