“The Negev has begun to awaken. It must never be allowed to sleep again. The Negev makes it possible to double the settled area of Israel. We will combat the barrenness in it, just as we fought the hostility outside it.” Shimon Peres: On occasion of his election to president, November 2007
The Final Frontier
Having poor soil conditions, a harsh climate, rugged terrain, little fresh water, and a small population, the Negev was largely ignored during modern Israel’s first four decades. It did, however, have some influential supporters, among them David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.
When diplomats were determining the boundaries of the Jewish and Arab states in 1947 and 1948, Ben-Gurion was resolute in his conviction that the Negev, the southern third of the land, be part of the Jewish state. Though it was considered uninhabitable, he knew the new state’s growth depended on this region. He also had faith that the desert could be cultivated and turned into a place where Jews could settle and prosper. More than 50 years later, his vision has been realized -- Israeli farmers have overcome arid land conditions to grow prize-winning tomatoes, olives, wine, and a host of other fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Israel’s population, fueled by immigration, is projected to grow from the current 7.3 million to 9.2 million by 2025. This increasing population trend creates many challenges for Israel: Where will people live? Can Israel provide enough food to meet its growing nutritional needs? And, most important, is there enough fresh water to meet Israel’s needs while sharing sufficient water with its Arab neighbors? Because of its scarcity, fresh water is becoming the most important resource in the Middle East, and its management a war or peace issue.
Israeli desert agricultural research has concentrated on developing new technologies that enable farmers to use brackish (salty) water for agricultural irrigation, something which had never been done before in any other place in the world. The Negev Desert has very little fresh water but an almost unlimited underground supply of brackish water, now used extensively for agriculture. Since brackish water is abundant in most desert areas of the world, the Israeli techniques have broad international applications. Ongoing research for further development is critical.
Israeltourism — August 20, 2008 — A beautiful claymation clip, depicting the Negev region in Israel.