In the King James Bible, the Judean Desert is referred to as “the wilderness of Judea.” But appearances can be deceiving, and living in a desert town – at least in modern times when fresh water can be brought in pipes from their source – can be very agreeable, especially if it is located at high altitudes, as the climate is cool and dry. Just the thing for people with respiratory ailments such as asthma.

In Israel, one of these desert hill towns is Arad. It is located in the geological border of two desert regions – Judea and the Negev. Located 25 kilometers from the Dead Sea, Arad has an average altitude of 500 meters above sea level. The Dead Sea tourist and industrial complexes are one of the major suppliers of employment for residents of Arad, which has an important bearing on the real estate scene in the town. Arad is named after the Canaanite town of Tel Arad, which is located approximately eight kilometers west of modern Arad. The Bible describes it as a Canaanite stronghold whose king kept the Israelites from expanding from the southern Negev district towards the Judean Hills. Later, at the time of the First Temple, it became an Israelite stronghold with a temple compound that mirrored that of Jerusalem. The first modern attempt to settle the area was made in 1921. The British Mandatory authorities gave land for agricultural purposes to a group of veterans of the Jewish Legion, a unit of the British Army that participated in World War I. The attempt was short-lived. It lasted only four months because the veterans could not find water to irrigate their crops.

Modern Arad owes its existence to the Nefta Oil Company. When oil was discovered in commercial quantities, the company built a work camp of temporary wooden sheds. And the government got into the act, appointing a special committee to examine ways to populate the northeastern Negev. The final plan envisioned a modern city of 20,000 people, with architecture that took into account climate and topography.

Building complexes with interior plazas protected them from sand and wind, and high-density residential areas were planned to shorten the distances. The town itself, however, was officially founded in 1962 by a group of young Israelis, most of them former kibbutz and moshav members. The inauguration ceremony was attended by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who was very keen on developing the Negev.

When Arad was founded 50 years ago, there were high hopes about its future development, especially in tourism. Hotels were built, and people with respiratory diseases were encouraged to move there. All seemed to go well, but during the 1980s something seemed to go wrong. Hotels closed down, the population dwindled, and Arad was considered a problem child. At the end of 2012, it had a population of approximately 24,000 – not much different than 10 years ago. Now things seem to be changing. The present municipal administration is much more energetic and seems to have friends in high places. But what is really making a difference is the vast complex of military training bases that will be constructed in the northern Negev. The municipality has made plans to position Arad as an attractive residential option for the large number of regular army officers. Developers are also getting into the act, and new, high-quality apartment buildings are going up, and more are being planned.

The government is also encouraging this trend. Last March, the Ministerial Committee on Development in the Negev and Galilee approved a plan to move the State Archives from Jerusalem to Arad and to subsidize the cost of land development for reserve servicemen, as well as for regular servicemen.

This is being done within the context of the IDF’s relocation of its training bases to the northern Negev. Also within this context, a monthly subsidy of NIS 1,000 for two years will be paid to families of servicemen who move to Arad.

The municipality is also doing its bit.

“We are geared to helping newcomers integrate into our society,” says Tali Ploskov, the mayor of Arad. “The moment someone new comes to live in town, he is immediately contacted by someone from our office who will help him, to the best of his ability, overcome any teething problems. That holds true for new immigrants and local Israelis who have decided to make Arad their home.”

Sami Knafo of the Anglo-Saxon real-estate agency, told Metro, “The plan to relocate the army’s training bases to our part of the country has rejuvenated the real-estate scene in town. After nearly 20 years, developers are once again showing interest in Arad.

Investment demand for housing is growing because there is demand for rentals from those working at the hotels at the Dead Sea area. And the developers believe that prices will increase once the new bases are operational.”

Arad is roughly divided into four parts. There are the family homes built by the original founders – large 200-square-meter single-family houses on plots of more than 500 sq.m. These currently sell for NIS 1.1 million to NIS 1.3m., depending on the size of the plot and the house and its condition.

Then there are apartment blocks of gray concrete built in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These are two- , three- and four-room apartments of 50 to 75 sq.m.

They currently sell for NIS 250,000 to NIS 300,000. The apartment buildings built in the 1990s for the 6,000 or so immigrants from the former USSR are fourand five-room apartments of 120 to 130 sq.m. that sell for NIS 750,000 to NIS 850,000.

And there is a neighborhood called Ra’ananim, atop a cliff facing the Dead Sea basin. It is a “bnei beit’cha” neighborhood, where the Israel Lands Authority auctioned plots of land of 500 to 800 sq.m. for families to build their own homes. Plots currently cost NIS 350,000 to NIS 400,000, while houses that are already built may cost NIS 1.3m. and more.

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