The Judean Desert, located in the eastern edge of south-central Israel, is an array of hills and canyons, falling from the heights of around 1,000 meters in the Judean Mountains, to the Dead Sea which is, at -421 meters below sea level, the lowest place on earth. At its eastern edge, the Judean desert dramaticly drops into the Dead Sea in cliffs of up to 500 meters, and waterfalls in the dry canyons fall in heights of 50-330 meters. The coast of the dead sea offers many cold and hot springs.
The Judean Desert has an average annual rainfall of 47mm. This is due to the fact that the rains in Israel, which comes from the Mediterranean Sea, are blocked by the Judean mountains, creating a rainshadow desert over the eastern slopes of the mountains (the Judean desert), while the western slopes (the Shephelah) receive an average annual rainfall of about 500mm. Because of that, the Judean desert contains a relatively large amount of oases, which are fed by the groudwater from the western slopes of the Judean mountains.
Though hostile and arid, the Judean desert was settled since before recorded history. Jericho, which was founded over 12,000 years ago (around 9,000 BCE), is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world, and it is the first city in the world that had walls built to protect it. Another notable place is Ein Gedi, a large oasis that had cities built around it for over 6,000 years. Inside the desert itself there are numerous isolated monasteries, many are still active to this day.
The Judean desert played an important role in the jewish kingdoms in Israel during the biblical times, and also during the greek and roman times.
Because of its' rough terrain and climate, The Judean desert was known as a hiding place for refugees and rebels. King David fled to the Judean desert with his soldiers after king Saul ordered to have him killed. During the greek and roman times, the Hasmonean dynasty and the roman client king Herod the Great built and fortified many forts, strongholds and even palaces in the Judean desert, most famously, Masada. During the Roman-Jewish wars, the jewish rebels fled to the Judean desert and fortified in the strongholds there. The last free standing jewish stronghold in jewish history, prior to the establishment of the modern state of Israel, was Masada.
Though it passes through the west bank, there are no Palestinian settlements in the Judean desert except for Jericho. Along the coastline of the dead sea and at the edges of the desert from each direction there are scattered jewish settlements, therefore the area is mostly under Israeli control, making the area a lot safer than most of the west bank (though still not as safe as central Israel). Inside the desert itself there are nomadic tribes of Beduins. The coastline of the Dead sea and the areas around and south of Ein-Gedi are just as safe as central Israel.
Every jewish settlement along the coast of the Dead sea has a hostel. There is also a hostel at the base of Masada. High class hotels can be found in Ein-Bokek and Neve-Zohar in the southern coast of the Dead sea. You can also camp for free in the Ein-Gedi coast, where you also have shops, showers and bathrooms.