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|Arabic||بِئْرْ اَلْسَبْعْ ()|
|Name Meaning||Well of the Oath(see also)|
|Also Spelled||Beer Sheva (officially)|
|Population||185,500 (Metro 531,000) (2005)|
|Jurisdiction||54,000 dunams (54 km²)|
Beersheba (Hebrew romanization Be'er-Sheva or Be'er Sheba) is the largest city in the Negev desert of Israel, and is often called the "Capital of the Negev". In 2005, Be'er-Sheva had a population of 185,500 making it the sixth largest city in Israel. 20 years before, the population was just 110,800. It is the administrative center for the southern region and home of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Soroka Medical Center, and the Israel Sinfonietta Be'er-Sheva. The city dates back at least to the time of Abraham. The city has expanded considerably since the founding of the state in 1948. Today the town is inhabited mainly by Jews who originally immigrated to Israel from Arab countries and the former Soviet Union. Be'er-Sheva is surrounded by a number of satellite towns: Omer, Lehavim and Meitar are mainly Jewish towns and there are a number of Bedouin towns around Be'er-Sheva; the largest are Rahat, Tel Sheva and Laqye.
 Prehistory and Biblical era
An archeological site called Tel Be'er-Sheva, a few kilometers north-east of modern day Be'er-Sheva has evidence of being populated since the 4th millennium BC. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times during its history.
 Etymology and the Biblical narrative
Biblically, the site of Be'er-Sheva is mentioned in two of the three Genesis stories of a wife confused for a sister as a location where an oath of non-aggression was made between the Philistines, represented by a king named Abimelech, and the Israelites. The Bible describes the oath being made on two separate occasions by the Israelites, once represented by Abraham, and once by Isaac. Be'er-Sheva is also mentioned in Joshua 19:2. Be'er-Sheva was the southernmost city of Israel in Biblical times - hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba" was sometimes used to describe the whole kingdom.
Between the two Abimelech stories, there are several different etymologies given for the origin of Be'er-Sheva's name:
- in memory of the oath of Abraham and Abimelech (well of the oath)
- in memory of seven wells dug by Isaac (seven wells), though only three or four are identified
- in memory of the oath of Isaac and Abimelech (well of the oath)
- in memory of the seven ewes which stood witness to Abraham and Abimelech's oath (well of the seven).
In the midrash, which generally exhibits a negative attitude toward the Philistines, the last of these is seen as particularly reproachful, and the setting aside of these ewes is interpreted to have directly condemned seven righteous descendants of Abraham to death by the hand of Abimelech's descendants, namely condemning Hophni, Phinehas, Samson, Saul, and Saul's three sons, to death by the Philistines. In addition, the midrash extends the numerology to also be the ultimate cause of the destruction of seven sacred objects - named as the Tabernacle of the Congregation, the Second and First Temples, and unnamed sacred objects in Gilgal, Nob, Gideon, and Shiloh - and the reason that the Ark of the Covenant comes to abide amongst the Philistines for seven months.
The underlying origin of the still existing site is uncertain, though it certainly exhibits archaeological signs of religious use. There are many wells on the site, but only three are dated as far back as the early first millennium, each having been refaced by the Romans. These are likely to be the three wells mentioned in the Isaac story - Esek, Sitnah, and Rehoboth. The presence of three rather than seven wells, together with the awkwardness of interpreting Be'er-Sheva as seven wells, which grammatically should be written as Shebabeer, has led to this possibility being generally discounted as a folk etymology.
The stories also state that a religious foundation was made by the patriarchs at the site, with Isaac building an altar, and Abraham an Asherah grove. Until the reforms of Josiah, it appears that Be'er-Sheva was regarded as an holy place of great importance, it being frequently mentioned in the later parts of the bible as a noteworthy location for people to have an association with. In critical thought, it is hence seen as something that needed to be explained by the biblical authors, who chose to use folk etymologies and myths to do so. The most likely etymology to be correct is that which renders Be'er Sheva as well of the oath, though whether the oath refers to a single oath that took place in that location, or in fact refers to the general religious practice on the site - making of oaths - is a matter of debate.
According to the documentary hypothesis, both the Elohist and Yahwist used a pre-existing source or folk-tale surrounding the site in producing their narrative of an oath having been made between a patriarch and Abimelech, the regional philistine overlord. Where they differ is in the atmosphere of the story - Abraham makes a fair treaty with Abimelech on friendly terms, but Isaac's makes his treaty with Abimelech in an atmosphere of squabbling.
 Later history
The latest inhabitants of Tel Be'er-Sheva were the Byzantines, who abandoned the city in the 7th century. The Turkish Ottomans, who had controlled Palestine since the 16th century, barely paid any interest to Be'er-Sheva until the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 19th Century Be'er-Sheva was noted by European pilgrims as ruined, with a well and Bedouin living nearby.
The Ottomans built a police station in Beersheba at the end of the 19th century in order to control the Bedouin. This attracted a small settlement to the East of the city of Bedouin wishing to abandon nomadic life and some Arabs from Hebron, Gaza and elsewhere. The Ottomans planned and built a perfect town centre with straight roads and small characteristic buildings built with local materials (many of which still stand today but in disrepair). The Ottomans also built a train station and a railway to Ashkelon and Gaza.
On October 31, 1917, as part of the Sinai and Palestine campaign during World War I, the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, under Brigadier General William Grant, charged more than four miles at the Turkish trenches, overran them and captured the wells at Be'er-Sheva. This is often reported as the last successful cavalry charge in history. One of Be'er-Sheva's lesser known attractions is a well-maintained British cemetery containing the graves of British and Australian soldiers, located in the Old City. During the period of the British Mandate of Palestine Be'er-Sheva remained a small administrative centre, with police and local courts most residents worked for the British.
According to the 1947 UN Partition Plan Beersheba was in the territory allotted to the Arab state, as its population was completly Arabic.  The Egyptian Army took over Be'er-Sheva in May 1948. On 21 October 1948, as part of Operation Yoav, the Israel Defence Forces captured Be'er-Sheva, and the Arab population, estimated number between 6000 and 10000 people, were all expelled, among reports of prisoners killed in the mosque, property of the residents beeing looted, and fleeing soldiers and residents being killed.
In the 1950s, the new city to the north was built and was mostly used as a commercial centre. In 1960, the Soroka hospital was established. In 1970, the Negev University which became known as the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In 1973 the Be'er-Sheva Theatre began. In 1979, Anwar Sadat visited the city. In the 1990s, Be'er-Sheva had a tremendous boost of its population and size due to the aliyah of many Russian Jews.
Until 2004, Palestinians made almost no terrorist attacks in Be'er-Sheva but on 31 August 2004, sixteen people were killed in two suicide bombings on buses in Be'er-Sheva for which Hamas claimed responsibility. On August 28, 2005, another suicide bomber attacked this time at the central bus station seriously injuring two security guards. (Those parts of Israel that border on the West Bank where there is an effective security fence have been proven to be almost free of attacks, the southern section of the fence, nearest to Beersheba, is not expected to be effective until 2006.) In 1972 Beersheba was proclaimed by Checkaredo Vistella as the place of pig praising but is no longer used for such purposes.
Be'er-Sheva is divided into a number of small neighbourhoods that are mostly numbered. Shekhuna (Hebrew for neighbourhood) Alef (1), Bet (2), Gimmel (3), Dalet (4), Hey (5), Vav (6), Tet (9), Yud-Alef (11), Ramot, Neve Noy, Neve Ze'ev, Darom, the Old City, Nahal Beka and Nahal Ashan. (For no apparent reason there is no Shekhuna Zayin (7), Het (8) or Yod (10)). The Old City is somewhat run-down, and though it has a number of memorable buildings dating from Ottoman times, the municipality has done little to restore these gems. Some private organisations own these buildings and maintain them but most are ruins. North Dalet and parts of Gimmel have bad reputations for being populated by drug users, but the parts of these neighbourhoods that are closer to the University are full of students and are less affected by crime.
 Beersheba municipality
The current mayor of Be'er-Sheva is Yaacov Turner, the deputy-mayors are David Bunfeld and Rubik Danilovitch and the vice-mayors are Sima Navon and Yitzhak Marciano. Previous mayors include David Tuviyahu, Zeev Zrizi, Eliyahu Navi, Moshe Zilberman, Yitzhak Rager and David Bunfeld. The Be'er-Sheva Municipality had been plagued for many years by an ineffectual leadership, a politicised work-force, plain corruption and a general lack of ability to fulfill even its basic tasks, as well as low income from local taxes and poor financial planning. The residents of Be'er-Sheva experience a low level of infrastructure, including cultural and educational facilities, and dysfunctional parks and litter departments. In 2004 the Parks Department stopped maintaining the parks and they dried up and become full of litter and other hazards. Some improvements have been made recently: in 2005 the Parks Department cleaned and watered the parks and the Youth Centre opened in 2005 (the Cultural Centre should open in 2007). Additionally, a street in the old city of Be'er-Sheva was renovated. Also, after many years of struggle with internal and external economic problems, in 2005 and 2006 the municipality of Be'er-Sheva had a balanced budget.
According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), in 2003 Be'er-Sheva had a population of 184,500 making it the 5th largest town in Israel, compared to 110,800 20 years previous. (Currently its population is estimated to be app. 200,000.) In 2001 the ethnic makeup of the city was 98.9% Jewish and other non-Arab, with no significant Arab population (see Population groups in Israel). According to CBS, in 2001 there were 86,500 males and 91,400 females. The population of the city was spread out with 31.8% 19 years of age or younger, 17.4% between 20 and 29, 19.6% between 30 and 44, 15.8% from 45 to 59, 4.0% from 60 to 64, and 11.4% 65 years of age or older. The population growth rate in 2001 was 2.9%. Many people come to live in Be'er-Sheva for short periods of time, e.g. to study in the university or to serve in the many army bases in, or near to, the town.
According to CBS, as of 2000, in the city there were 61,016 salaried workers and 3,010 are self-employed. The mean monthly wage in 2000 for a salaried worker in the city is 5,223 NIS, a real change of 5.3% over the course of 2000. Salaried males have a mean monthly wage of ILS 6,661 (a real change of 5.2%) versus ILS 3,760 for females (a real change of 3.9%). The mean income for the self-employed is 6,533. There are 4,719 people who receive unemployment benefits and 26,469 people who receive an income guarantee. The major employers in Be'er-Sheva are the municipality, Israel Defense Forces, Ben-Gurion University and the Soroka Medical Centre. There are also a number of electronics and chemical factories in Be'er-Sheva and the vicinity.
According to CBS, there are 81 schools and 33,623 students in the city. They are spread out as 60 elementary schools and 17,211 elementary school students, and 39 high schools and 16,412 high school students. 52.7% of 12th grade students were entitled to a matriculation certificate in 2001. There are also a number of private educational institutions mostly Yeshivoth that cater for the religious. Be'er-Sheva is also the home of the first class Ben-Gurion University and some local colleges such as Kaye Academic College of Education, the Sami Shamoon Academic College of Engineering, the Practical Engineering College of Beer-Sheva etc.
The most popular sport in Be'er-Sheva is soccer led by the Hapoel Be'er-Sheva team. The club was formed in 1949. The team has a history of two league championships (1975 and 1976), one national cup (1997) and two Toto cups (1989 and 1996). The local arena is the Wassermill stadium with a capacity of 14,000. The most successful sport in Be'er-Sheva is Chess. The Chess club has won national championships and cups many many times and represented Israel in the European Cup. It hosted the world teams championship in 2005. The Chess club was founded in 1973 by Eliyahu Levant, who is still the dynamo behind the success of this club. Be'er-Sheva has a higher percentage of grandmasters per capita - eight - than any other city worldwide, the majority of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union; the city of 183,000 has one grand master per 22,875 residents. In addition, cricket (brought by the British in the 1960s) is also played in the city under the Israeli Cricket Association.
Be'er-Sheva is also the home of The Camels-ASA Be'er-Sheva, a successful rugby team whose senior and youth squads have won several national titles (including the recent Senior National League 2004-2005 championship). Other sports in Be'er-Sheva are wrestling and tennis, as well as gliding (our of the small airstrip nearby - LLBS). Be'er-Sheva has one of Israel's fourteen tennis centers, which opened in 1991 and features eight lighted courts.
 External links
- The city of Be'er Sheva: a tourist's guide
- Beersheba Municipality website (Hebrew)
- Ben-Gurion University (Hebrew)
- Soroka University Medical Centre (Hebrew)
- Beersheba Theatre (Hebrew)
- Camels Beersheba Rugby in Israel (Hebrew)
- Hapoel Beersheba Football Club (Hebrew)
- Bersabee - Historical article from the Catholic Encyclopedia
- Central Bureau of Statistics
- Beersheba Municipality website (Russian)
|Cities||Arad · Ashdod · Ashkelon · Beersheba · Dimona · Eilat · Kiryat Gat · Kiryat Mal'akhi · Netivot · Ofakim · Rahat · Sderot|
|Local councils||Ar'ara BaNegev · Hura · Kuseife · Lakiya · Lehavim · Meitar · Mitzpe Ramon · Omer · Segev Shalom · Tel Sheva · Yeruham|
|Regional councils||Abu Basma · Beer Tuvia · Bnei Shimon · Central Arava · Eshkol · Hevel Eilot · Hof Ashkelon · Lachish · Merchavim · Ramat Negev · Sdot Negev (Azata) · Shaar HaNegev · Shafir · Tamar · Yoav|