Panel debates ways to bring residents to the Negev

“It will not have a negative impact on the environment, and it will lead to the addition of tens of thousands of jobs in the South.” said El Al.

Panel discussion about the Periphery
“The Negev is full of grandiose plans. The time has come for action,” said Dr. Eti Luzzatto Wednesday, at the Maariv Business Conference 2030, in a panel discussing the future of the Negev. In her remarks, Luzzatto referred to the plans to move the intelligence branch of the IDF to the Lakia area, which have stalled, due to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi’s requirement that a rail line be constructed that will go directly to that area.
According to Luzzatto, completing the plan will create tens of thousands of jobs. “This is a very large-scale project that can bring technological, economic and demographic change to the Negev,” she explained. “The economic activity here will be about NIS 60 billion. Approximately 20,000 soldiers in the technology branch will serve here, and 2.5 jobs will be created for each soldier. As a leader, Kochavi needs to say, ‘follow me,’ instead of presenting obstacles.”
Another issue that was discussed was the construction of an international airport in Nevatim.  According to Tal El Al, deputy mayor of Beersheba, its intended location, far from residential areas, will allow the airport to operate around the clock.
 “It will not have a negative impact on the environment, and it will lead to the addition of tens of thousands of jobs in the South.” said El Al.
El Al said that the air force opposes the establishment of the airport in Nevatim, and supports construction in Ramat David in the Jezreel Valley. “Outwardly, the air force is cooperating, but in practice it seems to me that it is doing everything possible to torpedo the move,” he said, noting that aviation experts contradicted negative claims made by the air force.
“If we could not counter them, we found solutions,” he said.
While the air force is objecting, the Defense Ministry is promoting a number of projects in the Negev, including the establishment of the Technological Base in Beersheba. According to Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Itzik Cohen, a Defense Ministry official and deputy director of the IDF’s transition to the Negev who participated in the panel, 6,000 people will be employed there, most of them technology personnel from the center of the country.
“We are moving the center of gravity to the south,” he said.
In addition, philanthropists and nonprofit organizations recognize the potential inherent in this region. One of them is Ronald Lauder, who five years ago established the Lauder Center for the Advancement of Employment in the Negev in collaboration with Ben-Gurion University and JNF-USA, and is currently building his private home opposite the center.
“Lauder asked how many people stay in the Negev after completing school, and he heard a painful answer,” said Avi Balashnikov, chairman of the Lauder Center and one of the panelists. “They told us that the top students at Ben-Gurion University leave for Tel Aviv when they have graduated. Through the Center, we reach students in their last year of study and arrange employment in the Negev. We found work for more than 1,500 students.”
According to Balashnikov, the center operates from donations. “We don’t receive one shekel from the government,” he said. “We do not involve the government and do not want anyone to disturb us. We know what is needed and do the work.”
“All these things happen thanks to the Negev’s leadership,” El Al added. “But whatever the state can do to help – it should do.”
Although cyber-tech in Beersheba is growing significantly, the numbers are still low and there is room for government intervention.
“Only 3% of this industry is in the Negev,” said Luzzatto. “The industry needs to get there, and it can be done.”
One organization that has been doing this for the past 20 years is the Merage Foundation, which identified the Negev as Israel’s growth generator and invested in many economic initiatives.
“We embarked on a strategic planning journey where we met heads of government and business people and understood where the challenges and opportunities are,” said Nicole Hod Stroh, CEO of the fund, which participated in the panel as well.
In their flagship project, Desert Tech, they focus on water, energy and agriculture technologies.
“The Negev has the formula of Western living in the desert,” Hod Stroh said. “Today, with the Beersheba Municipality, Ben-Gurion University, Soroka, Netafim and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, we are establishing an innovation community with the aim of linking the Negev’s assets and bringing more investors and startups to the area. The world needs solutions that only Israelis can produce.”