(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
A group of participants from the Herzliya Conference toured the Negev, and had the opportunity to see a variety of current KKL-JNF projects concerned with water, agriculture, settlement, tourism, afforestation, the environment and education. The tour took place two days prior to the opening of the annual Herzliya Conference, one of Israel’s main forums for the discussion of economic and security-related issues, and it served as a preliminary to this year’s conference’s special session to mark the 110th anniversary of KKL-JNF activities.
The Negev excursion began with a visit to the Water Museum at Kibbutz Nir Am. KKL-JNF Regional Director Elisha Mizrachi reviewed the main features of the region, including a glance towards the Gaza Strip. “The residents of the Gaza periphery have taught us how to cope with the problems and forge ahead with our activities under all circumstances,” he told the tour participants. He also told his listeners about the Scarlet South Festival held every year in the western Negev, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors who come for a month of touring, family activities and walks amid the red carpets of anemones. He invited the guests to come back to the Negev with their families, and against the backdrop of green expanses dotted with the beautiful winter flowers that brighten up the desert at this time of year, his invitation sounded very tempting.
The Water Museum is situated in a historic building that served as the pump house for the first water pipeline to the Negev, which was laid in 1947. The Museum’s guide, Eitan Ziv, told his guests that when eleven settlements were founded in the Negev, the question arose as to how these new communities were to be supplied with water. Ben Gurion responded “in six-inch pipes” – and so it was.
From the museum, the group moved on to the nearby Nir Am Reservoir, established with the support of KKL-JNF Friends in Canada. The reservoir enables reclaimed water from the Dan Region Sewage Reclamation Project to be used for agricultural purposes. The reservoir has a capacity of 1.5 million cubic meters, and can irrigate an area of around 7,000 dunam (approx 1,750 acres) of farmland. Deputy Director of KKL-JNF’s Southern Region Eran Etner told those present that KKL-JNF has constructed over 230 reservoirs throughout the country, which altogether absorb around two thirds of Israel’s reclaimed water, and supply farmers with some 400 million cubic meters of water each year.
At the Black Arrow memorial site, the visitors were shown something of KKL-JNF’s activities in the commemoration of fallen IDF soldiers. This paratroopers’ battle-heritage site recounts the deeds of the famous Unit 101 during the period of Israel’s retaliation against its Arab neighbors in the wake of infiltration and murderous attacks perpetrated inside Israeli territory. The visitors had a moving meeting with Israel Harel, a combat veteran of the 890th Paratroop Battalion, who told them: “The paratroopers served as an example, not just as fighters, but as people, too.”
Media veteran Yaakov Ahimeir was one of the well-known figures who took part in the tour. “I don’t always get the chance to visit different parts of the country in the context of my job,” he said. “This is an excellent opportunity to see less known corners of Israel, and visit places whose names occasionally crop up in news bulletins. It’s very important to get out of the studio every so often to see what’s really happening around the country. I’ve seen projects of national importance here, and for this we need to say “Bravo!” to KKL-JNF and everyone else involved.”
At the Dudaim landfill site, the visitors learned about one of the most important aspects of environmental conservation in Israel and around the world: the treatment of garbage. Sigal Moran, Head of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, spoke to the guests and stressed the importance of the site’s educational center, which was founded with the support of Friends of KKL-JNF in Australia. This center has transformed the landfill site into an educational asset that raises the younger generation’s environmental awareness and encourages re-use, recycling, garbage separation and reduced consumption.
Thousands of schoolchildren visit the site every year and enjoy the facilities offered by the educational center, which include an assembly area, recycling workshops, a picnic area, access roads for buses and a path bordered by environmental sculptures of animals native to the region. This path leads to the lookout point situated atop a rehabilitated garbage mountain that provides a view both of the surrounding countryside and of the different activity areas at the Dudaim site. Ido Rubinstein, CEO of Dudaim, told his guests that the site receives over one thousand tons of refuse each day, and gave examples of how some of the material is re-used: electricity is manufactured from methane gas, old tyres are exported to China, mattress springs are sold for scrap, soil brought in together with building waste is used to cover the organic refuse and shredded pruning waste is passed on to KKL-JNF for use as mulch.
Journalist Bambi Sheleg, who took part in the tour, said that Eretz Acheret, the publication she works for, was planning a special issue on the Negev. “The media doesn’t usually take an interest in the periphery,” she said. “Today we saw another aspect of the Negev, in the course of a thorough tour that explored things in depth.”
In Nahal Ashan Forest, adjacent to Beersheba, the visitors had the opportunity to enjoy a classic KKL-JNF experience - tree planting. Itzik Moshe, KKL-JNF Deputy Director of the region, described the planting methods used in the Negev, which include the use of trenches to trap rainwater, waterproof sheeting to prevent leakage, and limans for collecting water. On the day before the tour, heavy rain had fallen in the desert, and deep puddles had formed in the areas where trees had been planted. Even those visitors with no forestry expertise could easily observe how effective the desert tree-planting techniques developed by KKL-JNF experts really are.
Itzik Moshe did not content himself with theoretical explanations: he stuck a pole into the loess soil to measure the depth to which the rainwater had penetrated. In the treeless areas the ground had remained dry, and the pole could be pushed only a few centimeters into the soil; around the trees, however, it sank to a depth of 90 centimeters. Thanks to KKL-JNF’s planting method, the water collects precisely where it is needed.
Former Israeli Ambassador to the USA Moshe Arad was happy to take part in the tree-planting, remarking as he did so, “It’s important to get out of the office and see what’s being done out here, listen to the KKL-JNF staff who are doing the job, and see an Israel that gets things done and believes in what it does. It’s a wonderful feeling to see such extensive activity in the Negev, especially after this welcome rain. These projects are extremely important for the country. In my previous posts I sometimes helped to raise money for KKL-JNF, and today we are seeing splendid examples of the vital uses to which these funds are put. It’s a fine thing to see people working for the benefit of the State and the environment.”
Michael Cahanov added that the tour had been wonderfully well organized and had included some fascinating sites. “We came back with another, more positive impression of KKL-JNF, different from the one we had set out with,” he said.
In Beit Eshel Park, Anat Gold, Director of KKL-JNF Southern Region’s Planning Department, told the visitors how KKL-JNF had restored the historical site, with the help of its Friends in Canada and Germany. The observatory was established in 1943 to examine the possibility of establishing agricultural communities in the harsh local desert conditions. During Israel’s War of Independence, the site was the scene of fierce battles against the Egyptian army, and five of the pioneers were killed. Traces of the damage caused by the fighting are still visible on the water tower and on the walls of the buildings.
Beit Eshel serves as an entrance to the Beersheba River Park, which was developed and nurtured with the help of Friends of KKL-JNF throughout the world, including the USA and Canada. The park provides a recreation area for families on a day out, an attraction for visitors and a venue for festivals and other cultural and artistic activities. The environs of the Beersheba River lay abandoned, neglected and polluted until KKL-JNF took action to transform this environmental eyesore into a large and lively municipal park. Plans for the further development of the site include an amphitheater, an artificial lake extending over an area of 90 dunam (approx 22.5 acres) and a network of bridges, trails and cycle paths.
The group’s final port of call was Carmit, a new community under construction near Meitar. Roni Palmer, one of the founders of the OR movement, which promotes settlement in the Negev and Galilee, described how the community was founded. “Everyone had been talking about founding this community for years, and then KKL-JNF came along and got to work,” he said. KKL-JNF is currently engaged in preparing land for some 500 building lots. This new settlement will provide homes for young religious and secular couples from the Negev region, together with immigrants from English-speaking countries. “It’s our goal to bring another 600 thousand people to the Negev,” declared Palmer. “And we’re not just talking about numbers, but also about the quality of the people, who will strengthen the Negev population,” he said.
After a busy day the Herzliya Conference participants made their way home from a tour that had provided them with an opportunity to experience the vision of developing the Negev development first hand, by observing KKL-JNF’s vital activities in the region.
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