Nativ was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1922 and first moved to Mandate Palestine in 1937. He joined the Jewish Brigade during World War II and served in the Armor Corps. He was a commander during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After the war, Nativ enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Nativ founded the Nissan Nativ School of Acting in 1963. The renowned acting school holds classes in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Many of Israel's best known actors, such as Keren Mor, Tiki Dayan and Moshe Ivgi are alumni of Nativ's school. Despite its success the school has suffered from financial difficulties during the 1990s and 2000s, which nearly forced it to close.
The Israel Prize committee decided to confer the Israel Prize, for theatre, on Nativ in 2008 citing his contributions to Israeli theatre and culture. The committee stated in its opinion that "You cannot imagine Israeli theater without Nissan Nativ." It also cited Nativ's training of generations of Israeli actors and directors through his Nissan Nativ School of Acting.
- "Nawoord redactie." Aleh 66: 4 (July–August, 2008), page 53.
- "Nissan Nativ dead at 86: Prominent Israeli theater persona found dead in Tel Aviv apartment, just weeks before accepting Israel Prize". Ynet. 2008-04-20. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) - Recipient's C.V.".
- "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) - Judges' Rationale for Grant to Recipient".