Ashdod is a port located on the Mediterranean Sea coast in the Southern District of Israel with a population of over 200,000. It is an important regional industrial center. The Port of Ashdod is Israel’s largest port and accounts for 60 percent of the country’s imported goods. Most of the country’s citrus crop is exported from it. The city was established in 1956 on the sand dunes north-northwest of the ancient archaeological remains.
The city planners arrived in 1953 at the desolate dunes near the mouth of Lachish River to choose a site to build a new power station in the south of the country. On May 1 1956, the finance minister Levi Eshkol approved the establishment of the city of Ashdod. The first settlers, 22 families of Jewish immigrants from Morocco arrived in November 1956. The government granted a 24,000 dunam (24 km²) to the Ashdod Company Ltd., to build the city of Ashdod. The first phase of the Eshkol power station in Ashdod was completed in 1958.
The building of the Port of Ashdod began in April 1961. The port was inaugurated in November 1963, and was utilized for the first time in November 1965.
The planners divided the city into 17 neighborhoods of ten to fifteen thousand people each. Wide avenues between the neighborhoods make traffic flow relatively freely inside the city. Each neighborhood has easy access to its own commercial center, urban park, and health and education infrastructure. The plan also called for a central business and administrative center, but this had to wait until the mid-1990s when the city population grew rapidly doubling in size in just ten years.
Three industrial zones were placed adjacent to the port in the northern part of the city taking into account the prevailing southern winds which take air pollution out of the city.
The city was planned for a maximum of 250,000 inhabitants, and an additional area in the south was reserved for further development. However, the southern border of the city was proclaimed a national nature reserve, Ashdod Nitzanim Sand Dune Park, which makes future city growth problematic, with the last of the 17 neighborhoods of the development plan now under construction.
Figures suggest that about 32 percent of the city’s population are new immigrants, 85 percent of whom are originally from the former Soviet Union. From 1990 to 2001 the city grew rapidly with more Ashdod absorbing more than 100,000 new immigrants.
During the 1990s the city also absorbed a large number of Jews of Ethiopian descent, and in more recent years the city has seen an influx of Jewish immigrants from France and Argentina. Ashdod also receives a significant amount of internal migration, especially from the Gush Dan region.
Settlement in Ashdod dates from the Paleolithic Age. The first known settlement dates to the Canaanite culture of seventeenth century BCE. There is evidence that it was settled by Philistines, Israelites, Byzantines, Crusaders and Arabs.
It is mentioned in Ugaritic documents, the language of the ancient Canaanites. At the end of the thirteenth century BCE it was conquered and destroyed. At the beginning of the twelfth century BCE the Philistines ruled the city. During their reign, the city prospered and was a member of union of five Philistine city states.
In 950 BCE Ashdod was again destroyed during Pharaoh Siamun’s conquest of the region. The city was not rebuilt again until at about 815 BCE. Around 715 BCE it was conquered by Sargon II who destroyed the city and exiled its residents. Jewish inhabitants of Ashdod were resettled in Media after their failed uprising attempt against Assyrian dominance.
Asdûdu led the revolt of Philistines, Judeans, Edomites, and Moabites against Assyria after expulsion of king Akhimeti, whom Sargon had installed instead of his brother Azuri. The city of Gath (Gimtu) belonged to the kingdom of Ashdod at that time.
An Assyrian general, Tartan, gained control of Ashdod in 711, ‘In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and fought against Ashdod, and took it’ , Isaiah 20:1 and forced the ‘usurper’ Yamani to flee. Mitinti was king at the time of Sennacherib, and Akhimilki in the reign of Esarhaddon. Psammetichus of Egypt is reported to have besieged the great city Azotus for 29 years.
Nebuchadnezzar conquered it in 605 BCE. The Persians rebuilt the city in 539 BCE but again it was conquered in the wars of Alexander of Macedon (Nehemiah 13:23). The city prospered as Izotus under the Hellenistic rule, until the Hasmonean Revolt. During the rebellion Judas Maccabeus arrived at its gates, but did not conquer it. He left it for his brother Jonathan, who conquered it in 147 BCE and destroyed the Temple of Dagon. According to Flavius Josephus Alexander Jannæus possessed it. Pompey restored its independence by reconstructing its city walls, though it belonged to the dominion of Herod and Salome and Vespasian had to later take it by force.
The Fatimids established a fortress and a village on the Tell of Ashdod. The location of the village on Via Maris enhanced the city’s importance during the Ottoman rule. In 1596 CE the population of Ashdod was about 413. At the beginning of the twentieth century the village was known as Esdūd, with a population of about five thousand, specializing in agriculture and trade.
According to the bible, during the 10th century BCE Ashdod became, along with all the kingdom of Philistia a patronage area of the Kingdom of Israel under the control of King David. Judah’s claim upon Ashdod is mentioned in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 15:46). In the Book of Samuel Ashdod is mentioned (I Samuel 6:17) among the principal Philistine cities. After capturing the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites, the Philistines took it to Ashdod, where it was placed in the temple of Dagon. The next morning Dagon was found prostrate, bowed down, before it. On being restored to his place, he was on the following morning again found prostrate and broken. The people of Ashdod were smitten with boils; a plague of mice was sent over the land (1 Samuel 6:5).
In the Book of Isaiah an Assyrian general named Tartan, sent by Sargon, gained control of Ashdod in 711. (Isaiah 20:1). The capture of the city by King Uzziah shortly after 815 BCE is mentioned within the text of the Book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 26:6) and in the Book of Zechariah (Zechariah 9:6), speaking of the false Jews.
Today Ashdod is one of the most important industrial centers in Israel. All industrial activities in the city are located in northern areas such as the port area, the northern industrial zone, and around the Lachish River. Various shipping companies’ offices are located in the port area which also is home to the Eshkol A power station and coal terminal. The Northern industrial zone includes various industry including an oil refinery, which is one of only two in the country. The heavy industry zone located south of the Lachish River was once the main industrial center in Ashdod. Recently leisure facilities have begun to move into the area. But there is still some industry here such as a Teva Pharmaceutical Industries plant, construction components producer Ashtrom, and Solbar, a soybean oil producer. Ashdod is also home to Elta, a part of Israel Aircraft Industries where radar equipment, electronic warfare systems, and ELINT are developed.
Ashdod lies on the historic Via Maris which was one of the most important trade routes in the Middle East during ancient times. Israel’s Highway 4 was developed following this route along the southern sea shore it serves as the main connection to the north, towards the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and to the south, towards Ashkelon. The other main road is Highway 41 which runs from west to east towards Gedera. It is the main transport link to the Port of Ashdod and the industrial zones, and connects to Highway 4.
A passenger rail connection to Ashdod opened in 1992 following the renovation of the historical railway to Egypt. Ashdod railway station is on Israel Railways’ Binyamina/Netanya – Tel Aviv – Ashkelon line. The Port of Ashdod has its own railway branch.