Rehovot is a city in the Central District of Israel, about 20 kilometers (12 mi) south of Tel Aviv. In 2015 it had a population of 132,671.
Rehovot was established in 1890 by Polish Jewish immigrants on land purchased from a Christian Arab.
Israel Belkind, founder of the Bilu movement, proposed the name "Rehovot" (lit. 'wide expanses') based on Genesis 26:22: "And he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said: 'For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land'." This Bible verse is also inscribed in the city's logo. The biblical town of Rehoboth is located in the Negev Desert.
Rehovot was established near a site called Khirbat Deiran, which now lies in the center of the built-up area of the city.
Excavations at Khirbat Deiran have revealed signs of habitation in the Hellenic and Roman periods and through the Byzantine period, with a major expansion to about 60 dunams during the early centuries of Islamic rule. Evidence of Jewish and possibly Samaritan occupants during the Roman and Byzantine periods has been found. In 1939, Khirbet Deiran was identified by Klein with Kerem Doron ("vineyard of Doron"), a place mentioned in Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 7,4), but Fischer considers that there is "no special reason" for this identification, while Kalmin is unsure whether Doron was a place or a person.
The moshava of Rehovot was founded on the coastal plain by Polish Jews seeking to establish a township independent of the Baron Edmond James de Rothschild. The land was purchased by the Menuha Venahala society, an organization in Warsaw that raised funds for Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel.
At the time, all of Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire and the area that became Rehovot, like much of the land in Palestine then, had been settled by Arabs tending animals and living essentially as squatters on land that had been exclusively at their disposition in an economic system where ownership of the land per se had not been a norm. This meant that the land purchase represented a disruption to the livelihoods and lifestyles of those who had viewed it as theirs for generations.
In March 1892, a dispute over pasture rights erupted between the residents of Rehovot and the neighboring village of Zarnuqa, which took two years to resolve. Another dispute broke out with the Suteriya Bedouin tribe, which had been cultivating some of the land as tenant farmers. According to Moshe Smilansky, one of the early settlers of Rehovot, the Bedouins had received compensation for the land, but refused to vacate it. In 1893, they attacked the moshava. Through the intervention of a respected Arab sheikh, a compromise was reached, with the Bedouins receiving an additional sum of money, which they used to dig a well.
In 1890, the region was an uncultivated wasteland with no trees, houses or water. The settlers of Rehovot planted vineyards, almond orchards, and citrus groves, but grappled with agricultural failures, plant diseases, and marketing problems.
The first citrus grove was planted by Zalman Minkov in 1904. Minkov's grove, surrounded by a wall, included a guard house, stables, a packing plant, and an irrigation system in which groundwater was pumped from a large well in the inner courtyard. The well was 23 meters deep, the height of an eight-story building, and over six meters in diameter. The water was channeled via an aqueduct to an irrigation pool, and from there to a network of ditches dug around the bases of the trees.
By 1908, the idea was conceived of settling new Jewish immigrants on the land as agricultural laborers. The Workman's Union (Hapoel Hazair) had taken an interest in Yemenite immigrants who were then settled mostly in Jerusalem and Jaffa, and decided to bring about 300 Yemenites who had arrived in Jaffa and resettle them in the colonies of Rishon-le-Zion and Rehovot.Only a few dozen Yemenite families had joined Rehovot by 1908. They built houses for themselves in a plot given to them at the south end of the town, which became known as Sha'araim. In 1910, Shemu'el Warshawsky, with the secret support of the JNF, was sent to Yemen to recruit more agricultural laborers. Hundreds arrived starting in 1911 and were housed first in a compound one kilometre south of Rehovot and then in a large extension of the Sha'araim quarter.
In 1913, Rehovot became the flashpoint for a dramatic turn in relations among the region's ethnicities: after an itinerant Arab camel driver passing through stole some grapes from a local farm, local Jewish settlers arriving on the scene brutally attacked him, which led to the arrival of Arab reinforcements, then to a skirmish that proved fatal - one death on each side of the gunfire. It is alleged that this was the moment that a previously peaceful co-existence among ethnicities, united under the Ottoman Empire, became overnight an "us vs. them" divisiveness that has prevailed ever since.
In February 1914, Rothschild visited Rehovot during the fourth of his five visits to the Land of Israel.
According to a census conducted in 1922 by the British Mandate authorities, Rehovot had a population of 1,242 inhabitants, consisting of 1,241 Jews and 1 Muslim, increasing in 1931 census to 3193 inhabitants, in 833 houses. In 1924, the British Army contracted the Palestine Electric Company for wired electric power. The contract allowed the Electric Company to extend the grid beyond the original geographical limits that had been projected by the concession it was given. The high-tension line that exceeded the limits of the original concession ran along some major towns and agricultural settlements, offering extended connections to the Jewish towns of Rishon Le-Zion, Ness Ziona and Rehovot (in spite of their proximity to the high-tension line, the Arab towns of Ramleh and Lydda remained unconnected).
In 1931, the first workers moshav, Kfar Marmorek, was built on lands acquired by the Jewish National Fund in 1926 from the village Zarnuqa, in which ten families evicted from Kinneret in 1931 were resettled to work the land, and later joined by thirty-five other families from Sha'araim. Today, it is a suburb of Rehovot.
The agricultural research station that opened in Rehovot in 1932 became the Department of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1934, Chaim Weizmann established the Sieff Institute, which became the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 1937, Weizmann built his home on the land purchased adjacent to the Sieff Institute. The house later served as the presidential residence after Weizmann became president in 1948. Weizmann and his wife are buried on the grounds of the Institute. The Kaplan Hopsital is included in Rehovot's municipal boundary.
On 29 February 1948, the Lehi blew up the Cairo to Haifa train shortly after it left Rehovot, killing 29 British soldiers and injuring 35. Lehi said the bombing was in retaliation for the Ben Yehuda Street bombing a week earlier. The Scotsman reported that both Weizmann's home and the Agricultural Institute were damaged in the explosion, although the site was 1–2 miles [1.6–3 km] away. On 28 March 1948, Arabs attacked a Jewish convoy near Rehovot.
A third of the population is religious, and 21% had an academic education. The economy contined to be based on packing, food processing, and chemicals, servies, commerce, and the science and research institutes.