|Zin Valley, Negev Desert, courtesy, Wikipedia|
A small population of Arabian leopards, an endangered animal in the Arabian peninsula, survives in the southern Negev. Other carnivora found in the area are the caracal, the Arabian wolf, the golden jackal and the marbled polecat. The Aravah mountain gazelle, a subspecies of the mountain gazelle, manages to survive but the dorcas gazelle is more numerous with some 1,000–1,500. Some 350 to 500 Nubian ibex live in the Negev Highlands and in the Eilat Mountains. The Negev shrew is a rare species of mammal found only in Israel. The Negev tortoise is a critically endangered species that currently lives only in the sands of the western and central Negev Desert. Animals that were reintroduced after extinction in the wild or local extinction respectively are the Asiatic wild assthe Arabian oryx. The Negev is the only place where the Arabian oryx can flourish because nowhere else in the Middle East can poaching be controlled.
According to the Book of Genesis chapter 13, Abraham lived for a while in the Negev after being banished from Egypt (Genesis 13:1,3). During the Exodus journey to the Promised Land, Moses sent twelve scouts into the Negev to assess the land and population (Numbers 13:17). During the time of Joshua, the northern part of the Negev became the southern extent of Israelite settlement in Canaan and the area was allotted to the tribes of Judah and Shimon which was an enclave of Judah in the southwest. Kings Saul and David fended off the Amalekites in the area. The entirety of the Negev was later part of the Kingdom of Solomon, who, as with his successors as kings of Judah, set up fortresses to guard the routes to Elath and Egypt. In the 9th century BCE, development and expansion of mining in both the Negev and Edom coincided with the rise of the Assyrian Empire. In the 8th century BCE, Beersheba became the region's capital and center for trade. Uzziah made the greatest effort to develop the Negev, maintaining the communications with Elath through this region, and, apart from extending agriculture (ii Chron. 26:10), built large fortresses at Kadesh (see posting on Kadesh Barnea), Arad, Ḥorvat 'Uza, and other sites. After the return from Babylonian exile, Jewish connections with the Negev in the post-biblical period were tenuous. The region’s northern part was held by King Alexander Yannai (Jannaeus), a Maccabee of the House of Hasmon.
Since the Arab conquest in the 7th century and especially since the Crusader conquests in the 12th and 13th centuries, the region was almost abandoned and became a desert wasteland save for the major coastal cities and major Jewish centers of Gaza and Rafiah (see posting on Gaza) and a few scattered Bedouin tribes. In later centuries, other Bedouin tribes migrated to the Negev area, some were of Jewish ancestry such as the el Huzayel clan. At the earliest stages of the modern Jewish return to the land, the Negev was visualized as a possible area of settlement by men like Z.D. Levontin, who aimed at founding a settlement south of Gaza (1881–2). Like other Jews at the beginning of the 20th century, however, they had to abandon attempts at purchasing holdings, mainly because Bedouin vendors could not produce title deeds entered in the land registry for the tracts they offered. Attention was again directed to the Negev when Theodor Herzl took up Davis Trietsch's proposal of the El-Arish Project (1903), and a daring plan for a Jewish-Bedouin alliance was also put forward. After World War i, veterans of the Jewish Legion tried to settle on state land offered by the British authorities near the tell of Arad, but they despaired when no water was found.
Although historically, the Negev area south of Beersheba, was part of a separate region, it was added to the proposed area of Mandatory Palestine, on July 10, 1922, having been conceded by British representative St John Philby of Eastern Palestine (aka Trans-Jordan). After the end of the 1930s, the Jewish National Fund took over, securing and enlarging scattered holdings in the Negev which had been acquired beforehand by Jewish individuals. Thus the three "observation villages"–Gevulot, Beit Eshel, and Revivim–were set up in 1943. In 1946, in response to the British-created Morrison–Grady Plan which would have allotted the area to an Arab state, the Jewish Agency enacted the 11 points in the Negev plan to begin local Jewish settlement. Four more communities were established preceding the outbreak of the War of Independence in December 1947. All these outposts were modestly supplied with water from two pipelines drawn from the Nir Am and Gevar'am wells in the southern Coastal Plain. As a result, the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine allotted a majority of the area to the Jewish State which later became Israel. During the War of Independence, Israel secured its Negev allotment and then some. The one exception was the area in and around Gaza City, which became known as the Gaza Strip. Since the end of the war in 1949, the region’s population has grown exponentially. In the early years of the state, it absorbed many of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, with the Israeli government setting up many development towns, such as Arad, Sderot and Netivot. Whereas the Negev Bedouin population, of which about 15,000 remained in the Negev after 1948, and increased to about 27,000 in 1969, Jewish settlement was the principal factor causing the population density especially in the Beersheba subdistrict to increase. Deep well drillings in the 1960s yielded water in previously unsuspected quantities.
In the late 60s, a group of African-Americans from Chicago who claimed to be descended from the ancient Israelites, settled in Dimona. Today, the Hebrew Israelites are a vibrant community, living mainly in Dimona, who contribute greatly to Israeli society in spite of the many obstacles the Israeli government puts in their way. In the past two decades, the Negev has also become home to many of the Israel Defense Forces' major bases. Blueprint Negev is a Jewish National Fund project introduced in 2005. The $600 million project hopes to attract 500,000 new Jewish residents to the Negev by improving transportation infrastructure, establishing businesses, developing water resources and introducing programs to protect the environment. A planned artificial desert river, swimming pools and golf courses raised concerns among environmentalists. As of 2010, the Negev was home to some 630,000 people (or 8.2% of Israel's population).
In October 2012, global travel guide publisher Lonely Planet rated the Negev second on a list of the world's top ten regional travel destinations for 2013, noting its current transformation through development.
Today, the Negev is home to such institutions as Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, whose faculties include the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research and the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies, both located on the Midreshet Ben-Gurion campus adjacent to Sde Boker.
Other sites include: Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, Ashalim and the Ashalim Power Station, the Rotem Industrial Complex outside of Dimona, the Negev Nuclear Research Center and reactor, Yatir Forest and Winery, Carmel’s boutique winery at Ramat AradSde Boker, the Barkan Vineyard at Tel Arad Carmey Avdat - Israel's first solar-powered winery, the Ḥaluẓah, Shunrah, and Agur dunes, Ne'ot Hovav, Ḥaẓevah, Avronah, Yotvatah, Sa'īdiyin, Wadi el-Na'am, Naḥal Besor, Naḥal Be'er Sheva, Naḥal Ḥevron, Naḥal Gerar, Naḥal Paran, the Dead Sea (see posting on the Dead Sea), Mt. Ramon, Mt. Sagi, Mt. Loẓ, Mt. Arif, the Sheluḥat Noẓah ridge, the Edom Mountains, Zin Canyon, and the Sedom salt flats.