On a hot hamsin morning we visited several KKL-JNF projects in the Negev, starting at Lachish reservoir, built thanks to contributions of KKL-JNF Canada. Lachish reservoir, with a storage capacity of 1.2 million cubic meters, harvests effluents from Jerusalem, re-using the water to irrigate fields around Moshav Lachish.
The building of this reservoir resulted in an increase in water allocations to local farmers, which in turn allowed them to turn field of crops into fields for export crops, thereby increasing their income and strengthening Negev settlement. Elisha Mizrahi, KKL-JNF regional director, noted: "The water-shortage is still the limiting factor in the lives of the residents of the area as the population has increased even beyond than usage of the small storage capacity of the reservoir."
At the Plugot recreation area, in the northern Negev, in a eucalyptus forest planted by KKL-JNF in the 1950s, a unique donor appreciation site was built, located at an old water tower that had supplied water to the plant nursery of the region, KKL-JNF's Gilat Nursery. At the site are the KKL-JNF offices for the western and northern Negev regions. There is also an army base nearby where a parents-soldiers meeting center will be built for the soldiers and visiting families.
Later, Shlomo Kostiner, secretary of the village of Y'vul, accompanied us to the scorching sand dunes of Halutzit, where the desert sun burns relentlessly. Two new villages, Halutzit One and Halutzit Four, are being built on the yellow earth of the Hevel Shalom region, about a kilometer from the Egyptian border, with help of contributions from KKL-JNF America.
The villages are intended for the evacuees of Gush Katif, who lost their homes but still wish to reestablish themselves as a community. Halutzit Four is intended for those evicted from Atzmona and Halutzit One is intended for evictees from Netzarim, most of whom still live in temporary lodging in Y'vul and Yated.
KKL-JNF is preparing land infrastructure for houses, paving roads, building community buildings and setting up more greenhouses next to those that have already exported various strains of peppers for the second season running! As Shlomo Kostiner put it, "I feel like a tree that was uprooted and is now beginning to grow and once again produce fruit. This is virgin ground that has not yet been exhausted by overuse, which gives us an advantage in terms of organic agriculture. We are getting good results. The intense radiation of the sun encourages growth, but there can also be frost that kills the plants. We are at the beginning of the road and are checking out the various possibilities."
The optimism and working spirit of these residents is contagious and heartwarming. Shlomo - together with Noah Lax who works in the packaging house and who came from Ganei Tal - notes that KKL-JNF helped them to get around bureaucracy and further projects that may never have been completed if not for KKL-JNF's help. Providing immediate assistance with building the greenhouses made it possible to catch the growing season and to learn about the region's advantages and disadvantages. As Shlomo said, "When you are preoccupied with creating things, in spite of the difficulties, you find a new taste in life."
At noontime, when the desert heat reaches its oppressive peak, we arrived at Eshkol Park - an expansive green desert oasis, which KKL-JNF established around the Besor springs in the western Negev, in honor of Levi Eshkol, the third Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
The entire park's vegetation - trees, shrubs and grass lawns - are watered by brackish water from the Besor springs. The park covers about 900 acres and includes spacious lawns shaded by date palms, olives and acacias, with streams and wading pools fed by the Besor spring. All these attractions were developed by KKL-JNF for the benefit of the public, near a beautiful overnight camping ground for visitors.
When we arrived at the new village of Givot Bar, established with help of KKL-JNF thanks to contributions of JNF America and Canada, we were still exhilarated from the revival of the arid Negev. Givot Bar is part of the B'nei Shimon Regional Council, some 12 kilometers northeast of Beersheba, with a population of 64 families.
Their goal was to create a green community and to blend their village into the natural landscape, thereby preserving Israel's natural scenery, while ensuring minimal damage to local flora and fauna. Ido, the community Secretary, mentioned that the village is rapidly developing, with the goal of increasing further and attracting new people and businesses. All this calls for huge investments in a new generation that is already growing up in this young village, continuing the environmental and human miracle that is taking root in the desert.