Eilat (Hebrew: אֵילַת; Arabic: ايلات) is Israel‘s southernmost city, a busy port and popular resort located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, on the Gulf of Aqaba.
Home to about 47,700 people, Eilat is part of the Southern Negev Desert, at the southern end of the Arava, adjacent to the Egyptian village of Taba to the south, the Jordanian port city of Aqaba to the east, and within sight of Saudi Arabia to the south-east, across the gulf.
The origin of the name Eilat is not definitively known, but likely comes from the Hebrew root A–Y–L (Hebrew: א. י. ל.), which is also the root for the word Elah (Hebrew: אלה), meaning Pistacia tree. Like numerous other localities, Eilat is mentioned in the Bible both in singular (possibly construct state) and plural form (Eilot).
The original settlement was probably at the northern tip of the Gulf of Eilat. Archaeological excavations uncovered impressive prehistoric tombs dating to the 7th millennium BC at the western edge of Eilat, while nearby copper workings and mining operations at Timna Valley are the oldest on earth. Ancient Egyptian records also document the extensive and lucrative mining operations and trade across the Red Sea with Egypt starting as early as the Fourth dynasty of Egypt. Eilat is mentioned in antiquity as a major trading partner with Elim, Thebes‘ Red Sea Port, as early as the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt. Trade between Elim and Eilat furnishedfrankincense and myrrh, brought up from Ethiopia and Punt; bitumen and natron, from the Dead Sea; finely woven linen, from Byblos; and copper amulets, from Timna; all mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. In antiquity Eilat bordered the states ofEdom, Midian and the tribal territory of the Rephidim, the indigenous inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula.
Eilat is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Exodus. The first six stations of the Exodus are in Egypt. The 7th is the crossing of the Red Sea and the 9th–13th are in and around Eilat, after the exodus from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. Station 12 refers to a dozen campsites in and around Timna in Modern Israel near Eilat. When King David conquered Edom, which up to then had been a common border of Edom and Midian, he took over Eilat, the border city shared by them as well. The commercial port city and copper based industrial center were maintained by Egypt until reportedly rebuilt by Solomon at a location known as Ezion-Geber (I Kings 9:26). In 2 Kings 14:21–22 “All the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the room of his father Amaziah. He rebuilt Elath, and restored it to Judah, after his father’s death.” And again in 2 Kings 16:6: “At that time the king of Edom recovered Elath for Edom, and drove out the people of Judah and sent Edomites to live there, as they do to this day.”
Roman and Muslim periods
During the Roman period a road was built to link the area with the Nabataean city of Petra (in modern-day Jordan). The remains of a large copper smelting and trading community which flourished during the Umayyad Period (700–900 CE) were also found between what is now Eilat’s industrial zone and nearby Kibbutz Eilot.
In the writings of medieval Muslim scholars, such as Al-Waqidi, it is told that Muhammad made a treaty with Eilat’s (Ayla) population, Jews and Christians. In the treaty, Muhammad offered protection to the Jews and the Christians, preserving their self-rule over the city, in exchange for an annual tax. Another reference to the Eilat in Islamic texts is believed to appear in the Quran, sura 7:163–169. In these Ayats appears a story about “a town by the sea” where the Jewish residents were tested by God to check if they truly observe the Shabbat. Once they didn’t, they were turned into apes. The Darb el Hajj or “Pilgrim’s Road”, from Africa through Egypt to Mecca, passed out of Sinai from the west at Umm Al-Rashrash, the modern Arabic name for Eilat, before skirting the sea and continuing south into Arabia. A British police post was established in this area in 1906.
An Islamic village of 250–400 residents flourished at the northern edge of modern Eilat during the 7th and 8th centuries. It was excavated in 1989 to make way for an industrial area.
After the establishment of the State of Israel
The area was designated as part of the Jewish state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The Arab village of Umm Al-Rashrash was taken without a fight on March 10, 1949, as part of Operation Uvda.
The Timna Copper Mines near Timna valley were opened, a port was constructed, the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline laid, and tourism began. Construction of the city and the Port of Eilat began shortly after the end of the war. The port became vital to the fledgling country’s development. After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War Arab countries maintained a state of hostility with Israel, blocking all land routes; Israel’s access to and trade with the rest of the world was by air and sea alone. Further, Egypt denied passage through the Suez Canal to Israeli-registered ships or to any ship carrying cargo to or from Israeli ports.
This made Eilat and its sea port crucial to Israel’s communications, commerce and trade with Africa and Asia, and for oil imports. Without recourse to a port on the Red Sea Israel would have been unable to develop its diplomatic, cultural and trade ties beyond the Mediterranean basin and Europe. This happened in 1956 and again in 1967, when Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping effectively blockaded the port of Eilat. In 1956, this led to Israel’s participation alongside Britain and France in the war against Egypt sparked by the Suez Crisis, while in 1967 90% of Israeli oil passed through the Straits of Tiran. Oil tankers that were due to pass through the straights have been delayed. The straits closure was cited by Israel as an additional casus belli leading to the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Following peace treaties signed with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, Eilat’s borders with its neighbors were finally opened.*Text taken from Wikipedia