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The Ben Gurion Years
Ben Gurion Centenary 1886-1986

The Making of the State - Five Historical Decisions

The Negev or the Territories

I. Background

The Value of the Negev:

The Negev (the desert which makes up half of the south of Israel) was central to Ben Gurion's concept of Zionism. From the time of his first visit to the region in 1935 he believed that the Negev was extremely valuable to the state.

During the War of Independence, Ben Gurion's objective was to conquer the Negev and Eilat, because of its outlet to the Red Sea, Israel's second sea.

His ideas were not clear to everyone and there were many who disagreed with the "Old Man's" decision to hold onto the Negev in view of the difficult military situation in 1948.

In his words,


"If we do not hold on to the Negev, we will eventually lose Tel Aviv. The Negev is the most important stake in the Zionist venture and our most urgent task is to encourage people to settle in this region."

On Sunday, December 13, 1953, Ben Gurion left his Tel Aviv home to settle on Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the heart of the Negev. A tearful crowd watched his departure. When asked to speak, he simply said, "Follow me." Ben Gurion's vision of the future was of a desert shrinking as pioneers built cities and universities and made the land fertile.

With the mass aliya of the 1950s, several development towns were set up in the Negev. At the same time, a large number of kibbutzim were established in the region. Its two main cities, Beersheva and Eilat, expanded considerably.

Today, however, the Negev remains the least developed area in Israel: it is extremely underpopulated, lacks profitable industry and its dry climate makes agricultural development a problem. Ben Gurion's departure from Tel Aviv therefore did not produce the desired effect. Turning Point:

In 1968, when Labour Minister Yigal Allon visited Hebron to encourage Rabbi Levinger's group, he stated that,


"There have always been Jews in Hebron, the cradle of our nation, and they will remain until they are evicted by force."

At the end of that year, the government decided to build Kiryat Arba, a Jewish town overlooking Hebron. Kiryat Arba, another biblical name for Hebron, is the symbol of Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) and their stubborn nationalism. After this tactical victory at Hebron, Gush Emunim's influence began to spread to large areas of the secular population. Many non-religious Israelis, including political and literary figures, began to see this movement as the spokesman of the pioneering tradition. Settlements in new areas had always been the cornerstone of the Zionist socialist ethic and the concept of love of the land is sacred in all Zionist youth movements: the new settlement and the kibbutz are symbols of the Zionist revolution.

Making Priorities: Since the Six Day War, however, this policy of settlement in the administered territories has been one of the factors slowing down the further development of the Negev. It would therefore seem that other political priorities have overtaken Ben Gurion's vision.

II. Activity

Aim: To understand what is at stake in regional development in Israel, particularly contrasting the situation in the Negev with that in the territories of Judea and Samaria.



    I. One hour

    1. Divide the group into two. One subgroup draws a detailed map of Israel on the floor using sticky tape.

    2. The second group prepares three sets of symbols for towns, industries, water supplies, roads, schools, using large sheets of card. You need three different colors of card to represent three regions of Israel.


II. One hour


    1. When the map and the cards with symbols are ready, divide the whole group into three teams. Each team must work out a complete settlement and development plan for a different region in Israel, using the cards.


      The regions are:

      The Negev
      Judea and Samaria
      Tel Aviv area (Gush Dan)


    The three plans should be clearly marked on the large floor map. Each plan should aim to solve the real problems of their region, e.g., population, industry, agriculture, climate, communications, political problems, etc. Reference may be made to the enclosed map, books and pamphlets about Israel.

III. Three-quarters of an hour
    1. Each region now has its own development plan but the budget is only sufficient for one region!

    The teams now have to justify why their region should receive these funds.

    The madrich/a first asks the teams questions such as:


    • on what ideological grounds do they base their claim that their region should have preference over the others?


    S/he gives them a number of tasks and they have a few minutes to prepare each answer, e.g.:


    • Find names for roads or schools which would symbolize what is best about the region;


    • Solve a specific social problem (e.g. building a center for delinquents - which area can do it most quickly, where, what activities will take place in it?);


    • Prepare a talk to be given to potential new immigrants to persuade them to come and settle in that region.


    2. The madrich/a then announces that the region which shows it has the greatest connection with Zionism and Judaism will be allocated the development funds. Each team must therefore present this aspect of its region.

    3. Notes:

    Each time a team completes one of the tasks, it is awarded a bonus beyond the overall budget. The team which is the most successful is allocated the funding.

IV. Conclusion

    1. To conclude the activity, each player says which of the three regions studied during the game s/he would really like to live in if s/he lived in Israel.

    2. From this form, three new teams and each team should justify its choice to the others.


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