Rahat (Arabic: رهط‎, Hebrew: רַהַט‎) is a predominantly Bedouin city in the Southern District of Israel. In 2019 it had a population of 71,437.[1] As such, it is the largest Bedouin city in the world, and the only one in Israel to have city status.

Rahat is one of seven Bedouin townships in the Negev desert with approved plans and developed infrastructure (the other six are Hura, Tel as-Sabi (Tel Sheva), Ar'arat an-Naqab (Ar'ara BaNegev), Lakiya, Kuseife (Kseife) and Shaqib al-Salam (Segev Shalom).[2]

The region of the city formerly owned by Al-Tayaha tribe (Al-Hezeel clan). Until the year 1972 the town was called "El Huzaiyil"[3] (Arabic: الهزيل‎) before changing its name. In 1972 Rahat was considered by the government of Israel as a new settlement for Bedouin who lived in the surrounding area without permanent domicile. Until 1980, Rahat was part of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council and from then on (until 1994) it was a local council (administered by a private board until 1989). In 1994 it was recognized as a city – the first Bedouin city in Israel.

The city has a total of 33 neighborhoods. All but one of the neighborhoods consist entirely of separate Bedouin clans, but one is a mixed-clan neighborhood. Between each neighborhood there is a wadi. The city also has a market, public and commercial services, neighborhood parks, public areas, women's employment centers, children's play areas, and several mosques.[4][5]

Rahat has a semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification: BSh). The average annual temperature is 19.6 °C (67.3 °F), and around 286 mm (11.26 in) of precipitation falls annually.

The township is situated close to Beersheva so its economy is related to that of the city. There is an industrial park in the suburbs of Rahat,[7] and another new park was founded on 2015 called Idan haNegev.[8] Several more industrial parks are situated in the area - Beersheba and Hura. Residents also work in the services industry in Beersheba. There are several organizations that promote entrepreneurship among the 210,000 Bedouin living in the Negev,[9] primarily aimed at Bedouin women. One of them is Maof, and another one focused on finding jobs is called Rian.

In 2005 the city was one of the first to be connected to the WiMAX network.[10]

In 2007 the Center for Jewish-Arab economic development initiated an entrepreneurship and employment project for Rahat residents. Approximately 40 Bedouin women took part in it and received training in job search, computer skills and business management. Twelve of them have launched their own businesses (shops, clothing, hairdressing, restaurant and catering, sewing).[11]

In 2009 the city was unable to pay its water fees and the water supply was disconnected for five hours.[12] Today Rahat has a water company that is in charge of supplying water and taking care of the sewers.[13]

In 2006 Rahat collected 59% of Arnona taxes,[14] making it the Arab city with the highest tax collection rate for the Arabic population for that year.[14] In 2012 Rahat increased tax collection to 71%.[15] In 2013 Rahat was collecting tax from its residents and also got 44% of a nearby industrial park.[16]

In 2014 the rate of unemployment was 34%, compared to 14% in 2017.[17] The shift has been attributed to a new industrial park, Idan Hanegev.

There are a number of organizations carrying out different activities aimed at supporting and facilitating entrepreneurship in Israel's South in order to further integrate the 210,000 Bedouin living in the Negev into Israel's mainstream economy.[9] They are primarily aimed at Bedouin women.

Twenty Arab-Bedouin women from the towns of Rahat, Lakiya, Tel Sheva, Segev Shalom, Kuseife and Rachma participated in a sewing course for fashion design at the Amal College in Beer Sheva, including lessons on sewing and cutting, personal empowerment and business initiatives.[18]

There is a volunteer program to teach English to the Bedouin schoolchildren of Rahat.[19]

Social and Environmental Leadership Program was established in Rahat in the mid-2000s, initiated by young local residents.[20]

Since the city of Beersheva is in close proximity to Rahat, most Bedouin students from Rahat study at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, some also at Sapir Academic College in Sderot. Soon a new Harvard University campus will be established in Rahat - inside Idan HaNegev Industrial Park. It will be the first campus built in this Bedouin city.[21] Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will oversee the new campus' operations, and it will be considered a BGU branch.

Rahat as a city has a number of public services, including medical services, schooling, labor, shopping, etc. There are branches of several health funds (medical clinics) in Rahat: Leumit, Clalit, Maccabi and several perinatal (baby care) centers Tipat Halav. In 2004 a new police station was opened, and has around 70 staff policemen. There is a community center in Rahat with a number of clubs for youth.

According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2001 the ethnic make-up of the city was almost completely Arab Bedouin, without a significant Jewish population (see also: Population groups in Israel), making it the largest Bedouin settlement in Israel. Members of several Bedouin family clans reside in Rahat: Al-Qrenawi, Tarabin, Al-Huzeil, Al-Tayaha, Al-Azazma, Al-Jubur, Al-Tawarah, Howeitat, AbuZayed etc. Rahat's society is considered a young one, as more than half of its residents are under the age of 18.[20]

According to the CBS, in 2001 there were 16,300 males and 16,100 females. The population of the city was spread out, with 65.2% 19 years of age or younger, 15.8% between 20 and 29, 12.0% between 30 and 44, 4.7% from 45 to 59, 0.9% from 60 to 64, and 1.4% 65 years of age or older. The population growth rate in 2001 was 5.9%. Also according to the CBS, at the end of 2010 there were 26,700 males and 26,400 females. Some 60.4% of Rahat's population were 19 years old or younger, 15.4% between 20 and 29, 15.3% between 30 and 44, 5.9% from 45 to 59, 1% from 60 to 64, and 2% 65 years of age or older. The population growth rate has decreased significantly to 2.7%.[23]

According to city's mayor the city is home to an estimated 7,000 illegal immigrants at any given time.[24]

Rahat is known to be a center of authentic food tourism and the city gets full with tourists from Israel and abroad especially in the Ramadan period. Most of the tourists like to be hosted in houses around Rahat where the lady owner of the house cooks traditional Bedouin food and tells stories about the Bedouin culture.[25]

In June 2007 a new Lehavim-Rahat Railway Station was opened. It serves both the Bedouin community of Rahat and the suburbs of Lehavim. It made it more accessible for the local residents to work and study in Beer Sheba and other parts of the country. There are buses operated by the Galim and Dan BaDarom bus companies.[26] For a long period of time there were only private transit buses in the city, but in 2009 the bus transportation system was substantially improved and larger, national bus companies started to enter the city.[27]

In 2019, one of the earliest rural mosques in the world was unearthed in Rahat, apparently dating to a century or two after the founding of Islam.[28]