Eliyahu Nawi, the longest-serving mayor of Beersheba, who oversaw the
development of the capital of the Negev from 1963 to 1986, died on Friday at the
age of 92.
He served more than twice as long as any of his predecessors
Born in Basra, Iraq, in 1920, Nawi came to Jerusalem with
his family when he was six years old.
Still, whether speaking Hebrew or
English, he retained a cultured Arabic accent.
A man of many talents, he
served as an Arabic-language news reader on radio, was a qualified lawyer who
also served as a judge, wrote poetry, studied the Bible, and was a marvelous
raconteur of Arabic folk tales which he told for many years on radio under his
other persona, Daoud al-Natur.
In that capacity, he spoke the simple
Arabic of the field worker, and won a vast following not only among Israeli
Arabs, but also those from neighboring countries.
The stories were
popular because they always contained a moral to which his listeners could
He also read and analyzed news under that name in the pre-state
era, broadcasting via Hagana radio.
Nawi moved to Beersheba in 1947 as a
liaison man between the British Mandate authorities and the Arab
Nawi never had a problem in relating to Arabs. Growing
up in Jerusalem, he lived in a mixed neighborhood of Arabs and Jews and played
with Arab youngsters, many of whom remained his friends.
establishment of the state, Nawi served in Military Intelligence, attaining the
rank of major.
In 1963, Mapai named him as its candidate for mayor.
Beersheba was then a town fraught with ethnic tensions, which Nawi, because of
his background and his education, was able to bridge. He ran against two other
candidates, one of whom, Zev Zrizi, later became his longtime
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev was established during Nawi’s
tenure, as were the Beersheba Theater and the urban market along with several
institutions that have since become fixtures of the city.