Nissan Nativ was born 1922 (as Nissan Notowicz) in Munich, Germany. In many biographies he is listed as born in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Possibly Nissan Nativ himself was the source of this ambiguity. Nissan had two older brothers, Benno Notowitz (1918-1962) and Nathan Notowicz (1911–1968).
His fmily moved from Munich to Düsseldorf, then in the early 1930s to Amsterdam. Nissan emigrated without the family to the British Mandate in Palestine in 1937. In September 1943 his family was deported to the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands and in February 1944 forth to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. The father and brothers survived the Nazi persecution.
Nativ 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, Nissan Nativ enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He founded the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio 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".