In the 1956 government yearbook introduction, then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote: "In the south and the Negev stood the cradle of our nation: they are the dangerous areas of weakness of the state, they are also its greatest hope." The residents of the Negev are determined to bring about a change and to work together with the state in a united effort to advance the Negev. From the actions of combined forces, we will be able to meet the tremendous and fateful task of developing the Negev.
In the 74 years of the state's existence, we achieved remarkable achievements in industry, science, medicine and technology, but during the tremendous success of the State of Israel, the peripheral areas were neglected and weakened. To the happiness of all of us, in the last two decades, government decisions were made on establishing substantial infrastructure projects that are now maturing and will change the face of the Negev and the country. The city of Beer-Sheva, the capital of the Negev, and the surrounding metropolitan area will see the most dramatic change ever seen in Israel in the next seventeen years. This is of enormous importance because, in the end, the state of Israel and its security depend on the development of the Negev and its settlements.
The tremendous impact of the IDF's move to the south
Beer-Sheva bases its growth processes on technological innovation as a metropolis that looks at the future. Four anchors are developing in the city today, which form the infrastructure for establishing a high-tech industry, as has developed in various regions of Israel and the world, turning a city like Tel Aviv into a hi-tech leading town. The four anchors are a quality academy, military technology units, a large and developed defense industry, and multinational technology companies.
In the High-Tech Park, located next to the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and in the huge Hi-Tech Park in Omer (about 7,000 dunams ), the fusion between all these essential elements begins with the future integration of the IDF's elite technological units in the region. These will soon be joined by the IDF's new ICT and intelligence units that are being built now, with their future connection to international companies and local start-ups. When you look at the scale of the ICT and intelligence base transition projects that have been launched, it becomes clear that they will bring about 60 billion shekels of economic activity and create about 50,000 new jobs, including for the Bedouin population.
About 6,000 engineers are employed in the high-tech parks (in B.S. and Omer). Nearly half of the engineers in the park in Beer-Sheva (Gev Yam) work in the cyber world. To this should be added the IDF computer and programming school staff, which these days inaugurated their new location in Be'er-Sheva.
Over 100 technology companies operate in the parks, including names such as Deutsche Telecom, IBM, Intel, Oracle, Dell, Cyberark, Elbit Systems, Rafael, Mastercard, Tabula, Nvidia, WIX.com, Fujitsu, AudioCodes, Altera Health, and more. Companies like Microsoft and Cisco are expected to start operations in the city this year.
Innovation district, innovation center and innovation grants
One of the most essential pillars of the technological square is the Ben-Gurion University, which already, in 2018, joined the prestigious ranking of the top 50 universities in the world in the entrepreneurship index after its graduates founded over 200 start-up companies and raised capital to the extent of 3.5 billion dollars. Incidentally, it's not just Ben-Gurion University—Beer Sheva is considered a leading university city, with over 30,000 students, and it is responsible for training 50% of the engineers in Israel. The Sami Shamoon Academic College of Engineering, and the Kay Teaching College, also operate alongside the Ben-Gurion University.
The university will not operate in a vacuum. It will integrate into an innovation center currently being established in the University Medical Center "Soroka." In this framework, the medical library at the hospital will change its face and become a magnet for ventures and start-ups in medical innovation. There will also be special programs together with the military's technological units.
Both the university and the innovation center will connect to Beer Sheva's innovation district, the establishment of which was decided back in 2018. Since then, many actions have been promoted for realization. First among them was the government's decision 625 in which budgets were allocated for operations and projects in the district, such as establishing an urban innovation laboratory in collaboration with MIT. This is the first national laboratory of its kind in Israel to be opened in the city.
In this context, it should also be noted that a unique, super-regional high school for arts, cyber and science studies will be established within the district's boundaries, serving all the children of the area. This school will be the next reserve of soldiers in the technological units from among the children of the Negev. All this happens alongside investments in dozens of excellent programs within the schools.
The Innovation Authority determined in 2020 that Beer-Sheva recorded the highest growth among all Israeli cities in the number of hi-tech companies active there; the number of hi-tech companies there increased by 44% between 2015-2020. In this, it was even ahead of Tel Aviv, which registered higher quantitative growth, but from a relative point of view, it only grew by 32% in the same period.
It is not for nothing that an independent 2015study by Brandeis University and the consulting company T3 already identified Beer-Sheva as one of the seven future hi-tech cities of the world.
Education, health, employment
At the same time, the city of Beersheba is preparing to receive military personnel in all areas, which will arrive in the area together with their families. Therefore, the health and education systems in the city are facing a comprehensive upgrade. These days, the tender for constructing another hospital in the Negev, which will be built in Beer-Sheva, is about to be launched. The medical center (to be named after Shimon Peres) will serve the population of the Negev and the Beer-Sheva metropolis, in addition to the Soroka Medical Center, and is planned to open in 2025. To ensure the manpower for the new medical center, the "Ilanot" program for training doctors in the south was established, and its second cycle was launched.
The municipal education system continues to show records of the achievements of male and female students when the eligibility rate for matriculation rose to 87% (without special education). The dropout rate is less than one percent (0.6%), one of the lowest in Israel. Since 2008, the matriculation eligibility percentage has increased by about 35%!
All of these are backed by the budgets established by the government: NIS 40 million for planning a public hospital in the Negev; NIS 150 million for the establishment of an army-academia-industry ecosystem, including doubling the area of the Ben-Gurion University, with an emphasis on the fields of high-tech, cyber, and computer science, in cooperation in research and development between the university, the Soroka Hospital, and the technological units of the IDF, and training for the residents of the area, with an emphasis on unique populations, such as the "8200 College"; 65 million shekels to encourage positive migration to the Negev; formulation of a multi-year plan for residential projects for long-term rental, and more.
Needed: a comprehensive strategic national plan for the development of the Negev
Beer-Sheva and the Negev make up almost two-thirds of the country's territory, and in this sense, they constitute the most significant source of land reserves available for development. The accelerated growth in the city of Beer-Sheva, the capital of the metropolis, creates various opportunities in many fields such as research and technology, real estate, education, entrepreneurship, tourism and culture. I call on investors from here to come and see with their own eyes the tremendous development boom. One could understand the skepticism until today, but now things are actually happening, and it's not just plans on paper.
So it's true that there are many weak points in the development of the Negev in general and Be'er-Sheva in particular—the Bedouin problem, the lack of governance, gaps between the Negev and the center, and more. But the vision is alive and well, the budget has been earmarked, and the development efforts are at their peak.
The government was committed to realizing the Negev development vision, but not enough. The efforts to develop the Negev currently require the implementation of a national strategic plan for the development of this critical region of land for the State of Israel and for its transformation into an area that attracts a population, industry, and quality economic businesses. I call on the government to implement the plan that it itself initiated in 2005. It is a comprehensive national strategic plan for the development of the Negev, which was supposed to be spread over a decade until 2015, and was prepared by the Israeli government headed by Ariel Sharon, the deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, and the international consulting company "McKinsey." Unfortunately, the plan was only partially implemented. It's time for it to be fully implemented and budgeted as required while adapting it to the current reality due to the developments that have taken place over the years and the needs that exist today.
A concerted effort to promote the Negev
In the government yearbook of 1956, the then Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote the following: "In the south and the Negev stood the cradle of our nation: they are the dangerous weak areas of the country, they are also its great hope." This key phrase is also true in 2022—our destiny is in our hands to destroy or to build and give hope.
Beer-Sheva connects the historic biblical past with the vision of the future of the State of Israel. The capital of the Negev has a central role in the development of Israel's image in the present and in the future. Therefore, we, the residents of the Negev, are determined to change the order of things and work together with the state in a cohesive effort to promote the Negev. From the action of combined forces, we will be able to meet the tremendous and fateful task of developing the Negev.
These days we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress in Basel. On the evening of September 3, 1897, when Herzl returned to his hotel from the casino hall where the convention was held, he wrote in his diary: "In Basel, I founded the Jewish state. If I had said this in public today, the answer would have been laughter from all sides. Maybe in five years, at most in fifty years, they will know everything about her." Paraphrasing these words, we can say today that many may laugh at the vision of Beer-Sheva as the capital of the Negev, a global cyber center and one of the seven leading hi-tech cities in the world. But a vision is not intended for the faint of heart or those with little faith but for dreamers and believers. This is what happened in Israel in general, and this is what will happen in the Negev.
The author is the CEO of the Luzzatto Group and the chairman of the "Israel for the Negev" association.