Longest-serving mayor of Beersheba, dies at 92

Eliyahu Nawi oversaw the development of the capital of the Negeve for 23 years.

Eliyahu Nawi 370 (photo credit: The Jerusalem Post)
Eliyahu Nawi 370
(photo credit: The Jerusalem Post)
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 or successors.
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 relate.
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 population.
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.
After the 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 deputy.
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.