Three lookouts

Last updated
Israel relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Red pog.svg
Beit Eshel Beteshel.jpg
Beit Eshel
Gvulot Mizpegvulot.jpg
Revivim htyybSHvt bngb 056.JPG

The three lookouts (Hebrew : שלושת המצפים, Shloshet HaMitzpim, also Mitzpot [1] ) were three Jewish settlements built in the Negev desert in 1943 on land owned by the Jewish National Fund. The goal was securing the land and assessing its feasibility for agriculture. The founding was preceded by a complex land purchase procedure, as the British authorities had practically prohibited Jewish land acquisition in the area following the costly Arab Revolt and the subsequent White Paper of 1939. [2]


These lookouts, Revivim, Gvulot, and Beit Eshel, later served as a springboard for further Jewish population of the Negev. [3] The residents of the lookouts made extensive geophysical surveys and conducted agricultural experiments for this purpose.


Historical background and early proposals

The British White Paper of 1939 and the 1940 Land Transfer Regulations placed a number of restrictions on Jewish settlement and land purchase in the Mandate for Palestine. The Negev desert was one of the areas where both were forbidden. On the other hand, World War II had broken out and the Yishuv sought to broaden its areas of settlement in order to have greater capacity to house Jewish refugees from Europe. [4]

In general, the Yishuv, which was vehemently opposed to the White Paper, was interested in settling the Negev and conducting geological and hydrological surveys there. It also wished to test the British reaction to such a move. On April 29, 1942, a number of Yishuv notables, including Arthur Rupin, Eliezer Kaplan and Yosef Weitz, toured the area to determine its adequacy for settlement. While Rupin and Kaplan proposed creating a number of agricultural settlements in the area, Weitz rejected the idea and recommended the construction of three outposts—in the areas of Rafah, Beersheba and Bir 'Asluj—that would each be located on a different type of soil and help determine the suitability of the surrounding area for agriculture and habitation. [4]

Weitz eventually proposed creating ten such outposts, that would each employ 10–12 workers living in a walled building. Eventually however, only three outposts were created, as per Weitz's original recommendation. [4]

Land purchase

The land purchases in the Negev were made by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), operating as the Tzukerman Office, a private real estate company secretly affiliated with the JNF. If required to purchase land from Arabs (after 1940), the office would recruit Arabs who had allied themselves with the Yishuv, to circumvent the British ban. [5] The land was mostly purchased from Negev Bedouin, who were usually not nationalistically motivated and more interested in the financial aspect. The JNF also set out to buy Jewish-owned land in the region, which was mostly unused. [6] In 1936, this totalled 41,000 dunams (41 km2). [7] Another policy was to consolidate the lands as much as possible and buy adjacent lots, in order to be able to settle the land later. [8]

In 1943, Weitz ordered Yoav Tzukerman to buy lands near Rafah/Khan Younis, in Wadi Shiniq (HaBesor Stream), and near 'Asluj and Beersheba. Lands were bought, but at the time the Bedouins in the area were enjoying relative prosperity and were less willing to sell. This significantly hurt the settlement plan for Gvulot, which called for the purchase of 5,000–6,000 dunams (5–6 km2). [8]


The first settlement, Mitzpe Gvulot (today simply Gvulot) was established on May 12, 1943. [9] The first squad numbered 12 people who came with a truck, four tents and a tractor. The group consisted of native Jews and a number of immigrants from Bulgaria from the Kibbutz HaShomer HaTzair Gimel organization. Most of those who planned to settle in Gvulot stayed in Rishon LeZion, and the lookout was managed from the moshava Beit Gan in the north of the country. [10]

Revivim was founded on July 28, 1943, by the organization HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, and originally named Tel Tzofim. Three members came three months earlier, but were driven out by the British. On July 28, six people came to the site and started construction, soon joined by another six. [10]

Beit Eshel's first residents arrived on August 9, 1943—four people with a tractor and two tents. An additional 36 people joined them later. The residents were immigrants from Austria and Germany, later joined by immigrants from Romania and native Jews. The group was called HaYogev (Hebrew : היוגב, lit. The Farmer) and were planning to set up a moshav. [11] However, they were unable to do so due to lack of resources, and therefore organized as a kibbutz instead. [10]

Many of the early settlers, unable to adjust to the intense heat during the day, freezing temperatures at night, and plagues of mosquitoes, packed up and left. Those who remained built uniform settlements consisting of a square courtyard surrounded by walls, a watchtower, living quarters and service buildings. [3]


Water supply

In the beginning, Gvulot got its water from nearby Arab villages. The price was 1 Palestine pound for 1 cubic meter, very high for the time. The cost of transport (done with a mule cart) was also high. In light of that, great effort was made to find an independent water source in the area. The first well, dug on July 21, 1943, turned up highly saline water. Five additional digs were made in 1943–1944, but turned out unsatisfactory. [12] Tar-covered water collection ditches were also attempted, and helped ease the situation, but much water seeped through them into the ground, and additional filters had to be installed to make the water suitable for drinking. [13]

Although suitable water was found in Beit Eshel, it was too deep to extract effectively at the time; water was purchased from Beersheba. Only after World War II was Beit Eshel able to acquire a suitable pump. Eight wells were dug in Beit Eshel in total, two of them successful (another one was further east and saved for later). [14] Mini-dams were built in the wadis around Beit Eshel for irrigation. A larger dam was planned for the Beersheba Stream, but nothing came of the project. [13]

In Revivim, a water well was purchased from the British administration, but its water was too saline. The workers then received free water from the British military base at Bir 'Asluj, until a new dig uncovered water at a depth of over 100 m and a tractor was modified to pump it out. [14] A dam, the largest in the three lookouts at 1.2 m in height, was eventually built in Revivim. [13] Three large reservoirs were also built in Revivim, with capacities of 40,000, 60,000 and 100,000 m3. They drained into the ground very quickly however. [15] These projects represented the lion's share of the lookouts' expenditures, at over 70,000 Palestine pounds (compared to an annual budget of about 10,000 pounds for each lookout). [16]

By 1946, it had become clear that the three lookouts could not sustain an independent water supply. Also at that time, the Yishuv decided to create 11 additional settlements around the lookouts. In light of that, a decision was made that the water for these settlements would be provided by localities north of the Negev. However, budgets were also approved for additional wells and experiments in the existing villages. [17]

Contact with the outside world

Beit Eshel's close proximity to Beersheba allowed it to receive superior communication services, such as a regular postal service (the letters were delivered to Beersheba) and a telephone line. The other lookouts communicated only through a pirate radio with the rest of the lookouts and the Haganah. [18]

Transportation of goods and people were done with the vehicles in the lookouts, which each had a van and sometimes a truck. [18] When these were unavailable or could not be used, the residents of Revivim and Beit Eshel relied on outside means—British vehicles traveling to and from the base at 'Asluj and public transport between Gaza and Beersheba, respectively. Gvulot was more isolated and while attempts were made to create a dirt road to Khan Yunis, in the end the residents had to take the route through Rafah. In rainy months, the lookouts were isolated in terms of transportation, especially Gvulot. [19]

Relations with non-Jewish elements

The British Mandate authorities were ambivalent towards the founding of the lookouts. On the one hand, the Yishuv broke Mandatory law not just with the land purchases, but also with illegally holding weapons and operating illegal radios. On the other hand, there was no reason not to allow the Jews to attempt permanent settlement in the Negev, which was rare due to the Negev Bedouin's nomadic lifestyle. The local authorities took either a pro-Zionist or anti-Zionist stand depending on who headed them. The relationship with the British military were generally warm, especially in Revivim where some of the residents worked in the British base in 'Asluj and the British protected the area to prevent theft. [20]

Relations with the Bedouin were also mostly positive. The lookouts were in constant contact with the sheiks of the Azzazma and Tarabin tribes that ruled the area. Gvulot employed eight Bedouin guards. While economic ties were limited, [20] the lookouts made an effort to keep warm social ties. Each lookout appointed a Mukhtar and kept Bedouin hospitality traditions. [21] By contrast, relations with the fellaheen of the area were limited to negligible. [22]

Construction and development in 1943–1948

Other than the agricultural work, the lookouts' managers sought to create additional employment. [23] In Beit Eshel, many of the residents were forced to move to Ness Ziona due to lack of jobs. [10] Several factories were therefore built in the village, including a wool processing plant, a tin plant and a factory that manufactured construction materials. A cannery was built in Revivim. Gvulot planned to build a diamond processing plant, but the relevant equipment was destroyed in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. [23]

Little non-agricultural development occurred during these years outside Beit Eshel. While Gvulot and Revivim each had over 100 members, only a few actually lived on the sites—12–14 in Gvulot and about 25 in Revivim. [10] Despite this, the vast majority of these residents worked in the lookouts, something uncommon at the time. [24]

The residential areas of the lookouts were built as a castle—a two-floor stone building serving as a tower, with a 35 m2 courtyard surrounded by a stone wall. The tower served as the living quarters for up to 25 people, [24] and the lookouts were encouraged not to build living quarters anywhere else for security reasons. However, this was disregarded in Beit Eshel as the need for additional living space arose. By 1947, security considerations trumped all others in plans for new constructions, not just in the lookouts, but also in most other settlements in the Negev. [19]

1948 Arab–Israeli War

Halutza. 19 November 1947 "KHlvTSh" - ySHvb KHdSH bngb- kbr bbvqr hnqvdh `l tylh `vmdt.-JNF001011.jpeg
Halutza. 19 November 1947

The first attack on one of the lookouts came in the civil war stage, on December 16, 1947, when local Bedouin attacked a vehicle between Halutza and Revivim. The British forces in the area refused to intervene. [25]

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, beginning with an attack on May 17, 1948 by the Muslim Brotherhood, Beit Eshel was besieged by Egyptian forces and destroyed. When Beersheba was captured by the Israel Defense Forces in the Battle of Beersheba in 1948, the site was abandoned. Its inhabitants moved to the Jezreel Valley, establishing Moshav HaYogev. [26] [27]


The three lookouts are located in different parts of the Negev desert with different characteristics; Gvulot was founded close to Wadi Shiniq (Beersheba Stream), on a plateau 125 m above sea level. Gvulot's lands were heavily dispersed, going from Dangour in the west to Hazali in the east. The lands were mostly on sandy soil, being just north of expansive sand dunes. Beit Eshel was also built on a plateau, about 300 m above sea level, 3 km east of Beersheba, on loess soil. Revivim was built on a limestone hill surrounded by a plateau. The soil was a mix of sand and loess. [11]

Research and experiments conducted

As intended, the founding of the lookouts led to a number of important scientific researches which assisted future Jewish agricultural settlement in the Negev desert. [28]

Scientific surveys

An important geological survey was conducted in 1944–1945. The survey included 2,450 samples spread over 2.7 million dunams (2,700 km2). It concluded, among other things, that most of the Negev's soil was deeper than 2 m and of the loess type. [28]

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted meteorological surveys. The only previous surveys had been done on a much smaller scale in police stations in the area in the 19th Century. They concluded that precipitation was higher in the northern Negev than in the southern, although the amount varied significantly from year to year, making it impossible to rely on the average amount. In addition, it was discovered that the proportion of rainfall in each month to the yearly average was different in the Negev than in other areas in Mandatory Palestine; in particular, there was a lot of rainfall in the month of May. The measurements also concluded that the amount of dew falling in the northern and western Negev was higher than in any other part of Mandatory Palestine. [29] Research was also performed on the temperature, winds, air moisture and evaporation. [30]

Hydrological surveys were conducted by Leo Picard, who concluded that none of the three lookouts would serve as suitable locations for extracting ground water, which was either nonexistent or suffered from excessive salinity. The only potential drilling site for water, according to Picard, was on the coastal plain between Gaza and Rafah. [31] This research provided a general direction for choosing which land to purchase in the future. [12]

Agricultural experiments

A number of agricultural experiments were also conducted, which would pave the way for future agriculture in the arid region. In Beit Eshel, attempts were made to grow wheat, barley, oatmeal and legumes. It was concluded that growing these crops in the summer was not possible in that region, but the winter cultivation proved successful, by 1944 yielding 60 kg of wheat and 90 kg of barley per dunam (compared to 11.5 and 13.7, respectively, in the nearby Arab villages). A similar success was recorded in Gvulot, which yielded 61.5 kg of wheat, 75 kg of barkey, 86 kg of oatmeal and 98 kg of peas per dunam. Despite this, it was noted that 1944 was a rainy year and the yields could be lower in other years. [32]

By contrast, in Revivim, both winter and summer cultivations were reasonably successful, but the village was criticized for using rainwater that had been expensive to collect for large-scale farming, especially during the winter months. It was therefore unclear whether cereal farming in Revivim was financially feasible. [32]

Fruits and vegetables were also grown in the lookouts. In Revivim, vegetable harvests were rich, but much water was required to maintain the crops (275 m3 per dunam in for corn and 360 m3 for radish and beet), therefore making the venture unprofitable. [33] Orchards were planted at low density (about 4 trees per dunam) of olives, peaches, apricots, almonds and pomegranates. Many of them froze in the winter or did not grow due to excessive water salinity. The most successful were dates, olives and pomegranates, which could grow on saline water. [34]


Trees were planted in the lookouts in order to shield the agricultural land from storms and moving sand. It was hoped that some of these would also turn a profit. In the years 1943–1948, about 500,000 seedlings were planted, with species including tamarix, eucalyptus, cypress and others. [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

Negev desert and semidesert region of southern Israel

The Negev is a desert and semidesert region of southern Israel. The region's largest city and administrative capital is Beersheba, in the north. At its southern end is the Gulf of Aqaba and the resort city of Eilat. It contains several development towns, including Dimona, Arad and Mitzpe Ramon, as well as a number of small Bedouin cities, including Rahat and Tel as-Sabi and Lakyah. There are also several kibbutzim, including Revivim and Sde Boker; the latter became the home of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, after his retirement from politics.

Beersheba Place in Israel

Beersheba is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it is the center of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in Israel, the eighth most populous Israeli city with a population of 209,002, and the second largest city with a total area of 117,500 dunams.

Jewish National Fund voluntary association

Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. The JNF is a non-profit organization. By 2007, it owned 13% of the total land in Israel. Since its inception, the JNF says it has planted over 240 million trees in Israel. It has also built 180 dams and reservoirs, developed 250,000 acres (1,000 km2) of land and established more than 1,000 parks.

Wall and tower

Tower and Stockade was a settlement method used by Zionist settlers in Mandatory Palestine during the 1936–39 Arab Revolt. The establishment of new Jewish settlements was legally restricted by the Mandatory authorities, but the British generally gave their tacit accord to the Tower and Stockade actions as a means of countering the Arab revolt. During the course of the Tower and Stockade campaign, some 57 Jewish settlements including 52 kibbutzim and several moshavim were established throughout the country. The legal base was a Turkish Ottoman law that was in effect during the Mandate period, which stated that no illegal building may be demolished if the roof has been completed.

Nevatim Place in Southern, Israel

Nevatim is a moshav in southern Israel. Located in the northern Negev desert around 8 km (5 mi) south-east of Beersheba, it falls under the jurisdiction of Bnei Shimon Regional Council. In 2018 it had a population of 980.

Revivim Place in Southern, Israel

Revivim is a kibbutz in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Located around half an hour south of Beersheba, it falls under the jurisdiction of Ramat HaNegev Regional Council. In 2018 it had a population of 1,081.

Yosef Weitz Israeli civil servant

Yosef Weitz was the director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). From the 1930s, Weitz played a major role in acquiring land for the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine.

Yatir Forest

Yatir Forest is a forest in Israel, located on the southern slopes of Mount Hebron, on the edge of the Negev Desert. The forest covers an area of 30,000 dunams, and is the largest planted forest in Israel.

Bir Hadaj Place in Southern, Israel

Bir Hadaj is a Bedouin agricultural town located in the Negev desert, near Revivim, Israel. In 2018 its population was 5,735.

Negev Bedouin ethnic group

The Negev Bedouin are traditionally pastoral nomadic Arab tribes (Bedouin) living in the Negev region of Israel. The Bedouin tribes adhere to Islam.

Beit Kama Place in Southern, Israel

Beit Kama is a kibbutz in the northern Negev desert in Israel. Located north of the Bedouin city of Rahat, it falls under the jurisdiction of Bnei Shimon Regional Council. In 2018 its population was 1,396.

Blueprint Negev project

Blueprint Negev is a Jewish National Fund (JNF) project to construct new Jewish communities in the Negev region of Israel and boost Jewish settlement in the region.

Furush Beit Dajan Municipality type D in Nablus, State of Palestine

Furush Beit Dajan is a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank, located 10 kilometers east of Nablus and a part of the Nablus Governorate. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the village had a population of approximately 1,160 inhabitants in 2006.

Bnei Yehuda, Golan Heights Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights

Bnei Yehuda is an Israeli settlement and moshav located in the southern Golan Heights, under the administration of Israel. The moshav was built in 1972 and falls under the municipal jurisdiction of the Golan Regional Council. The international community considers Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights illegal under international law, but the Israeli government disputes this. In 2018 its population was 1,070.

Gvulot Place in Southern, Israel

Gvulot is a kibbutz in southern Israel. Located in the north-western Negev desert, it falls under the jurisdiction of Eshkol Regional Council. In 2018 it had a population of 344. Gvulot is located about 120 m above sea level.

Unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel

Unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel are rural Bedouin communities in the Negev and the Galilee which the Israeli government does not recognize as legal. Often they are referred to as "unrecognized villages".

Beit Eshel Place

Beit Eshel was a Jewish settlement established in the Negev desert in Mandate Palestine in 1943 as one of the three lookouts, alongside Revivim and Gvulot. It was located two kilometres southeast of Beersheba.

The Battles of Bir 'Asluj refer to a series of military engagements between Israel and Egypt in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, around the localities Bir 'Asluj and the nearby Bir Thamila. Bir 'Asluj was a small Bedouin center and a strategic location on the 'Auja–Beersheba road. The Israelis captured the position early in the war, in an attempt to disconnect the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood forces from the main Egyptian Army concentration on the coastal plain, but set up positions across the road and the threat to their transport was neutralized.


Al-Araqeeb is an unrecognized village of the Al-Turi Arab Bedouin tribe, five miles (8 km) north of Beersheba demolished and rebuilt over 160 times.

Operation Lot

Operation Lot was an Israeli military operation during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. It was carried out on November 23–25, 1948 in the eastern Negev desert and the Arava.


  1. Kark (2003), p. 4
  2. Lehn & Davis (1988), pp. 61–64
  3. 1 2 Jewish National Fund (February 22, 2010). "Beersheba River Park with KKL-JNF on World Environment Day". The Jerusalem Post . Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  4. 1 2 3 Kark (2003), pp. 9–10
  5. Kark (2003), p. 12
  6. Kark (2003), p. 13
  7. Kark (2003), p. 20
  8. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 16
  9. "Kibbutz Gvulot" (in Hebrew). Israel Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Kark (2003), p. 54
  11. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 53
  12. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 30
  13. 1 2 3 Kark (2003), p. 32
  14. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 31
  15. Kark (2003), p. 39
  16. Kark (2003), p. 60
  17. Kark (2003), p. 40
  18. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 59
  19. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 58
  20. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 66
  21. Kark (2003), p. 67
  22. Kark (2003), p. 68
  23. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 52
  24. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 57
  25. Lorch (1998), p. 111
  26. "Mitzpe Beit Eshel". Eretz Magazine. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
  27. Lorch (1998), p. 323
  28. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 21
  29. Kark (2003), p. 23
  30. Kark (2003), p. 26
  31. Kark (2003), p. 27
  32. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 42
  33. Kark (2003), p. 48
  34. 1 2 Kark (2003), p. 49