World Environment Day on the Fifth of June is one of the main tools through which the United Nations increases awareness of the environment in which we live and promotes ecological activities. The central topic of World Environment Day in 2009 was to coordinate international efforts for environmental activities under the slogan: "Your Planet Needs You."
KKL-JNF offered a beautiful hike in Park Nahal Beersheba in the Negev to celebrate International Environment Day and to increase public awareness about ecology. The Park has been transformed from a polluted riverbed with mountains of garbage to a display garden of luxurious green, a leisure and vacation spot for the public and an outstanding example of rehabilitation, preservation and development for Man and the environment.
These amazing developments have been enabled thanks to the generous support of JNF America and JNF Canada. The central promenade, supported by JNF America has been completed and both residents and visitors - couples, families with children, babies in strollers, the elderly, the disabled, hikers and cyclists - all enjoy the beautiful walks of the park. The other two smaller promenades, on the south bank of the river, also supported by JNF America, will soon be completed and will link to the main promenade.
KKL-JNF with its Friends worldwide, has been working for years together with Ministry of Ecology, the Beersheba Municipality and Shikma Besor Drainage Authority, to restore the riverbed and environs for the residents of the city and its visitors. Thousands of tons of garbage have been removed from the river in a cleanup campaign as part of the "Clean up the World" following which, over the last Tu BiShvat holiday, Beersheba children planted hundreds of eucalyptus trees in the park, irrigated with purified sewage water that comes from the Nevatim area.
During the World Marketing Conference recently conducted by KKL-JNF, Itai Freeman, director of the Nahal Beersheba Park project, described to the conference participants the progress on the park development. "The 1250-acre metropolitan park is possibly the most effective means of improving the quality of life in Beersheba, the capital of the Negev. The river itself only flows during winter flash floods when the park becomes a mini oasis in the south of the city. Beersheba River Park is actually an environmental reclamation project since, located on the site of a former quarry and garbage dump, it has transformed the city's back yard into its front garden. The largest project in the park - the central promenade - is already in full use while another anchor project - the restoration of the historic Bet Eshel - links ancient history to the history of modern Israel. The artificial lake consists mostly of recycled water originating in water projects funded by KKL-JNF. Other projects underway include Abraham's Well, the Turkish Bridge restoration and the ANZAC project. The whole park is a long term project, with a strategic plan extending to 2020."
The Tour of the Park:
Nahal Beersheba begins in the area of Tel Krayot at the border between Mount Hebron and the Arad Valley. The river is about 50 kilometers long and flows only during the rainy season. About twice each year it overflows its banks as a result of flash floods. From there the river flows southwest then west and drains the Arad Valley and the Beersheba Valley, southward into the city of Beersheba itself and southwest along the line of the dunes of Halutza and Hevel Habsor until it merges with Nahal Habsor five kilometers east of Kibbutz Tze'elim. In ancient times the river was a source of economic and social life for the city of Beersheba and its surroundings but during recent years it had became polluted and neglected until it was reclaimed and restored.
Tel Beersheba is located where Nahal Hebron meets today's city. A well-planned and walled city, erected on the Tel as early as the first Iron Age, it was destroyed at the end of the 8th century B.C.E. but was rebuilt during the Persian Era. During the Roman Period a fortress was built on the tel and the city spread to the area that is today the heart of the city. This is the national park of Tel Beersheba that holds an ancient water facility of great importance and a scenic promenade is now being constructed from the tel to the Naveh Zee's neighborhood.
The Turkish Bridge, amongst the most important and outstanding monuments in Beersheba crossing the Beersheba riverbed next to the Bedouin Market, is a remainder of an ancient bridge upon which the Turkish railway was built. The railway, completed in 1915, ran from Afula in the north via the Sinai desert to Egypt but two years after the completion of the project the British blew up a large portion of the tracks and bridges. This bridge was built by Jewish workers and is approximately 190 meters long and the old train station is located just north of the bridge.
Beit Eshel - In 1943 in the midst of the Second World War the Jewish Yishuv (settlement) in the country decided to establish three lookout points on KKL-JNF land in the Negev in protest against the policy of the White Paper and to assess the feasibility of agricultural settlement in the Negev on different types of soil. The settlements of Revivim, G'vulot, and Beit Eshel were established east of Beersheba.
From the moment they were established the three settlements also served as departure points to populate the Negev - despite the difficulties, mosquitoes, intolerable heat by day and the freezing cold by night. The settlers attempted to work the land in any way possible - and many gave up and left. The lookout points were built in a uniform pattern with a square courtyard surrounded by a walls, watchtower, living quarters and service building.
The name "Beit Eshel" originates from a Biblical story about a tamarisk tree that was planted by Abraham in Beersheba. "And Abraham planted a tamarisk (eshel) in Beersheba and he called upon the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God." (Genesis 21:33). A scroll encased in the cornerstone of the first house in G'vulot reads: "Negev, open the arms of your plains, your expanses - to the thirsty ground, because today we are standing upon you to make a covenant of life and creativity with you." The settlement was established by the "Yogev" organization that included three groups of Youth Aliya from Germany and Australia who were organized in the Shomron and who were joined by groups of native Israelis and Romanian immigrants. The original group, that numbered 40, belonged to the moshavim movement, and their objective was to establish a moshav. They built buildings in the style of a "castle" (an arched house) developed field crops, vegetable gardens, cowsheds and chicken coops and planted trees and lawns.
At a certain point the settlers' families joined them and Bet Eshel became the first community in the Negev where little children were living. With the invasion of the Egyptian army in May 1948 the settlement was besieged, shelled by the Egyptians and eventually, after continuous battles it was destroyed. Its residents moved to the Jezreel Valley and founded Moshav Yogev, leaving nothing at Beit Eshel except the trenches dug in the shade of tamarisk grove. Today, as the site lies at the outskirts of the city of Beersheba, it is difficult to understand how isolated the settlement was at the time. The remains of the fortress - the castle, the positions, communication trenches and tamarisk trees remain as evidence of the pioneering project and heroism of the fighters.
During the 1960's volunteers from the Beit Eshel Foundation began to restore the remains of the settlement - the five-room building in which the founders lived and the well. Thanks to contribution of JNF Canada the historic Beit Eshel has been reconstructed and has now become one of the main attractions of the Park.
The Bell Park - The Park, southwest of the city, has activity centers for recreation and leisure, walking and cycling routes, multi-purpose sports courts, an outdoor amphitheater, picnic sites and playgrounds for children, youth and adults. An eight-kilometer promenade leads out of the park, crossing the city from east to west. These renovations were enabled through Friends of KKL-JNF in Montreal and contributions from the Stanley and Barbara Plotnick family.
Abraham's Well - This ancient restored well, another project supported by JNF America, is 13.5 meters deep, five meters of which are carved out in rock. The well is filled from underground water that has penetrated from the surface. According to tradition this is the very well that our forefather, Abraham dug out although some have estimated it to be only one or two thousand years old.
How to get there:
Tel (the Hill) Beersheba is located at the eastern part of the city between Nahal Hebron and Nahal Beersheba and the road leading to the Tel branches eastward from the Beersheba-Shoket Junction (Number 60) south of Omer.
Beit Eshel is adjacent to the southern outskirts of Beersheba (Road 25) next to the fences of Nahal Beersheba near the southern exit from the city in the direction of Dimona two kilometers southeast of the city. The lookout point can be reached from Shloshet HaMitzpim Street that branches off from Sderot Yigal Alon, on road 25 north of the Emek Sarah industrial area, a road marked with a green sign.
The Turkish Bridge crosses Nahal Beersheba opposite the Bedouin Market by the southern exit of Beersheba.
Abraham's Well is north of Nahal Beersheba, next to the Old City at the corner of Hebron Road and Keren Kayemet Street.
The Liberty Bell Grove is southwest of the city on the banks of Nahal Beersheba, next to Abraham's Well and the Old City opposite the visitors' center and adjacent to the Naveh Noy neighborhood.