(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
There was something very refreshing about the group of happy youngsters who were throwing garbage bags into one of the trucks waiting for them in Meitar Forest, a beautiful green area created with the support of friends of KKL-JNF from Latin America and Europe. The happy group was busy collecting every shred of garbage scattered in the area, where local residents come for family outings and picnics. All of them were students of the "Atid al-Nur" school in the Bedouin village of Hura, who were in the forest, together with their teacher and Israel nature and history instructors, in order to implement in practice what they had learned in their classrooms about the environment.
If it had been possible, we would have written about other sectors of the population who had been scheduled to participate in International Cleanup Day activities in the Negev. Unfortunately, Gaza-launched missile attacks on communities in the western and northern Negev regions led to the cancellation of school for safety purposes. All the activities planned for Beersheba were canceled, including activities in Nahal Beersheba Park and areas in the western Negev. The Bedouin village of Hura is located deep in the desert north of Beersheba and its leaders didn't feel there was any danger in having the children participate in Cleanup Day activities.
The schoolchildren's teacher, Hassan el-Atuna, said that "we teach the children that the Negev is the largest region in Israel, and its entire northern section is semi-arid. It is imperative that we protect these landscapes, and its open spaces must be kept clean. This is one of the most critical problems being faced by the entire globe. To us, who live close to Meitar Forest, which serves us all, Jews and Bedouins, it is clear that if everyone does their part in keeping the environment clean, we'll all live in a cleaner, more beautiful world. Everyone is aware of the ecological damage caused by the plastic bags flying in every direction in the desert. They last for hundreds of years until they crumble, and if we don't collect them, they might just cover the entire earth. We chose to come to Meitar Forest, because it's the closest green area to Hura. Every one of the kids here knows what they have to do, and you can see how seriously they're taking their work."
The children from Hura, separated into groups of boys and girls, put on gloves, took garbage bags, and went out in groups of two or three to collect packaging materials, bottles, cans, plastic plates and silverware and even cigarette butts. Some of the children cleaned up the dry brush under trees, which have to contend with the extremely dry conditions of this semi-arid region. Removing the dry brush helps decrease the danger of fires. KKL-JNF constructed embankments made of earth on all the nearby hills in order to harvest the little bit of rain that falls here on behalf of the trees planted alongside them.
Meitar Forest is not a forest in the European or American sense. The trees are far away from each other and grow slowly, but the color green on the background of the yellow wilderness is quite obvious. In the distance, one can see the houses of Meitar, a community located on the southern border of Judea. Not far from here is Yatir Forest, the largest forest in Israel.
Most of the activities planned for the huge Duda'im garbage site west of Beersheba, which included learning about ecology, were cancelled. Only soldiers were to be found at the Duda'im visitors center, which was built with the help of friends of KKL-JNF from Australia. It was JNF Australia that made the first connection between the Australian-born "Clean Up the World" initiative, and KKL-JNF, the largest environmental organization in Israel, which adopted the international project.
For this year's International Cleanup Day, we joined two groups of soldiers who heard, many of them for the first time, how household and industrial waste in Israel is treated, and also about the revolution currently taking place in this field in Israel. The groups then proceeded to the actual garbage dump to observe how the garbage is separated and treated. They made the acquaintance of a new compressor, which can compress and pack old tires into huge packages that weigh a ton each and are comprised of about 130 standard-size tires. Once a week, a large container is brought to Duda'im and all the packages of tires are loaded onto it and shipped to China. It turns out that the Chinese are good
customers for tire waste, which they use for making energy and other purposes.
From a high lookout point, the soldiers could see the huge garbage dumps. They were given explanations about modern methods of burying garbage while isolating it from the environment by means of sealed sheets that prevent pollutants from seeping into the earth and the groundwater. In the sky, it was possible to see the thousands of kites who have made the huge garbage dumps their home.
In spite of the tense security situation in the south, Cleanup Day concluded safely. The only people running around the northern Negev and picking up metal waste from the ground were police and military sappers who were collecting the remains of the missiles fired from the Gaza Strip that had landed between Ashdod in the north and Beersheba in the east.
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