Tourism Booming in Israel's "Last Frontier"

Ted Merwin

The Jewish Week

May 13, 2014

Drip irrigation in the Negev desert.

On a fateful car trip to Eilat while he was prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion suddenly asked his driver to turn off the highway.

“I wanted to feel the vastness of the desert,” he later explained in his memoir, “to renew myself by experiencing the awesome effect, which for me never diminishes, of these open spaces…” Without the Negev, Ben-Gurion said, Israel would be hardly be Jewish or a state; it was in the Negev, he believed, that the “creativity and pioneer vigor of Israel will be tested.”

More than half a century later, increasing numbers of tourists are following in Ben-Gurion’s footsteps and discovering the rugged splendor of the Negev, which contains 55 percent of Israel’s land area, but less than 10 percent of its population.

From bicycling to bird watching, and from hot-air ballooning to horse (and camel)-back riding, the Negev is exploding with tourist attractions, especially since last year, when Lonely Planet named the region second only to Corsica as the best place to travel in the world.