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Modern Settling of the Negev Desert

A Story of A State

This post is about the modern Settling of the Negev Desert by the Zionist movement that began in the early 20th century.

The Modern Settling of the Negev Desert: Tower and Stockade

 On our way to visit the Negev, I’ll tell you all about this new form of a settlement that existed in the past, called ‘Tower and Stockade’. It was a response to the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt that outburst in Palestine in April 1936. The Arab revolt started with riots in Jaffa (9 Jews were lynched and dozens were wounded); followed by a general strike. It included economical measures such as the boycott of commercials and the banning of any real estate transaction with Jews and organized paramilitary activities. The Great Arab Revolt was the most violent reaction of the local Arab population to the Zionist project. And certainly a first politically organized expression of a new Palestinian identity. For the Jewish population and especially for the Zionist organizations the Arab revolt offered a golden opportunity to destroy the Arab economy; and to progress even faster towards a Jewish state.

Moreover, in Tel-Aviv, the result of the Arab embargo on Jewish ships in Jaffa port was the erection of a new port; while the boycott of commercial transactions of fruits and vegetables gave reason to the establishment of two new markets. Facing the Arab resistance to Jewish settlement in remote parts of the country; and the growing difficulties to purchase lands and to settle them; the Zionist organizations elaborated a new strategy of a coordinated “Settlement Offensive” all over the country. The idea was to establish in the shortest period of time, a chain of new settlements that would create a Jewish continuum and define the future borderline of the State of Israel. In order to realize the “Settlement Offensive” strategy; the main tactical tool operation was ‘Tower and Stockade’.

The Modern Settling of the Negev Desert: Kibbutz Negba

Kibbutz Negba was founded on 12 July 1939 as part of the tower and stockade enterprise. The first settlers were members of Hashomer Hatzair from Poland. It was the southernmost Jewish settlement in Mandatory Palestine. The Heroic battles of Negba were part of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Both of Negba’s successful stands had a significant symbolic value in Israel. Moreover, the battle is considered to be the turning point on the southern front during the period between the first and second truces of the 1948 war.

The culture officer of the Givati Brigade, the famous Abba Kovner, compared the defense to the Battle of Stalingrad. The commander of the Egyptian forces in Palestine; Ahmed Ali al-Mwawi, dismissed Muhammad Naguib (commander of the 4th Brigade) over the defeat. Later on, Naguib would lead the military coup against the Egyptian government. Once arriving at the Kibbutz we shall visit the open museum. Including the bullet perforated water-tower of the Kibbutz; a restored model of a tower & stockade and more. On our private tour today we will try to understand the history behind the current borders of Israel. Also, I will tell you the stories of those boys and girls standing firm against the Egyptians.

The Modern Settling of the Negev Desert: The Eleven Points in the Negev

After the Morrison-Grady partition proposal; the Negev was excluded from the Jewish state and settlement there would be prohibited. In response to the plan, the Jewish Agency decided to settle the Negev desert, in a scheme known as 11 points in the Negev. So the plan was to assure a Jewish presence in the area prior to the partition of Palestine. Together, the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency, the Haganah and the Mekorot water company launched a drive to settle the Negev and hopefully retain it as part of a Jewish state. On the night of October 5–6, after the Yom Kippur fast, the settlers, including members of Kibbutz Ruhama and Gvulot, set up camp at eleven predetermined locations in the Negev. Today there is a museum celebrating the eleven points located in Kibbutz Revivim. And that’s exactly our next destination.

The Modern Settling of the Negev Desert: Kibbutz Revivim

This Kibbutz has amazing stories to tell. But first allow me to supply you with some background: So the British White Paper of 1939 and the 1940 Land Transfer Regulations placed a number of restrictions on Jewish settlement and land purchase in the Mandate for Palestine. The Negev Desert was one of the areas where it was forbidden to settle.

On the other hand, when World War II broke out the Yishuv sought to broaden its areas of settlement; in order to have greater capacity to house Jewish refugees from Europe. Moreover, the Yishuv, which was vehemently opposed to the White Paper and was interested in settling the Negev. It also wished to test the British reaction to such a move.

The Modern Settling of the Negev Desert: Land Acquisition

The land purchases in the Negev were made by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), operating as the Tzukerman Office; a private real estate company secretly affiliated with the JNF. If required to purchase land from Arabs (after 1940), the office would recruit Arabs who had allied themselves with the Yishuv, to circumvent the British ban. The land was mostly purchased from Negev Bedouin, who were usually not nationalistically motivated and more interested in the financial aspect.

Revivim was founded in July, 1943, by the organization HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, and originally named Tel Tzofim. Three members came three months earlier; but were driven out by the British. Then on July 28, six people came to the site and started construction; soon joined by another six.

The Modern Settling of the Negev Desert: A Visit to the Local Museum

On our tour, we will go and visit the Museum that tells about the 11 points in the Negev operation. And still has the original communication canals from the 1948 war. Also, we will learn about the special visit the kibbutz had by the United Nations Special Committee of Palestine in 1947. Due to that visit, the Jewish settlement of the Negev received a lot of international attention. Some say that the visit of the committee to Revivim made the Negev a part of the state of Israel.

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Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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