The Restoration Project
Beit Eshel restoration. Photo: KKL-JNF South dpt.
The restoration project focuses on the route of the watercourse as it passes the city of Beersheba. Restoration works included the creation of a new course for the flow of water, removal of the quarry works more to the north, burial of construction waste, and drainage of the sewage pools as soon as the new wastewater treatment plant started working. The second stage will include construction of a large lake covering an area of about 80 dunams, which will be supplied by the city’s purified wastewater.
The lake will be constructed west of the highway that encircles Beersheba and will include an area for recreation and leisure, tourist attractions and restaurants. As part of the historic restoration of the area, three ancient wells will be restored, as well as the Turkish railroad bridge, which is one of the city's icons. Two additional projects in stages of execution are an amphitheatre to seat ten thousand people and the pipe bridge connecting the Old City of Beersheba and the Bell Park. The bridge will be a walkway between the city and the new park.
The Pipe Bridge
Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
The pipe bridge, which is frequented by hundreds of birds who like to perch on it, crosses the riverbed channel and conducts potable water from Mekorot to the city of Beersheba. Four architects worked on presenting designs for the bridge, and the result is a state of the art bridge for pedestrians and bicycles. The manmade lake and the pipe bridge will be constructed with the support of friends of KKL JNF in the USA.
The Bell Park
The Bell Park, which is next to the Neve Noi neighborhood, was the first park opened to the public. It was constructed with contributions from friends of KKL JNF in Canada and covers an area of 40 dunams. It has large expanses of grassy lawns, playground equipment for children, benches and a eucalyptus grove. It is on the edge of the riverbed and has a view of the houses of the Old City of Beersheba. The Central Promenade, which was constructed with contributions from friends of KKL- JNF in the USA, is a park area that covers 250 dunams and is 3km long on the southern bank of Nahal Beersheba. The promenade connects the Turkish Bridge in the west and Highway 40 in the east. The area underwent a major ecological rehabilitation process which entailed removal of construction waste and mining debris.
Mitzpe Beit Eshel
In the summer of 1943, three outposts were established south of Beersheba that comprised the initial settlements of the Negev pioneers—Beit Eshel, Revivim and Gevulot. In all three outposts, which were established on lands purchased by KKL-JNF, there was a central courtyard surrounded by defensible walls and a gate facing west.
Buildings were constructed along the northern wall for an infirmary and medical staff dwellings, along with five chambers with vaulted ceilings and a roofed corridor in front supported by stone arches. The chambers had slits for shooting for defense purposes, and they also served as a refectory and later as a nursery. The three eastern rooms were used by development commissioners and KKL-JNF personnel, for whom Beit Eshel served as a base for purchasing lands in the Negev.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.
Adjacent to the southern wall, a fortress was constructed, which was designed as a square tower two storeys high. The outpost pioneers would spend nights there guarding the area. The yard had a room for the watchman, a shed for the tractor, a shower, a cowshed and a secret cache for illegal armaments that were stored there. A wireless radio was hidden in the fortress, by means of which contact was made with the civilian population.
In the initial years of the establishment of the outpost, there were good relations between the outpost pioneers and the local Arabs. In 1947, however, pursuant to the UN partition plan resolution, Arab hostilities began, which led to a severe decline in relations. The isolated outpost was surrounded by thousands of incited Arabs and Bedouins, and the only way to get to Mitzpe Beit Eshel was by way of the entrances to the city of Beersheba.
The people in Beit Eshel rejected the British recommendation to evacuate and were assisted by Piper planes in obtaining supplies, egress and rescue. In 1948, on May 19, Egyptian armed forces entered Beersheba. 45 members and 16 Palmach soldiers were left in Beit Eshel with very little weaponry.
Two hundred bombs fell on the outpost within an hour and a half on the first day of bombing. Beit Eshel was bombed relentlessly for five months. There was destruction, and there were casualties. The members and soldiers managed to hold out for a long time thanks to the tunnels and the defenses they had built. When the IDF conquered Beersheba, Nachum Sarig, the commander of the Negev Brigade, presented the Egyptian flag to the people of Beit Eshel. Due to the great destruction, they had to leave the site. The members of the outpost went on to found Moshav Hayogev in the Jezreel Valley.
The restoration of the Beit Eshel courtyard, in conjunction with the construction of Nahal Beersheba Park, was made possible thanks to the assistance of friends of KKL JNF in Canada.
Beit Eshel Park
Beersehva promenade along the river. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
Reconstruction of the site includes a surrounding park which covers an area of 38 dunams, which was developed thanks to friends of KKL JNF in Germany. The stone buildings were reconstructed and restored in keeping with the original designs. The simple concrete flooring was retained as it once was. The vaulted ceilings still have remains of soot and fire, even some of the graffiti that accumulated on the walls over the years. In the course of the restoration project, it was decided to leave the bricks in the wall bare and to add doors and windows made of wood instead of the original iron ones.
A stone well, which was used for drinking water and for irrigating crops, was restored and preserved. One of the most interesting restorations in Beit Eshel is the series of rifle pits, the bunkers and the sandbags which helped the people of Beit Eshel survive - there were certain periods when 30 to 100 were people besieged there. At the Visitors Center at the site you can view the farming methods used in Beit Eshel and the agricultural experiment station, including the utilization of railroad ties for a method of hydroponic irrigation.