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Stayput Beersheba

Located in the geographical center of Israel, some 90 km from Jerusalem and 100 km from Tel Aviv, Beersheba is known as the capital of the Negev. It is the region’s largest city with some 200,000 residents and the gateway to the southern part of Israel.

Human settlement in Beersheba began as long ago as the Chalcolithic period, when the first settlers established villages on the banks of the Beersheba Riverbed. The area also was inhabited during the biblical period, some 4,000 years ago; it was mentioned in the Bible 35 more times than Jerusalem. This, actually, is where monotheism began to sprout, on the thin border between the desert and settled area.
Beersheba also is noteworthy because it is the only city that the Ottomans established in the 400 some years that they ruled this area. They lost control of it in October 1917, in the last cavalry battle ever fought, which they lost to the ANZAC troops of the British Empire. Exactly 31 years later, in that same month, the Negev brigade of the Palmach captured the town, making it part of the State of Israel.
Located in the geographical center of Israel, some 90 km from Jerusalem and 100 km from Tel Aviv, Beersheba is known as the capital of the Negev. It is the region’s largest city with some 200,000 residents. In addition to its own historic and tourist attractions, Beersheba is a convenient base for exploring all types of sites in the Negev: the Yattir and Lahav forests; the makhteshim and Har Hanegev areas; the Dead Sea and Masada; the Arava; the Bedouin villages; Nahal Besor; and the western Negev. One can travel from the primitive isolation of the heart of desert to the comfort of a modern city within the span of a single day.

Gal Greenberg

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The Old City of Beersheba

History buffs will find much to hold their interest on this daylong tour of Beersheba, as well those with an interest in architecture and ethnic art.
Begin the tour at the memorial to the Negev Brigade (a sculpture designed by Dani Karavan), where there is a great panoramic view of the Beersheba Valley (the biblical Beersheba desert region). Karavan’s sculpture is made up of many different parts that symbolize various aspects of the War of Independence. At its center is a memorial to the soldiers who fell in the war.
A short way down the road is Tel Beersheva (entrance fee), which was an administrative center in the days of the Judean kings. The finds in the tell include some of the most impressive ancient water works uncovered in Israel yet. After touring it, cross Beersheba’s business district via Hebron Street to reach the visitor’s center and the Well of Abraham, which are located at the edge of the Old City.
From there, take KKL Street into the Ottoman City to what is known as “the 20 meter street” due to its unusual width and similarity to a European boulevard. At the end of the road is the Saraya, the Ottoman administrative headquarters, which was later taken over by the British. Today it is a police station. Turn right and then left to reach Allenby Park, where a statue of the British general stands in the center of the park. Ironically, the park named after the general who defeated the Turks actually was built by the Turks. It was the first public park in the Land of Israel. Directly across the street is the governor’s house, which today serves as the Negev art museum. A mosque that appears similar to those found in Turkey is located in the same compound. Continue on Ha’atzmaut Street. To the left is one of the most beautiful buildings in town. Originally a school for the children of sheikhs, it recently was rehabilitated and will be used as a science education center.
Continue down the street.  On the left is the British military cemetery in which the ANZAC troops who fell in the Battle of Beersheba are buried. Across the road, just past the modern apartment buildings, is the Turkish railway station, where we will end the tour, unless it is Thursday. On Thursdays, the Bedouin market operates near the Old City (it is a 20-minute walk or five-minute drive from the Well of Abraham).

Gal Greenberg

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Mitzpe Beit Eshel

Beit Eshel is a remnant of an abandoned settlement beside Beersheba, located at the Beit Eshel-Dimona Junction (Tel. (08) 623-3694). It is one of three settlements that were established in the Negev in 1943 (the other two are Revivim and Gvulot). In Israel’s War of Independence, the young settlement was besieged by Egyptian forces and heavily shelled. The defenders held on, but in the end Beit Eshel was destroyed. When Beersheba was captured by the Israel Defense Forces, the site was abandoned and its inhabitants moved to the Jezreel Valley to establish Moshav Hayogev. In 1960, a small group of residents of Beersheba began to look after the site on a volunteer basis; they were high school students, soldiers, and pensioners, who worked very hard to refurbish it. A society was created for the preservation of the site. The society works to instill high-school students and others with Zionism, love of the Land of Israel, and the value of manual labor, encouraging them to rehabilitate the site and plant vegetation around it. Visitors to Beit Eshel can get a glimpse of the way life was in the pre-state years at the site, where remains of buildings and trenches can still be found.

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Joe Allon Center

The Joe Allon Center in the Lahav Forest beside Kibbutz Lahav (Tel. (08) 991-8597, (08) 991-3322) presents an extensive exhibit dealing with Bedouin culture, focusing on such subjects as the Bedouin in the Negev; the herd and its products; traditional agriculture; migration; the camel; the fisherman and hunter; everyday items from Sinai; the heights of Sinai; a sheikh’s tomb; traditions and customs; and Bedouin art. Audiovisual presentations are shown at the museum and visitors are hosted in an authentic Bedouin tent, with coffee and tea and the recounting of legends.
The center also gives guided tours of the area and hosts activities such as field cooking, the baking of pita bread, a visit to a modern Bedouin settlement, and crafts workshops. The center also highlights a network of hiding places from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, some of which have been discovered in the area. Multimedia systems and interactive programs deal with local settlement.

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Cultural Revival in Beersheba

Once a sleepy desert town, Beersheba has woken up in recent years, mainly thanks to the many students from around the country who study at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the city’s colleges. More than a few places of entertainment have opened up to cater to the city’s new young residents, such as the One Mall, which is filled with fashionable clothing boutiques.
As for dining, Beersheba's strength is in local soul food and neighborhood bars like Little India, a vegetarian Indian restaurant that is designed to look like a Bedouin tent (15 Ringelbloom Street, Tel. (08) 648-9801, kosher).
There also are the eateries that Beersheba is known for like the original branch of the Glida Beersheba ice cream parlor (50 Hadama Street), Felafel Assulin (46 Herzl Street), and Kebab Emuna (58 KKL Street).
A recent addition to the Beersheba culinary scene is a branch of the Black Bar 'n Burger chain, whose kitchen is overseen by Israeli celebrity chef Tzachi Buchester. As one would expect, it serves excellent burgers and meat entrees in a trendy, fun atmosphere. (52 Nafha Street, One Plaza Compound, Tel. 1-599-555-550, not kosher).

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City of Saints

The many Jews from North Africa and Iraq, who settled in Beersheba and the surrounding villages in the decade after the creation of the State of Israel, brought more than a few traditions with them, including the tradition of venerating saintly rabbis from Tunis, Morocco, and different parts of Iraq. New rabbis’ courts were created in the desert town and the graves of saintly rabbis became pilgrimage sites over the years.
One of the more famous of these sites is the grave of Rabbi Haim Hori, who immigrated to Israel from Jerba in 1955 and settled in Beersheba. Hori died two years later and was buried in the Beersheba cemetery. A festive and colorful pilgrimage to the rabbi’s grave is held every year on the anniversary of his death (25 of Iyar).

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Day 1: Old City of Beersheba

Tour the Old City of Beersheba, starting at the Memorial to the Negev Brigade and ending at the old Turkish train station. If time permits, head over to Beit Eshel on the outskirts of town.

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Day 2: The Negev Coast

Drive north on Route 40 to the Dvir Junction. Take Route 3255 to the Joe Allon Bedouin Museum. Return to Route 40 and then take Route 35 to Ashkelon. Visit the remains of Roman Ashkelon and bathe at the Ashkelon Beach. Take Route 4 south and then Route 34 along the Northern Negev. Stop off at Netivot to visit the graves of the Baba Sali and Ifragan, two Jewish holy men. Their large tomb sites are always full of supplicants and the descendants of the two rabbis hold court at the site on certain days of the week and the Jewish month.

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Day 3: The Dead Sea

Take Route 60 and then Route 31 to the Dead Sea and drive north on Route 90 to Masada. Ascend the mountain by cable car and tour the fortress. Descend by foot and then drive northward to visit the Ein Gedi National Park. From the entrance to the Nahal David stream, continue to the entrance to Nahal Arugot. Hike up Nahal Arugot to the Hidden Waterfall. Descend to the waterfall and then hike back either along the way that you came or along the riverbed itself through the small Arugot Canyon. Bring a bathing suit, suitable walking shoes, a hat, sunglasses, and water.

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Day 4: To the Desert

Take Route 40 to the ancient town of Avdat. Tour the ruins of this abandoned Nabatean city, and continue to Mitzpe Ramon. At the traffic circle at the entrance to town, drive to the left along a dirt road. The sculptures along the road all stand at the edge of the Ramon Crater. Take a walk along sculptures – and the massive Ramon cliff (be careful). Return to Mitzpe Ramon and tour the visitors center before making a quick visit to the alpaca farm. Then return to Mitzpe Ramon and climb Camel Hill to watch the sun set over the crater. Take Route 40 back to Beersheba.

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Day 5: Tel Aviv

Take Route 4 north to Tel Aviv. Start in the south by exploring Jaffa’s flea market. Then take a taste of historic Tel Aviv by strolling through Neve Tzedek, Rothschild Boulevard, and the surrounding streets. Take a lunch break at one of the many cafes on Sheinkin Street and then check out the shops there and along Dizengoff Street. End the day with dinner and drinks in the restaurants and bars along Ibn Gabirol Street.

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Day 6: Jerusalem

Take Route 3 to Route 1 and drive to Jerusalem. Enter the Old City via the Jaffa Gate and visit the Tower of David Museum, whose main exhibit focuses on the history of Jerusalem. Then walk down David Street, the main souvenir market, to the first intersection. Turn left onto Christian Quarter Street and walk to the alley of Saint Helena that leads down to the Holy Sepulcher. Tour the assemblage of churches that have been built around the Tomb of Jesus since the third century. Exit by the small entrance to the courtyard that leads to the Muristan Market. Walk straight ahead until you reach the busy market street of Khan e-Zeit. Turn right and walk down the ancient Crusader markets. (The one nearest you is the butchers’ market. Walk along the central one which has less freshly butchered meat hanging on hooks alongside the street.) Once out of the market, turn left on David Street and make your way round the corner to Sisileh Street (the Street of the Chain). Walk down the street to the street turning to the Kotel. Walk down to the Kotel. After visiting the Kotel, take the Rabbi Yehudah Halevi steps up to the Jewish Quarter. Make your way through the quarter to Zion Gate, walk out the gate, turn right, and walk along the outside of the wall, around the corner and back to the Jaffa Gate. Drive back to Beersheba on Routes 1 and 3.

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Copyright ERETZ Magazine 2008