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
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
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
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.