Exploring Southern Israel

Monday, 23 February 2009

Southern Israel is bouncing back with a great array of cool things to do and see. Just last week, a new tourist information center opened in Beer Sheva.

Beersheba has bounced back from last month's Hamas rocket assault, unveiling plans last week for a new tourism and information center called The Gateway to the Negev.

The ceremony on Monday in the heart of the Old City, took place in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Mayor Ruvik Danilovitch, and was sponsored by the Or Movement - a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of the Negev and Galilee.

Over the past eight years, the movement has focused on helping to realize David Ben-Gurion's dream to make the desert bloom by boosting the Jewish population of the Negev.

According to its marketing director, Sharon Buenos, the tourist center, due to be completed in 2010, will encourage newcomers to an ancient area that once provided a watering hole for Abraham's sheep.

"The center's purpose is to get more people to live here," Buenos told The Jerusalem Post. "There isn't enough room in the cities anymore, but there is here!"

Many of the South's important figures, including former Labor Party chairman and Yeroham Mayor Amram Mitzna and Ben Gurion University President Rivka Karmi schmoozed outside, awaiting Peres's arrival. Singer Dudu Fisher, who was there to join his son - executive director of the event - led a spirited Hatikva.

Also in attendance were four students from Ben Gurion University who participated in the Nora Program, which assisted Or with its management and business plans for the city center.

The CEO of the Or Movement, Roni Flammer, called last month's Grad rocket attacks from Gaza, which emptied the streets of Beersheba, "an obstacle when convincing young people to come South."

But, he hoped this hurdle would be overcome, appealing in English: "Go South, young men!"

In his address, Danilovich - who at 38 is one of the youngest mayors in the country - spoke of "the potential of the Negev" and how he hoped the center would help make the South an attraction for young people.

Peres, who once served as minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, remarked, "This is a very young city. There's no reason why it won't be the most popular."

Then Peres, using a hammer and chisel, uncovered a piece of the Ottoman-era brickwork that makes the location unique and will be integrated into the upcoming restoration.

Avner Cohen, a civil engineer living in the Negev who will supervise balancing the preservation of the old building and renovation of the new city center, was excited about the opportunity.

"Beersheba is a sleepy city," Avner said, "but this will wake it up!"

Links to this post