French Delegation Visits the Scorched Gaza Border

Sunday, August 12, 2018 3:12 PM

Over 100 hundred KKL France supporters embark on a solidarity tour to the Gaza border 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.
Tuesday, August 7: 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.”
The veteran kibbutz member led his guests to a construction site where a new visitor center is being built inside the shell of the community’s former dining hall. He said that over the years KKL-JNF has been supportive and generous. “I can mention a whole host of projects such as the groves of security trees which hide the kibbutz from eyes on the Gaza side of the border. Now I am hoping that the organization will help us raise money to complete this building endeavor.”
Lunch was held in the large dining hall of Kibbutz Sa’ad, which is a short bus ride away from Nahal Oz. During the meal, KKL-JNF Director of Tourism Shlomo Ben-Haim introduced Alon Shuster, the long-serving head of the Western Negev Regional Council, who came to address them. 
“Alon Shuster has been the driving force in the development of this area since he was elected head of the Western Negev Regional Council in 2002. Prior to that, he was a decorated senior IDF officer in the paratroop brigade and an educator.  KKL-JNF works closely with him and we are honored that he came here to meet us.”
Shuster told the delegation that all the communities in the area of the Western Negev Regional Council are under constant threat from terrorism in Gaza, including that of kite arson.
“However, we have to see this new phenomenon in proportion. There is no reason for panic. We faced much harsher problems in the past and we managed to overcome them. It is important to remain alert, and when necessary, to call the firefighters. This is more of a nuisance than anything else.”
After lunch, members of the tour boarded their buses and were taken along the length and breadth of the border areas to witness close-up the destruction caused by the arson. The scenes of burned forests and scorched scrubland evoked much sorrow and even anger amongst the visitors. The guide was senior KKL-JNF firefighter Moshe Baruchi. He explained how easy and cheap it is to construct a kite with a burning rag; and how difficult it is to intercept it to prevent it from igniting the forests on the Israeli side of the border.  
“Our biggest problem is manpower. We have to be ready around the clock to combat numerous fires which could, and sometimes do, break out at the same time.  Crews from all over the country have arrived to bolster our workforce. The Israel Fire Service and the IDF also help, but it is KKL-JNF personnel who know these areas, and are most equipped to combat the forest fires.”
Etty Lankry of KKL-JNF’s European Desk, who was one of the organizers of the day trip, said that she was thrilled by the large turnout and by the reactions of the participants during the tour.
“I noticed throughout the day that they were interested and keen to know more and see more. This is the seventh consecutive year that we have held the event for French immigrants and for French visitors who happen to be in Israel during this time. It is important that they see what our organization is doing and it brings them closer to Israel.”
Secretary-General of KKL France Gérard Opoczynski, who also took part in the tour, said that he was very happy that KKL-JNF organizes the event.
“Some of the 100 people that took part will go back to France with a strong and positive message from Israel, and those that live here will pass the message on to friends and relatives in their old country. Let us not forget that KKL is the last really strong Jewish organization left in France, at a time when most Jewish institutions are showing a loss of support.”
Norbert Schwab, President of KKL Alsace, said that he expects emigration from France to Israel to escalate once again, due to the growing anti-Semitism there.
“The situation in France and in most of Europe in general, is not good, and it is declining all the time. After the holocaust, it was not politically acceptable to be against the Jews, but now that taboo is wearing off. The old anti-Semitism is creeping back, and it’s not only against the Jews but also against the Jewish state.”
The day ended on a positive and nostalgic note at the Water Museum and reservoir at Kibbutz Nir Am. Museum guide Yisrael Kadmon told the visitors that the pump-house on the site and the connecting pipes were laid in 1947, following insistent demands from David Ben Gurion who was then Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.
“Ben Gurion knew that without water there would be no Jewish settlements in the Negev.
The enormous reservoir here was built later by KKL-JNF and has a capacity of one and a half million cubic meters. The facility enables reclaimed water from the Dan Region Sewage Reclamation Project to be collected, treated and used for agricultural purposes. ”
Today the pump-house has become a museum and the reservoir is the primary source of irrigation for some 1200 acres of farmland, contributing enormously to the prosperity and success of the region.