Melbourne JNF supporters tour the Negev

January 21, 2015 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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JNF supporters from Melbourne have toured the Negev and Gaza Border.

Melbourne JNF participants Photo: Yoav Devir

Melbourne JNF participants
Photo: Yoav Devir


The tour  initiated by JNF Australia gave the group a unique opportunity to see for themselves the many projects in which JNF Australia is involved.

“It’s important for us to show people the work we’re doing for the benefit of residents who live on the border with Gaza and increase our knowledge of aspects of Israel that ordinary tourists don’t usually get a chance to see,” said Anton Grodeck, Donor Relations Manager at JNF Australia.

“I’ve visited Israel many times in the past, but I’ve never taken part in a tour like this one,” said George Marcus. “It gives us a sense of pride to know that so many Australians are involved in what’s going on in Israel.”

At Kibbutz Zikim on the Ashkelon coast the group met up with Farm Manager Tal Mor and kibbutz members Ethel Bennett and Rami Bilis. “The war last summer has left us with some scars,” said Bennett. “Many families had to leave the area during that period, but those who stayed made every effort to keep to their usual routine.”

Bilis related how during Operation Protective Edge the IDF had frustrated an attempt to infiltrate the kibbutz from the sea and had killed five armed terrorists in the process. He also recalled another incident in which a Qassam rocket had fallen and injured a child playing outdoors with a group of friends. In the wake of this incident the kibbutz initiated the establishment of a fortified playground that would provide protection against future rocket attacks, and the Australian visitors were shown plans for the project.

As they toured the kibbutz, the visitors were impressed by the massive fortifications surrounding the children’s houses, various public buildings and the members’ homes.

They observed the progress of work on the new visitors’ center, a green project funded by a donation from JNF Australia that will provide information on kibbutz history, the region and the environment. The center will be located in an old Arab building, and at present work is underway to conserve the original ceiling paintings and the unique flooring.

The Braham Morris Family     Photo: Yoav Davir

The Braham Morris Family
Photo: Yoav Davir

“It amazes me to think that children of my age live in such a dangerous area where there are air-raid alerts and rockets are falling. These are things that we Australians know nothing about,” said 14-year-old Amanda Morris. Together with her parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, she was visiting Israel on a family trip to celebrate her brother Avishai’s bar mitzvah, Amanda requested that our interview with her take place in Hebrew, as she is studying the language at her school in Melbourne. “I’ve heard lot of things about Israel, but this is the first time that I’ve had the chance to come and visit,” she said. “I’ve found the country to be amazing.”

At the Black Arrow monument, which commemorates the battles of Israel’s Paratroopers’ Brigade, the visitors looked over into the Gaza Strip, listened to a description of the local geography and heard about life on the border from KKL-JNF guide Yossi Kapon. As they contemplated the buildings of the Gaza Strip, they realized how very close to the border the communities along the fence are.

The Black Arrow monument commemorates the activities of Unit 101, which was famous for the reprisal operations it carried out against neighboring Arab countries in the wake of infiltration attempts and the murder of Israeli civilians. The site is also an example of the memorials KKL-JNF creates in different parts of the country in honor of IDF soldiers who fell in battle.

The visitors heard a description of KKL-JNF’s security-related activities, which include the provision of security roads for use by military patrols and local farmers; ‘security tree’ planting designed to help conceal communities and highways from the eyes of terrorists who fire mortars from the Palestinian side of the border; the placement of moveable shelters in communities and open areas; respite holidays for children and families at KKL-JNF centers far from the firing line; and respite excursions during periods of border tension.

At the Black Arrow memorial Photo: Yoav Devir

At the Black Arrow monument
Photo: Yoav Devir

“It’s hard to grasp how people can cope with life so close to the Gaza Strip,” said Melissa Morris as she stood at the Black Arrow monument and looked across the border. “Everything around us here is so green, tranquil and beautiful that it’s hard to believe that this is a dangerous place where everything can change in a single moment.”
From the Black Arrow monument the visitors moved on to the Nir Am Reservoir, where they were told about KKL-JNF’s development of water resources in order to promote local agriculture and conserve the environment.

The next stop along the way was the religious Daat state school at Kibbutz Saad, whose beautiful green schoolyard was landscaped with funds donated by JNF Australia.

Some three hundred children from Moshav Tekuma, Kibbutz Alumim and Kibbutz Saad study at the regional elementary school. Principal Yehezkel Landau and English teacher Ronit Bahat met the Australian visitors, told them about the school and expressed their appreciation for the beautiful schoolyard. “We really appreciate the donation made by our Friends in Australia and consider them to be partners in our educational enterprise,” Principal Landau told his guests.

Among the visitors was Brahan Morris, who is deputy principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College, one of Melbourne’s largest Jewish day-schools. “A well cared for schoolyard creates an atmosphere of pleasant calm and encourages meaningful study,” he said. “I’m proud to know that good people in Australia have a part in this.” As a trained psychologist Brahan Morris expressed concern as to the emotional consequences experienced by Gaza Periphery children living under constant threat.

The tour concluded with a visit to the community of Eliav in the Lachish region, which was founded as a joint venture between the OR Movement and KKL-JNF. JNF Australia assumed responsibility for landscaping the new community and providing gardens, lawns, promenades and seating areas.

Today around twenty families live in temporary housing at the site, and work has now begun on the construction of their permanent homes. The community is designed to expand to accommodate a population of over two hundred families.

In Eliav, religious and secular Jews live side by side and share educational and cultural facilities on the basis of shared values such as tolerance, coexistence and environmental conservation. As the community is situated only eight hundred meters distant from the border with the Palestinian Authority, its residents have to cope with a complex security situation that includes the threat of terrorism.

“This tour has given us an opportunity to get to know the real Israel, instead of what we see on the news elsewhere in the world,” said Melissa Morris as she summed up the day’s events.


3 Responses to “Melbourne JNF supporters tour the Negev”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    Ouch, Gil. That was a bit rough on members of the tour. There’s only so much you can take in as a visitor with limited time, and they were, after all, concentrating on the area of the Negev near Gaza, particularly those places where JNF funds had been donated.

    You have to live in a place for a good while to do it the justice you’re demanding. A visit will not allow more than surface reception and surface response.

    Also, the Bedouin situation is rather more complicated than you describe. They are people, they do have a history in the area, so what would you suggest in regard to them in the current situation?

    • Ari Briggs says:

      As a supporter of the JNF and the Or Movement and their work in the Negev, I do believe any visit to the Negev is incomplete without a basic understanding and look/see of the challenging situation Israel has with some of its Bedouin citizens. Looking out the window of a bus and seeing Bedouin outposts without the knowledge of the largest land grab in Israel and its ramifications on the development of the Negev is unfortunately a missed opportunity to understand a serious challenge to Israeli sovereignty. I would hope my friends in JNF Australia allow me the opportunity on their next visit to Israel to present the facts.

  2. Gil Solomon says:

    Melissa Morris says: “This tour has given us an opportunity to get to know the real Israel”.
    Were you all walking around the Negev with your eyes shut?
    Did you have any idea of the Bedouin problem before commencing your tour?

    Had your eyes been open you would have seen how that insane democracy called Israel does not enforce Israeli law where Negev Bedouin are concerned. The fact that these people once roamed the Middle East tending flocks does not prove ownership and for Israel to have succumbed to pressure from foreign and hostile NGOs and home grown leftists to allow Bedouin to register vacant land in the Land Registry as privately held, is appalling. Illegal structures dot the landscape of the Negev but not one word do any of you mention of this in you report.

    It is outrageous that an organisation called Regavim, headed by an Australian Ari Briggs has to take the Israeli Government to Court to enforce its own laws in order to keep Jewish lands in Jewish hands. And I won’t even go into detail about the crime taking place in these Bedouin villages, including that of human trafficking.

    While this appalling situation has been going on for years it would be comforting to know if something was being done along the lines of removing the leftist court judges appointed by Tzipi Livni. These are the Judges that Regavim is up against.

    Either way, Regavim has its job cut out to get the courts to actually order the demolition of these illegal structures dotting the landscape, illegal structures that could pose a problem for IDF training manoeuvres in the south.

    Finally, I would hope that in future, people participating in tours such as this have some knowledge about the situation before going and then have the integrity to report on it truthfully upon their return.

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