Be’er Sheva is one of the largest and most historically prominent cities in Israel. It has both an ancient biblical past and is a primary jewel of innovation in modern day Israel. Keeping with the tradition of Israeli history, the city has hosted scores of Jews, Arabs, Christians. In the last few decades it has been a main center of immigration for the return of diaspora Jewry, and the mix of these cultures is evident and appears in all facets of life.
The History of Be’er Sheva
As mentioned, the Jewish history of Be’er Sheva is cited in the Torah, Judaism’s holiest and most ancient text. It was the site where Abraham made a covenant with the Philistine King Abimelech, mentioned in the book of Genesis. The rest of the four patriarchs of Judaism also lived in Be’er Sheva for a time. Similar to other original ancient sites in Israel, the Jewish population dwindled after several expulsions and conquerings. The city did not regain any historic prominence until it came under the rule of Byzantium. However, the main recurring inhabitants of the city were in fact nomadic Bedouin tribes who frequented the site to collect water. Israel’s Negev desert is famed for its hidden oasis and springs, many of which are located in Be’er Sheva.
During the War of Independence in 1948, the city served as one of the main staging points of the Palmach. Here, Israel’s forces made their significant stand against Arab nations bent on running out the new Jewish arrivals. The attack led by the IDF, known as Operation Moses, took back the city of Be’er Sheva from Egyptian forces that had captured the city a few months prior. This victory was essential to Israel’s overall success in the War of Independence, cementing the land of Israel as a Jewish state after nearly 2,000 years.
Historic Sites in Be’er Sheva
The importance and prominence of this history can be found throughout several of the city’s historic sites and monuments. Starting with the biblical narrative you can visit Abraham’s Well, the ‘Be’er’ in Be’er Sheva. The name was taken from the historic biblical event of the covenant between Abraham and the Philistine king. ‘Be’er,’ means well, and ‘Sheva’, is translated as oath. This city was the first stop in the land of Canaan for the patriarchs Abraham and his son Isaac, after they had moved from the land of Ur, located in modern day Iraq.
Next on the historic and biblical timeline is the Tel Be’er Sheva National Park. This settlement was initially built in the fourth millennium BCE and underwent a renovation during the Iron Age. It continued to be in use all the way up till World War I. The Ottomans also used the tel as a vantage point to build a fortress to hold off the British advance from the south.
Be’er Sheva has seen a great deal of war and has a great deal of monuments and museums dedicated to Israel’s war history. One of more beautiful and artistic reminders is the Monument to the Negev Brigade of the Palmach forces. Designed by Danny Karivan, the monument alludes to the landscape of the Negev. It is constructed entirely out of concrete which blends in with the background of the desert and features eighteen distinct elements. Names of the fallen brigade are etched into the stone along with passages from the Old Testament.
Be’er Sheva is known for battles won in Israel and also on the chess board. The city has more chess masters per capita than anywhere else in the world. Some of the finest players the game has ever seen have hailed from here. Some of the most famous names in Israeli chess include Maxim Rodshtein, born in Russia but trained in Be’er Sheva. Maxim Rodshtein won the title of grand master in 2007 at the FIDE grande prix. Another notable name is Boris Gelfand who took the title of World Chess Champion in 2012. Israel, and Be’er Sheva in particular, is renowned for its ability to train champions and is ranked 15th in the world.
In addition to its rich ancient and modern history Be’er Sheva is a hub of culture, food, and beer. There are tours available designed to introduce newcomers to all of the above and beyond. Don’t miss your chance to check out this jewel of the Negev, central in both the geography and identity of Israel.