(photo credit: )
Pioneering - or "Chalutziut" in Hebrew - has two meanings: the first is ideological and the second represents new efforts to settle the sands of Chalutza in the Western Negev between Nitzana and Pitchat Shalom.
The motivating force behind these efforts, Avraham Duvdevani, (Duvdev) Co-Chairman of KKL-JNF and former head of Settlement of the WZO, recently returned from an additional tour of the five communities temporarily known as "Chalutziyot" on the Western Negev - brimming with optimism. The first reason for his optimism was the people - evacuees from Gush Katif - who have chosen to be pioneers once again, some for the third time in their lives, as grandparents. The second cause for his optimism was the fact that KKL-JNF worldwide - and mainly JNF America - has taken a task upon itself with unprecedented enthusiasm. Having devoted efforts over the past few years to the Negev in general, JNF America decided to invest in establishing these new communities.
Duvdevani relates the events that led to the establishment of Chalutziyot with an excitement that emanates from building and creating. "This is an area of endless desert and endless sand. All you see on the horizon is the lookout tower of the Egyptian army west of the border. This is the frontier. It is within range of Kassam missiles. You have to be a Zionist, a pioneer, and a little crazy to settle and live in such a place. What does it have to offer? It is far from any center; it is hot; it is close to Egypt and the Kassam; it is close to infiltrators who steal equipment and property. No one has settled this area in Israel's 60 years because no one would agree to live in such a place."
"I brought here representatives of evacuees from Netzarim who were among those who refused to leave and had to be evicted, with parents who had refused temporary housing in modern high-rise apartments in Ashkelon, who were looking for a place where they could be close to the land. This was at Moshav Yated on land designated for "Chalutziyot." One of the women bent down, scooped up a handful of sand and said with tears in her eyes: "This is the same sand as we had at home in Gush Katif." Eleven families decided on the spot to establish their new homes then and there with Moshav Yevul as their temporary home.
Duvdevani found himself at former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's side, who asked him for the help of the Settlement Division in establishing new settlements within the borders of Israel. "If the government decides, we will also go to the Negev", responded Duvdevani to Sharon, thus beginning his ongoing romance with the Negev - both during his previous job and his present position as KKL-JNF Co-Chairman, which he has held for over a year.
The disengagement took place, but despite Sharon's demands, the establishment of a temporary or permanent groundwork for resettling the evacuees of Gush Katif, did not progress until KKL-JNF entered the picture at Sharon's request: "To date, KKL-JNF has invested NIS 21 million in establishing the communities of "Chalutziyot", but this is not the entire story. Everything moved slowly, and nothing was accomplished at the site. KKL-JNF suddenly became the central motivator. I urged the Directorate to give the new settlements 40% of the total investments instead of the usual 25% in order that work could begin. There were many days during which 61 of our machines or heavy equipment were preparing the ground for agriculture, for paving access roads and for infrastructure for the settlements."
JNF America also mobilized its efforts and former President of JNF America, Ronald Lauder,arrived with a delegation of leaders to observe the wonder taking shape in the desert, an outstanding expression of the most recent fulfillment of Ben Gurion's dream. "JNF America mobilized quickly and sent large sums to develop Chalutziyot, as they are still continuing today, with huge efforts to support the project with a high priority. An additional delegation will arrive in the coming weeks headed by Stanley M. Chesley, the incoming President of JNF America. This delegation will also visit Chalutziyot and the numerous other projects that were established with its generous help. They have adopted the Negev as a general project, and are devoting most of their resources and efforts into projects in the Negev - particularly the development of the Nahal Beersheba Park. I do believe, however, that a way will be found for an additional $ 250,000 - 500,000 each year for "Chalutziyot"."
Where does Avraham Duvdevani's faith come from? "Whoever comes to see these places and to talks to these people - who are beginning everything anew under extremely difficult conditions - cannot help but adjust his priorities to the needs of the new pioneers in the sands of Chalutza. I am committed to bringing other communities of KKL-JNF from abroad and consider that the challenge will evoke an appropriate response. The people of Gush Katif are like my own children."
Half of the evacuees from Atzmona did not wait too long until temporary housing was prepared for them in Moshav Yated on the border of the sands of Chalutza. By the fourth Shabbat following the disengagement, 12 families - 300 people - were already there and soon, even the first grave had been dug. Actually it was for Grandfather Tzadok Rab, a dedicated KKL-JNF worker until he retired, who asked his son, Yechi, to bury him here "rather than on the Mount of Olives." The government had not understood that it is impossible to house such families in 24-meter caravans and Duvdevani proposed the establishment of the "cara-villas" an opportunity for temporary housing with elementary, humanitarian conditions. Since the residents of Atzmona leased 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres) in the area for growing potatoes it was only logical to house them next to the land they were farming. It makes sense."
"It makes sense - it's logical" is Duvdevani's special expression to the evacuees to persuade them to accept temporary plans before a permanent solution that was no less challenging, ideological and personal. Today the new pioneers in Chalutziyot are already exporting organic potatoes and peppers to the United States and Europe. New lives are being carved out in a place that was once nothing but an expanse of dry desert.
Where do we go from here? "We need settlers, because the destinations already exist. The east of Lachish region is the next story. Six new settlements are to be established there: four of which are completely new and two of which are expansions and modernizations of existing communities. My idea is that we in KKL-JNF need a reservoir of people who have undergone "preparation courses." We must prepare youngsters to settle new pioneer communities. We need to mobilize groups of young settlers with a common vision, who are capable of establishing roots in difficult conditions and building a new life."
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