Nahal Besor - The Longest River in Israel's Negev Desert

Nahal Besor is a trail in southern Israel that follows the 80 km Nahal HaBesor stream-bed. The trail traverses a nature reserve encompassing badlands that flower at the end of winter, wildlife, nature pools, archaeological sites and vegetation, and passes reservoirs and pools constructed by KKL-JNF to trap floodwater that rushes through the stream during the winter flash-floods.


Geographic location: Negev highlands

Identity Card



Photo: Dudu Grinshpan


The Besor River (Nahal HaBsor), which traverses the Agur-Halutza sand dunes and the Besor area of northern Mount Negev, is around eighty kilometers in length and thus one of the longest waterways in the Negev. The section of river between Kibbutz Tzeelim to the south and Route no. 241 to the north is a nature reserve that extends over an area of some thirty-five square kilometers of badlands, pools, dense vegetation, a variety of wild life, archeological sites and springs that flow all year round. With the help of Jewish communities in the USA and Australia, KKL-JNF has equipped the river with a system of giant reservoirs that capture rainfall and use it to recharge the local groundwater reserves; this project forms part of KKL-JNF’s Negev Growth program, which is designed to put the Negev at the top of the national agenda.

Region: Southern Israel, Mount Negev

Notable sites in the forest: Beer Tzeelim, Beer Rabuba, Tel Sharuhen, the remains of the British railway bridge, Eshkol Park.

• Additional sites in the area: Besor River Field Trail, Gerar River Park, Ofakim Park, Beeri Forest, Eshkol National Park, Golda Park.

Facilities: Picinic area, Marked path, Archeological or Historic site, Memorial.

How do you get there? 
Several hundred meters to the north of Tzeelim Junction (Tzomet Tze’elim) on Route no. 222 (the Tzeelim-Gevulut road), you approach a dirt road that follows the west bank of Nahal HaBsor and leads northwards to Eshkol Park, to Route no. 241 (the Magen-Gilat road). This dirt road is the scenic tour route created by KKL-JNF and the Negev Tourism Development Administration. The route extends from Route 241 (between kilometer markers 4 & 5) in the north to Route no. 222 (between kilometer markers 184 & 185) in the south.

To the Field Trail
Those approaching from Ofakim and Beersheba should take Route no. 241 and turn southwards at Urim Junction, heading for Tzeelim Junction on Route no. 234; from there continue to Tzeelim Junction on Route no. 222.

 
Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.
 
Projects and Partners Worldwide
Nahal Besor was rehabilitated and developed thanks to a
contribution from friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.

About the Site

The Besor River
The Besor River (Nahal HaBsor), which traverses the Agur-Halutza sand dunes and the Besor area of the northern Mount Negev region, is around eighty kilometers in length and thus one of the longest waterways in the Negev. It rises at the national watershed to the west of Ben Gurion University and descends northwards through the depression (syncline) that divides the Halukim Ridge from the Boker Ridge until it meets up with Nahal HaRoeh. After this junction, the river turns sharply westwards and crosses the Boker convex rock fold (anticline) and the Shivta shoulder in two impressive water corridors. Some two kilometers south of Moshav Ashalim, the river flows out of the northern Mount Negev area on to the sandy Halutza plain; after another fifteen kilometers it passes close to the site of the ancient city of Halutza.

Near Beer Osnat, some five kilometers east of Kibbutz Tzeelim, the Beersheba River flows into the Besor River, which continues onwards through impressive loess badlands until it reaches the Gaza Strip. The Besor spills into the Mediterranean Sea within the area of the Gaza Strip, creating a lake where waterfowl can be observed amid the lakeside vegetation.

In the Bible the Besor is mentioned in the context of David’s pursuit of the Amalekites who had invaded the Negev (1 Samuel 30:21).

Nahal Besor Nature Reserve

Vegetation


Photo: Nathalie Cohen-Kadosh

The reserve is home to substantial riverbank concentrations of reeds, acacias and large tamarisks, while in the badlands, flowers and shrubs such as storksbill, moricandia and desert broom can be seen. In rainy years, wild orchids, crocuses and meadow saffron (Colchicum, also known as autumn crocus) flourish. The cultivated fields of this region are the State of Israel’s principal kitchen garden, where vegetables and aromatic herbs of all kinds grow in profusion.

Animals, birds and reptiles
Snakes, small rodents, foxes, caracals (a type of wild cat, also known as the desert lynx), wolves and hyenas all live side by side in the reserve. If we raise our heads from the fields of potatoes, carrots, radishes and mint, we can observe around us in the sky and on the trees the raptors characteristic of the area and the time of year: red kites, eastern imperial eagles (Aquila heliaca), buzzards and falcons.

Amid the fields of vegetables and the damp clods of earth we can observe flocks of partridges, larks, mallards (wild ducks), teals (Anas crecca) and coots (Fulica atra). These birds also frequent the impressive water reservoirs that KKL-JNF established in the 1990s in conjunction with the Jewish Agency and Jewish communities in the USA and Australia. When the reservoirs fill with water, they present a remarkable natural sight that no visitor to the area should miss.

Reservoirs in the Besor region
In 1996, KKL-JNF, with the generous assistance of Jewish communities in the USA and Australia, constructed a system of giant reservoirs along the Besor River in order to capture the winter floodwaters that flow down towards the gully and use them to recharge the groundwater. The reservoirs established along the banks of the Besor allow this floodwater to be used to irrigate local farmers’ fields, while the dams erected in the riverbed halt the erosion caused by the swift water flow  and help to enrich the groundwater.


Photo: Albatros

This sophisticated system consists of three reservoirs – the Lower Rehovot Reservoir, the Upper Rehovot Reservoir and the Besor Reservoir – which have a combined total capacity of around seven million cubic meters. In drought years, when they cannot be filled from the Besor River, reclaimed sewage water from the Tel Aviv metropolitan area can be channeled into them instead. The system forms part of KKL-JNF’s Negev Growth program, which is designed to move the Negev to the top of the national agenda.

Developing the Negev, the largest land reserve Israel possesses, is the greatest challenge facing the country today: Israel’s citrus groves have “migrated” southwards from the center of the country to the western Negev where suitable growing land is cheaper, and these groves are just one example of the major infrastructure under construction in the Besor region. Other examples include the construction of a series of new communities, the addition of 500 dunam (approx 125 acres) of greenhouses and the development of tourism in the Negev. With regard to agriculture, scarcity of water is the limiting factor here, and the Besor reservoirs are a vital link in the chain of responses to this shortage: according to the plan, they are expected to add millions of cubic meters of water to the Negev.

Tour Routes

Along the scenic route
KKL-JNF has created a scenic route along the Besor River from Tzeelim to Eshkol Park – a distance of around eighteen kilometers in all. This route enables visitors to the area to enjoy a magnificent combination of landscapes: the river and its surrounding vegetation on the one hand and the arid desert backdrop on the other. The beautiful winding scenic route leads the visitor past springs, pools, vegetation, wild life and historical and archeological sites, and it is especially renowned for Israel’s longest hanging bridge, which extends over the river, and for its floodwater dams and reservoirs.

1) Tzeelim Well (B’er Tze’elim)


Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

At the very beginning of the route, we can stop and walk to the area of Tzeelim Well, which dates back to the period of the British Mandate.  The brackish water from this well is used today to irrigate crops in the fields nearby. Over the years, though the well has become blocked, the water table level has remained high, and today we can enjoy wandering among the reeds and tamarisks that flourish thanks to this water source.

2) The rope bridge
KKL-JNF has established a unique rope bridge between the banks of the Besor River above these cliffs that hold water all year round. The bridge, which is eighty meters long, enables visitors to cross the river and, once arrived on the other side, to walk to the remains of an ancient farm and the memorials to two youngsters from Mashabei Sadeh who were killed in an ATV accident at this site. Below the rope bridge is a natural pool that is full throughout the year. The springs are surrounded by a mass of natural vegetation that provides a habitat for coots and aquatic turtles.

3) The reservoirs
If we continue on our way along the scenic route we arrive at a point some four kilometers north of Tzeelim Well, adjacent to the impressive tamarisk trees, from which we can view the reservoir system established by KKL-JNF. The project includes a low dam that creates a bottleneck in the riverbed and a canal that channels the floodwater into the reservoir, which has a capacity of 0.8 million cubic meters. The water that accumulates in this reservoir during periods of flood is pumped into the upper reservoirs located on both banks of the river, which are used to irrigate thousands of dunam of citrus groves in the farms of the Gaza Periphery and Maon regions.

4) The Rabuba Well
Some two kilometers north of the reservoirs we arrive at the Rabuba Well, which dates back to the period of Ottoman rule and was later renovated by the British. The well structure, its adjacent pool and the water trough can all be seen from the scenic route. A few ancient date palms and sycamore fig trees can still be seen at the site; the Ottomans encouraged the local Bedouin residents of the village of Rueyba to plant tamarisks. Recently, KKL-JNF has prepared large areas of land for the planting of citrus groves, and KKL-JNF foresters have moved the ancient tamarisks nearer the well area or have transplanted them along the scenic route.

5) Tel Sharuhen
We continue along the scenic route until we reach the foot of Tel  Sharuhen, a mound that towers above the loess plains. At a bend in the river, before we reach the tel, we can take a walk among the pools of the Ein Sharuhen springs. A steep footpath leads from the river to the mound. The waters of Ein Sharuhen were used by previous civilizations in the area for hundreds of years, from the Middle Canaanite Period until Roman times. Only a few ruins remain on the mound itself: a portion of the mud-brick city wall in the southern part of the tel and the remains of a public building in the northern part. The top of the tel offers a view of the plains of the western Negev with the Besor River concealed amongst them.

6) From Tel Sharuhen to the Besor Springs


Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

A footpath indicated by black markings leads from the northern section of Tel Sharuhen to the Besor River gully. If we follow this path along the riverbank we arrive at the Besor Springs in Eshkol Park, and along the way we can take a closer look at the dense riverside vegetation. Note: In wintertime, after flooding, it is impossible to walk along the riverbed itself, but we can walk beside it instead.

7) The ruins of the British railway bridge
Near Eshkol Park, we can pause to contemplate the concrete ruins of the British-built railway bridge that once formed part of the railroad from Rafiah to Beersheba. The bridge was built in 1917 to meet the needs of the British army that fought the Turks in this region during the First World War. The bridge remained in use throughout the 1920s.

8) Eshkol National Park
This national park, which is also referred to simply as Eshkol Park, lies two kilometers to the west of Kibbutz Urim. It is named after Levi Eshkol, the Labor Movement leader who served as prime minister of  Israel from 1963 until 1969. The park was established in 1960 by KKL-JNF and Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority in an area of 1,000 dunam (approx 250 acres) that includes woodlands, natural springs, lawns, picnic areas and a swimming pool. This well cared for park is a genuine oasis, and it is hard to believe that it is situated in the arid expanses of the Negev. We can access the park by taking the scenic route along the western bank of the river until the junction with Route no. 241. Here we turn right (eastwards), cross the Abraham Bridge (Gesher Avraham) over the Besor River and follow the signs to the main entrance of the park. There is an entrance fee. Sites within the park include: Ein Besor Spring, the ruins of a Byzantine church and the remains of a bridge over the river built by the British army in 1917 to carry the railway line from Gaza to Beersheba.

A tour along the Field Trail


Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

Visitors to the western Negev will notice that a fundamental change has taken place: the loess plains and grayish dunes on both sides of the river have become a veritable oasis, and thousands of dunam of citrus groves and field crops have colored the desert green.

The somewhat vague concept known as “pushing back the desert” has assumed tangible form here, but none of this would have been possible without the three reservoirs established by KKL-JNF beside the Besor River, which supply enough water to transform the surrounding arid wilderness into an orchard and a garden. At the same time, the western Negev in general and the Besor River region in particular are being developed as tourism areas whose natural landscape will be conserved and combined with specially created venues for leisure and recreational activities.

The Field Trail excursion allows visitors to see something of the agriculture of the Besor region, which is Israel’s principal source of grain. The trail links a number of farming communities in the area, including Moshav Ein HaBsor, Moshav Amioz, Moshav Talmei Eliahu, Moshav Sde Nitzan, Kibbutz Urim, Kibbutz Kisufim, Kibbutz Nirim, Moshav Yesha and Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, and the tour is designed to demonstrate how important agricultural development is to the State of Israel.

The route includes local tourist sites and amenities and serves as a focal point both for the local people and for visitors to the area. The tour offers a unique experience: an opportunity to view at first hand gigantic grain silos, citrus groves, prickly pear cacti, peanut and sunflower plots, exotic varieties of fruit, and the carrots, cucumbers, radishes, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries and potatoes that grow in the fields.

The project is a joint initiative on the part of KKL-JNF, the Government Tourist Corporation, the Ministry of Tourism, the Eshkol Regional Council and the Ministry of Agriculture.