JNF Toronto Mission Tours the Gaza Strip Border

Everyone knows that KKL-JNF missions to Israel are an unforgettable experience, during which mission participants learn about aspects of Israeli life that other visitors to the country rarely come in contact with.

KKL_230511_F (photo credit: KKL-JNF photo archive)
(photo credit: KKL-JNF photo archive)
Everyone knows that KKL-JNF missions to Israel are an unforgettable experience, during which mission participants learn about aspects of Israeli life that other visitors to the country rarely come in contact with. We joined the recent JNF Toronto Canada mission to Israel for an intense and information-packed day in the Western Negev, seeing what it means to live on the border of the Gaza Strip and how daily life is viable in such harsh climatic conditions.
Netiv Ha'asarah
"Exactly how far is it from here to the Gaza Strip?" one of the mission participants wanted to know. "It's about a five minute walk if you're moving at a leisurely pace," answered Suzi Wachs, a member of Netiv Ha'asarah, a Western Negev community on the Gaza Strip border. Suzi continued: "Netiv Ha'asarah was originally founded in the Sinai Desert, but in 1982, after the signing of the peace accords with Egypt, we were relocated at our present location. Sinai was a big part of our life, but what's really important is what's happening here and now."
"Most of us work as farmers, and we also produce seeds for unique strains of KKLvegetables. As you probably know, we suffer quite a bit from our neighbors. Just this last Passover, we were literally bombarded. A nine-meter high security wall was built to protect us from the constant attacks, but missiles cannot be stopped by walls. Many people have been injured, and a young girl who was visiting us was killed. Even so, I am proud to say that there is not one empty house in Netiv Ha'asarah. There are currently 250 children in the village, and we have a waiting list of people who want to move here and are waiting for new houses to be built."

One of the group wanted to know why Netiv Ha'asarah wasn't built further away from the border: "You have to remember that when we first moved here, there was an Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip and the villages next to us were Jewish settlements," Suzi explained. "When Ariel Sharon evacuated the Gaza Strip, we thought that since the Israeli 'occupation' had ended, we would live peacefully with our neighbors. Unfortunately, the opposite was true, and since then the situation has deteriorated."
Suzi is originally from New York, and in answer to a question as to why she chose to live here, she replied that she had come to learn Hebrew but ended up staying: "Especially at the beginning, there was a pioneering and communal spirit. I feel grateful to be part of Netiv Ha'asarah, and what is really gratifying is that our children want to make their homes here when they grow up."
After seeing Netiv Ha'asarah's amazing greenhouses, the visit concluded at an observation point from which it was possible to see to see Gaza City and the ruins of the evacuated Israeli settlements, along with the security road paved by KKL-JNF, which allows local residents to travel without being targeted by Palestinian terrorists.
Black Arrow – Remembering Israel's Heroes
KKL-JNF's Elisha Mizrahi greeted the group at their next stoKKLp, the Black Arrow Memorial, a site built by KKL-JNF and Israeli Army veterans in memory of the soldiers who fell during the state's first years while protecting the region from attacks.
"After the founding of the state in 1948," Elisha explained, "Arabs from the Gaza Strip and Egypt were killing local residents and infiltrating their homes and communities. It was Ariel Sharon who formed a special paratroopers unit whose doctrine was to always take the offensive rather than just responding to enemy attacks.  My father was friendly with many of those fighters, and I remember some of them from when I was a child, including people whose names are inscribed on the plaques you can see here, soldiers who gave their lives so that we could live and prosper here today."

Lifesaving Trees and Water Reservoirs in the Desert
Elisha directed the bus to nearby Kibbutz Mefalsim, where KKL-JNF has recently begun a special project of planting trees around the communities that border on the Gaza Strip, in order to block the terrorist organizations' field of vision and help prevent them from taking aim at the communities and the cars traveling on local roads. The trees now being planted will block the view of snipers and help stop direct hits, such as the attack that took place one month ago, when a school bus was hit and 16-year old Daniel Wiflic was killed. The first stage of this unique project was inaugurated on Tu Bishvat earlier this year. The most significant stage has now begun, which includes planting a twelve-kilometer long boulevard of trees to help protect 11 communities, and Mefalsim was the site of the first plantings. As Elisha noted, friends of KKL-JNF throughout the world have already expressed their desire to support this important project.
From Mefalsim the group drove by the Nir-Am water reservoir, which stores purified water, the lifeblood of local agriculture. As Elisha said, "water is one of our major issues, and for us, it is like gold. Due to Israel's advanced agricultural achievements, we get a lot out of a very little, and making water available for Negev residents is at the top of KKL-JNF's priority list."
Cold-loving Flowers in the Desert? The Besor R&D Station
According to Myron Sofer, the director of the Besor Research and Development Station, "no Israeli can be without a tomato for more than twenty-four hours." Sofer explained about the history of the R&D and why it is so important for life in the Negev: "The Besor R&D facility was founded in 1977, the first such station in Israel. Our goal is to provide the necessary basis of scientific research for local agriculture. We try to solve growers' current problems and also provide answers to questions which have not even been asked yet, along with adapting new crops to the semi-arid region in which we are located. Our achievements in greenhouse farming, pest control and water efficiency make it possible for agriculture to thrive in this difficult region. We even recently managed to grow peones, a beautiful cold-loving flower from Holland, and to market them off-season in Europe.