JNF Mission visits Gaza Periphery
Around thirty Australians have participated in a KKL-JNF tour of the Gaza Periphery communities at the special invitation of KKL-JNF Australia.
They met local residents and saw for themselves at first hand projects undertaken with the support of Friends of KKL-JNF in Australia. At Kibbutz Erez they learned what it is like to live under fire from the Gaza Strip, and at Shaar HaNegev School they were impressed by the fine new campus and the flourishing green schoolyard. In Kibbutz Kfar Aza they discovered that even planting trees has an important role to play in the security of the local residents. At Moshav Nevatim they heard about the water reservoirs’ contribution to agriculture, settlement and Israel’s water economy.
“The idea is to get in touch with the true essence of Israel,” explained Joe Krycer, a JNF Victoria National consultant. “The people here live under constant threat, and you can’t understand what that means unless you come here and meet them for yourself,” he concluded.
Krycer initiated this project around eight years ago in order to encourage tourists on a private visit to Israel to take part in excursions organized by KKL-JNF and thus acquire a more profound knowledge of Israel, instead of just visiting the main tourist sites and the big cities. These tours take them to places they usually hear of only in the media and they offer them a more rounded picture of the country’s complex realities.
Water and mandarin oranges in the desert
The tour began with a visit to Kibbutz Erez and a meeting with its farm manager Amnon Zarka, who told his guests that a new sewage reclamation plant is about to be established on the kibbutz with the help of donations from Friends of KKL-JNF in Australia. This new plant will replace the present facility, which is rather small and out of date.
Once the work is completed in several months’ time, the new plant will be able to take in 100,000 cubic meters of water that will eventually be used to irrigate some 300 dunam (approx 75 acres) of citrus groves. The reclaimed water will be sent to a large purification facility in Sderot, where it will undergo a final tertiary treatment, after which it will be deemed suitable for irrigation of crops of all kinds and channeled back to the citrus groves of Kibbutz Erez.
Near the sewage treatment plant lies a grove of mandarin oranges which will be irrigated with this reclaimed water in the future. The Australian visitors arrived in just the right season, and so had the opportunity to taste this excellent fruit, and all agreed that fruit picked straight from the tree tastes very different from that bought off the shelf. And when that tree grows in Israel, and in the arid Negev especially, the fruit tastes particularly sweet.
“After years of volunteering with KKL-JNF in Australia and collecting Blue Boxes in Melbourne and Sydney, it’s wonderful to know that this money is helping to fund such wonderful projects,” said Joel Hochberg, who now lives in Tel Aviv and will soon be deciding whether or not to make aliya to Israel. “It’s exciting to see how the state is developing with the help of KKL-JNF. The knowledge that friends of the Israeli State in Australia are involved in all this is a source of great pride,” he said.
A green yard for a well-protected school
At Shaar HaNegev High School the visitors met Principal Araleh Rothstein, who explained that all the buildings on the school’s new and impressive campus are fortified against rocket attacks. The leafy schoolyard and the warm winter sunlight created an atmosphere of pastoral calm that even the sound of the school bell could not dispel. Only the concrete protected spaces scattered throughout the yard reminded the visitors that things could change completely in a matter of seconds.
“I know it’s not normal that we’ve got used to leading a normal life under these circumstances,” said Rothstein. “But we strive to be a quality school that’s ordinary in every way. As long as the students arrive here with a smile on their faces I can continue to play solitaire quietly on the computer,” he said, smiling himself as the visitors laughed.
Both the leafy green landscaping and the educational ecological garden that is in the process of being created at present are projects initiated and sustained by donations from Friends of KKL-JNF in Australia. “Much of the time the children aren’t allowed out into the yard for security reasons,” the Principal explained. “So on the days when they can go out, it’s important to us to offer them every possible option.”
At the school’s learning centers, which are just as impressive as its green yard, a pupil named Maor said a spontaneous “thank you” in English to the Australian guests. “It’s touching to know that Jews who live on the other side of the world care about what’s happening to us,” the youngster explained afterwards. Of the new campus he said: “Now we’ve got an amazing and well cared for school with plenty of space and a sense of security.”
Daniel Epstein, the youngest member of the Australian group, met up with Israeli youngsters his own age. “It’s very interesting to see how people live here, and how young people study here,” he said, and his father David added: “Without KKL-JNF, on an ordinary trip, we’d never have seen all these places.”
At the end of the visit Rothstein bade a warm farewell to his guests: “Thanks to the help that we’ve received from good people in Australia and all over the world, we’ve not only managed to establish a wonderful school like this one – on top of everything else we’ve also made a great many dear friends from different countries,” he said.
From here the visitors continued on their way to Kibbutz Kfar Aza, which is situated directly adjacent to the border fence. As the kibbutz houses are less than two kilometers distant from Gaza, the Palestinian buildings over the border are clearly visible. This, of course, means that people on the other side can see right into the kibbutz, too. Because of this, in Kfar Aza, as in other communities along the border, KKL-JNF has carried out “security plantings” of trees designed to conceal main roads and residents’ homes from the prying eyes of sharpshooters and rocket launchers.
This idea was conceived in the wake of a tragic incident in which a school bus was hit by a laser-guided anti-tank missile. “Obviously the missile can easily penetrate the trees, but once they’ve grown their presence will make it harder for the shooters to identify targets and hit them accurately,” explained Ralph the guide.
The eucalyptus trees chosen by KKL-JNF staff and security experts as the most suitable species for the purpose are another of Australia’s valuable contributions to Israel.
The fascinating day ended at Moshav Nevatim, near Beersheba. KKL-JNF recently established a water reservoir at the site with the help of funds donated by KKL-JNF’s Friends in Australia. This new reservoir, which has a capacity of one million cubic meters, came into operation around three months ago, and it receives water from the Beersheba sewage purification plant. This water is used to irrigate the fields of Moshav Nevatim and other local farms, allowing residents to make a living from agriculture and their communities to absorb more families.
When you stand in the middle of the arid Negev and look at a reservoir full of water that transforms the desert into a green field – it’s only then that you understand the true meaning of the expression “making the desert bloom.”