Beersheba, where Abraham and Isaac dug wells? The UN says it’s ‘Ber asaabeaa’
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Beersheba, where Abraham and Isaac dug wells? The UN says it’s ‘Ber asaabeaa’

World body calls southern Israeli city by its Arabic name in letter demanding release of UN worker accused of aiding Hamas

A photograph of Beersheba in the 1950s. (The Encyclopedia of Israel in Pictures/Wikimedia)
A photograph of Beersheba in the 1950s. (The Encyclopedia of Israel in Pictures/Wikimedia)

In an official letter this week, the United Nations specifically referred to Israel’s southern city of Beersheba by its Arabic name — Ber asaabeaa.

The letter requested the release of a UN Development Program employee, whom Israel has accused of aiding the Hamas terrorist group, Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said Thursday.

The name Beersheba comes from the Hebrew Be’er Sheva, meaning well of seven or well of oaths. Though the exact origin of the name is disputed, according to the Bible the city gained its moniker as a result of the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac digging seven wells in the area, after having sworn two separate oaths there with the Philistine King Abimelech.

Though Beersheba was part of the proposed Arab territory in the UN’s 1947 Partition Plan, the city is located deep inside the sovereign borders of the state since 1948, which have been recognized by the international body.

A lithograph depicting Abraham making an oath to the Philistine King Abimelech. (University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection)
A lithograph depicting Abraham making an oath to the Philistine King Abimelech. (University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection)

Located in a dry riverbed, near a freshwater aquifer, the most ancient remains of Beersheba are from the 12th and 11th centuries BCE. The city was built up throughout the centuries, becoming a regional capital in the 8th century BCE.

The southern city of Beersheba, as seen from the Israeli Air Force's annual fly-by on Independence Day, May 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
The southern city of Beersheba, as seen from the Israeli Air Force’s annual fly-by on Independence Day, May 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

To this day it is referred to as the “Capital of the Negev,” as it is the largest city in the southern desert.

With over 200,000 residents living on 45 square miles (117.5 sq km), Beersheba is also the eighth largest city in Israel in terms of population, and the second largest in terms of size.

A photograph of Beersheba in the 1920s. (Ludwig Preiss/Wikimedia)
A photograph of Beersheba in the 1920s. (Ludwig Preiss/Wikimedia)

Waheed Abd Allah Bossh, 38, an engineer in the UN’s Development Program, was arrested by the Shin Bet security service in July. He is suspected of funneling resources to the terrorist group.

According to the international organization, all UN employees are entitled to diplomatic immunity. The group’s legal department also demanded that UN officials have access to Bossh while he is being held in a Beersheba jail — referred to in the letter as a Ber asaabeaa jail.

Danon refused the UN’s request. “We do not grant immunity to terrorists trying to harm our citizens,” he said in a statement released Thursday by his office.

Through his work as an engineer, Bossh allegedly directed the UNDP to work on projects that would benefit Hamas, including a naval base for the terrorist group’s military wing.

“In 2015, he helped build a marina for the use of the military arm of Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, using UNDP resources,” the Shin Bet said.

The UN, however, claimed that the marina project had been directed by the Palestinian Authority, and not Hamas.

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