French delegation group photo at the Kibbutz Nahal Oz security fence.
(photo credit: DENNIS ZINN KKL-JNF)
Over 100 hundred KKL France supporters embarked on a solidarity tour to the Gaza border, which took place under the shadow of the ongoing incendiary balloon and kite terror. The participants were newly-arrived French immigrants to Israel and summer visitors from France. Many said that they came along because they wanted to see the effects of this new type of violence with their own eyes.
The visit began at the Beit Nahmias Educational Center at the KKL-JNF nursery in Gilat. On-site to meet the group was KKL-JNF Western Negev Regional Director Danny Ben-David, who is the person in charge of all KKL-JNF activities in that area including fire-prevention. He told them how difficult it is for him to see forests and agricultural fields on fire.
“To date over 860 acres of mature forest have been destroyed by arson and that does not include the wide swathes of natural brush, nature reserves and agricultural fields that went up in flames. In total, almost 10,000 acres have been burned in less than four months. Since the beginning of April when the kite terror began, our daily workload has increased dramatically because alongside our regular schedule, we have had to bolster our firefighting capabilities. The fires are causing millions of shekels of damage and are affecting the quality of life in the region.”
Ben-David invited his audience to tour the nursery where routine KKL-JNF horticultural activity is still being carried out despite the Gaza attempts to disrupt life in the area. Nursery director Pablo Chercasky led the group through the expansive site while explaining the special KKL-JNF techniques that have been developed over the years to encourage optimal growth in the harsh desert conditions of southern Israel. He said there were currently over 250 species of seedlings growing in the nursery.
“We grow and distribute free of charge some one million plants and saplings annually to municipalities, schools, and other public institutions. The work we do is well known, and we receive a constant stream of visiting delegations from other countries that are interested in copying our methods. In the past when Hamas did not prevent cooperation with Israel, we assisted Palestinian farmers in Gaza.”
At Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which is situated right on the Gaza border, the delegation met Kibbutz founding member 84 year old Yankele Cohen, who told them how life in the area has changed since he arrived in 1953.
“In the early days security was much more of an issue for us than it is today. We started with nothing and we developed into a strong vibrant community that is growing steadily. People want to live here. There are currently more families on the waiting list than homes to house them. The new phenomena of blazing kites will not stop us.”