The Bedouin Market
The famous Bedouin market is next to the municipal market, on the southeastern edge of downtown. The Thursday morning market, when the Bedouin tribes come in from the desert to buy and sell, is no longer the exotic event it once was, but you can still see Bedouins in long caftans bartering over sacks of flour and coffee and holding conferences on the dollar rate of exchange for hand-woven rugs and baskets. Most of the marketeering goes on between 5 and 7am.
Abraham's Well is located at the southern end of Keren Kayemet Le-Israel Street, at the intersection of Derekh Hevron, down by the riverbed. Two large round stone walls, one open, the other covered by an arched stone roof, are surrounded by a stone courtyard, some desert date palm trees, and a wooden water wheel for drawing up the water. The wells are no longer in use, but you can still see the water far down below.
It may have been here that Abraham watered his large flocks almost 4,000 years ago and settled a dispute with Abimelech over rights to the water. Scholars still cannot decide whether "Beer-Sheva" means "Well of the Covenant" or "Well of the Seven" for the seven ewe lambs that Abraham gave Abimelech as a peace offering. Tip: Behind Abraham's Well, look for signs to the sporadic outdoor booths selling Ethiopian Jewish handicrafts. Their future at this location is not certain, so check with the tourist office. If they're around, craft lovers may find some of the choicest items in Israel.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is the pride of Beersheva. Its faculties include the humanities, the sciences, and a medical school. Many of the more than two dozen departments emphasize the development of the Negev. Some of the architecture is imaginative and combines an awareness of climatic conditions with the practical needs of the students and teachers.
The Old Railway Station on Tuviyahu Street is a local landmark. It was along the Beersheva line that ran to Egypt that Lawrence of Arabia played his train-blowing tricks against the Turks during World War I.
Monument to the Negev Fighters Brigade, completed in 1969, commemorates the Palmach brigade that captured the Negev in an epic campaign during the 1948 War of Independence. Probably the most original and most evocative of the nation's many memorials, it is the work of Dani Caravan, one of Israel's most famous artists. The memorial, consisting of 18 symbolic sections, flows like a fantastic cement garden over the summit of a raw windy hill. Here the entire Negev campaign has been reduced to its essentials: a concrete tent wall, a bunker, a hill crisscrossed by communications trenches, a pipeline, and nine war maps engraved in the floor of the square. You can climb all over these structures and to the top of the tall cement tower (representing the watch and water towers on Negev kibbutzim that were under shelling during the war); you can also file singly through the inclined walls of the pass that lead into the Memorial Dome and enter the symbolic bunker. Sadly, this memorial to those who fell in the battle for the Negev is not always well maintained and has been vandalized with graffiti; nonetheless it remains a moving site. It's on the northeastern edge of the city, just off the road that leads northward to Hebron.
Tel Beer Sheva National Park, 3km (2 miles) northeast of Beersheva on Rte. 60 (tel. 08/646-7286), has been excavated by archaeological teams for many years. Patient work has unearthed an ancient city, possibly Israelite in its later period, dating from the 12th to the 8th centuries B.C., built over the ruins of earlier levels of habitation. A dominant feature of the Iron Age Israelite city is a circular street with rows of buildings on both sides. A massive, 27m-deep (89-ft.) well of great antiquity was found right outside the 3,000-year-old city gates -- some speculate that this may actually have been the well of Abraham. A huge, four-horned ashlar altar was also found at the site -- the original is now in the collection of the Israel Museum, and a reproduction is displayed near the entrance to the tel. Though a dramatic object, and central to the ancient religions of the area, this altar is made of carved stone, in violation of biblical law; it therefore was probably not an altar used by early Israelite worshipers. The tel is open Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 5pm, Friday 8am to 3pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm. Admission is NIS 14 ($3.50/£1.75).
The Israel Air Force Museum, Rte. 233, 7km (4 miles) west of Beersheva (tel. 08/990-6890), contains at least 100 planes that played a role in Israel's history, ranging from one of the four Czech Messerschmitts that helped stop the Egyptian advance into Israel in 1948 to a Boeing 707 that was used in the famous 1976 rescue of Jewish passengers aboard an Air France plane that had been hijacked and taken to Entebbe, Uganda. A film about the rescue is shown inside the aircraft. An exhibit is in memory of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut and national hero killed in the Columbia space shuttle disaster. The museum is open Sunday to Thursday noon to 5pm and Friday 8am to noon. Admission is NIS 28 ($7/£3.50).
The Negev Bedouin
It's estimated that 140,000 Bedouin live in Israel -- most in the Negev, but there are smaller groups in the North. All are Israeli citizens, descendants of a nomadic culture that has existed in the Negev-Sinai-Jordanian desert region for at least 6,000 years. The customs and lifestyle of the Bedouin echo elements of Old Testament stories, especially those of the earliest patriarchs. The Bedouin are loyal to the State of Israel, and large numbers have served in the Israeli army with great distinction. However, as more and more of the Negev is developed, the once freewheeling Bedouin have been increasingly restricted to bleak permanent villages where their pastoral traditions and lifestyle cannot survive, and where schools, health services, and employment opportunities are minimal. A few Bedouin encampments still dot the countryside, with their large, black goat-hair communal tents (ecological marvels that are warm in winter, and cool in summer). With the help of the Ministry of Tourism and private organizations, cooperatives for Bedouin women's crafts are being developed, and Bedouin tourism projects, including desert treks, camping, and Bedouin dinner tents are a major Negev attraction.
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