KKLßJNF France Mission
Following In the Footsteps of Israel's New Pioneers
A “Green Israel” mission of Friends of KKL-JNF from France was in Israel for a week of touring in the footsteps of the pioneers, during which they learned about KKL-JNF's diverse projects in the south. This is the mission's fifth trip to Israel. The visit includes sites that represent KKL-JNF activities in various fields, such as infrastructure for villages, agriculture, water, afforestation, tourism and ecology.“The topic of this year’s mission is pioneering - from biblical times until today,” explained Shlomo Ben-Hayim
of KKL-JNF’s Tourism department. “The goal is to connect the participants to the land of Israel and to encourage them to be ambassadors of KKL-JNF."
In Adulam Caves Park in the Lower Judean Plain, which is being restored and developed with the assistance of Friends of KKL-JNF from France, the mission participants got a close look at a tourism project that combines nature, history and interactive education. In Shomriya they met a young community of Gush Katif evacuees, most of them from Atzmona.Frederic Nordmann
, President of KKL-JNF France, said that he sees the members of the group as ambassadors of KKL-JNF and of Israel. “These are people who are Zionists, who are connected to the land of Israel. It is very important that they are seeing the extensive activities of KKL-JNF close up, because it will make it possible for them to talk about Israel and get the message across when they are back in their communities in France."
In the KKL-JNF Gilat nursery, they learned about KKL-JNF's massive afforestation projects, which are responsible for the planting of 240 million trees over the last 109 years. A variety of forest tree saplings are grown at the Gilat nursery for planting in forests and national parks, along with flora for public landscaping that is provided for free. The nursery also provides plants for bee feeding, roadside scenic landscaping and research. About a million saplings of various sorts are grown in the nursery every year. Most of the forest flora is propagated by seed, others by cuttings.
On the water facilities route in Be'eri Forest, the mission learned about historical water facilities from ancient times until the first years of the State of Israel. Over the years, it was these facilities that made living in the arid region possible.
Many of the sites visited by the mission were located along the original water line placed in 1947 by Mekorot, the national water company. This water line was the lifeline for the Negev settlements in the years preceding the declaration of the State.
At the Besor reservoirs, which were constructed thanks to contributions of Friends of KKL-JNF the world over, among them the USA and Australia, they understood the singular importance of water, which is a critical issue today as it was in the past. The reservoirs, located along the Besor scenic road, collect purified effluents from the Dan Bloc region and runoff from the Besor streambed, providing local farmers with water for the irrigation of their fields.
In the ancient synagogue in Maon, the visitors were impressed by the remains from the Persian period (5th century BCE) and especially by the mosaic flooring of the 6th century synagogue. The breathtaking mosaic was restored and renewed by KKL-JNF with the contributions of Sandy and David Galet, and Freda Fejer, of Toronto and Montreal, Canada
, in memory of David and Irma Kulscar.Julian Greenwold
, an English teacher who lives in Paris, joined the mission with his wife Renée. “I always felt a special closeness to Israel, since I was a boy. We love nature, and the issues of water and ecology interest us a great deal. I see this trip as an opportunity to see the real Israel, not what you read in the newspapers and see on TV. We are learning to understand the history of the State of Israel through the stories of people who came here, built homes and planted trees. It is a wonderful blend of vacation, education and promotion of the issues that are important to us.”
At the Nirim Memorial, mission participants learned about the heroism of a few kibbutz members, who succeeded in thwarting the advance of the Egyptian armed forces during the War of Independence, without any external aid and with minimal arms. Apparently the Bible does not have exclusive rights to the David and Goliath story!
At the scenic lookout of Gevulot, the first Jewish settlement in the Negev, KKL-JNF restored and reconstructed the agricultural farm that was established in 1943 by young pioneers on lands purchased by KKL-JNF from the local Bedouins. The lookouts were established in order to safeguard the land and to study the climate and the area for the sake of agricultural development and building permanent settlements. Joseph Weitz, who was the KKL-JNF Chairman at the time, also saw this as a political test of how the British authorities related to the settlement of the Negev.
The first pioneers of Gevulot had to cope with a severe water problem. They dug well but found mostly brackish water in it, which was not potable. Having no other choice, they bought water from their Bedouin neighbors and gathered rainwater. In spite of all the hardships, they succeeded in cultivating the land and developing agriculture. They proceeded to establish a bakery, which served the settlements of the region. They didn’t sell baguettes and croissants there, but there was something to eat.
Kibbutz Gevulot, which exists until today near the historic scenic lookout, is comprised of around 150 members who support themselves by agriculture, tourism and industrial production of insulation and adherents. Some of the original settlers, who arrived before the founding of the state, live on the kibbutz to this day. The kibbutz manages the historical Gevulot scenic lookout as a tourist attraction and museum.Chantal Saada
: “I have been in Israel many times in the past, always on KKL-JNF tours. It is a wonderful way to see things one does not see any other way. Every time I come to Israel I plant a tree. This time I am hoping to plant an olive tree.”
The establishment of new settlement is not just an exciting story of the past. While visiting Naveh, a new settlement in the Halutzit Bloc, the members of the mission saw how young, contemporary pioneers are building new settlements today in the western Negev. The three new communities, Naveh, Shelomit and Benei Netzarim, will shortly be populated by Gush Katif evacuees and Israelis from throughout the country who are interested in moving to the Negev. The Halutziyot communities were founded, and are being developed, thanks to the extensive assistance of the Friends of KKL-JNF all over the world, including the USA, the UK, Canada, Italy and South America.
Construction of the Naveh settlement began about one year ago, and one may already see the buildings coming up - private homes, schools, a synagogue - everything it takes to call the place home. About 80 initial families, some of them evacuees from Atzmona in the Katif bloc, will be moving into their new homes in a few months. The new residents have already begun to cultivate the land and are growing carrots, peppers and potatoes for export and for local distribution. They are specializing in organic agriculture, which is becoming more and more popular in Israel and all over the world.
The guests from France did not only hear about the high quality produce but also got to dig up carrots from the earth and taste them. So what if you eat a little sand? What could be more delicious than a carrot you’ve pulled out of the earth of the land of Israel with your own hands? Rachelle Assoulin
comes to Israel every few months to visit her relatives that live here and to tour the land. “I love experiencing new places I have not yet been to, and the KKL-JNF tours allow me to become acquainted with new aspects of the country. When I go back to France, I will tell people about what I saw here in Israel and about KKL-JNF's important contribution to the country."
The founding group of the village of Shelomit is in the process of organization at present. It includes a group of the younger generation of Gush Katif evacuees who chose to build their homes not far from where their parents pioneered in settling the land. The Benei Netzarim settlement is in the midst of being built, and the first stage includes 20 homes. 11 families already live there in temporary trailers.Yoni Verner
, a local resident who met the group, told about the evacuation of Gush Katif and about the complexity of life near the border, only a few kilometers away from Palestinian Rafiah. “Our dream,” he told them with emotion, “is to establish a string of communities from here to Eilat.” When one of the mission participants remarked that he sounded like Ben-Gurion, Verner was not taken aback by the compliment and immediately responded, “Ben-Gurion with a skullcap.”
The group's itinerary also included a visit to the Eshkol, Golda and Yeruham Parks, to the Individuals Farms in the Negev, to the border villages of Kadesh Barnea and Beer Milka, a tour to the factories of the Central Arava and visits to the communities of Lotan and Neot Semadar in the Arava.
According to Reuven Naamat
, head of the KKL-JNF France delegation, the
goal is to encourage a feeling of partnership and involvement among the
members of the mission. “We have a variety of activities for
reinforcing the connection to Israel, and the trip to Israel has
special significance. 12 new projects are being planned this year with
contributions from the Friends of KKL-JNF in France, with a total value
of around 2 million euros – from establishing a garden in Akko, in the
north, to a KKL-JNF educational center in Dimona, in the south.”Emanuelle Massiah
, 20 years old, is the youngest participant. “I often
hear the older people saying that the younger generation is less
connected to Israel, but as a young Jewish person, I love Israel a lot
and feel free here. I feel safe here, in spite of everything one hears
about the security situation in Israel.”
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