The First Time Be’er Sheva Was a Negev Boomtown

Still the largest city in southern Israel, Be’er Sheva plays a key role in the narratives of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis—and is mentioned 33 times in the Hebrew Bible altogether. Nathan Steinmeyer examines what several decades of archaeological work have uncovered about the city’s past:

From the 9th century until its destruction by Sennacherib in 701 BCE, Be’er Sheva functioned as the main administrative center of the Negev Desert. Indeed, for much of this period, Be’er Sheva was the only major Judahite city in the Negev. In addition to a large administrative structure, dubbed the “Governor’s Palace,” three large storehouses were constructed next to the gate complex. The storehouse complex covers roughly 6,500 square feet, with each storehouse featuring two rows of stone pillars. Hundreds of vessels were uncovered in the storehouses, showing their use in gathering oils, grains, and other products from the smaller villages of the region. These storehouses were possibly constructed by King Hezekiah in the late 8th century BCE in preparation for Judah’s conflict with the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Built into the wall of one of the storehouses was one of the most interesting finds discovered in Tel Be’er Sheva, a horned altar. The altar had been dismantled and used as building material in the wall of the storehouse. The altar was reconstructed at three cubits high (5.25 feet) and closely matches the description of such altars given in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 30:2). The altar shows that the city once held a cultic structure, possibly dedicated to the Israelite God.

Be’er Sheva was also an incredibly well-planned city. The city includes a belt of houses running along the casemate wall with a six-foot-wide peripheral street running parallel to the walls. Additional streets radiated through the city in straight lines to provide a high degree of organization and movability. The city also included a covered drainage ditch, a large city square, and a complex water system. The excavators suggested that Be’er Sheva was built as a planned city, in which the earlier town was actively dismantled and the later Iron Age city constructed according to a preconceived plan at a single time.

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Genesis, Negev

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood