Terror Kites Destroy Western Negev Forests

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Since the 1950s, KKL-JNF has planted over 35,000 acres of forests in the Western Negev. As of two months ago, the forests are going up in flames due to terror kites launched from the Gaza Strip. KKL-JNF Western Negev Regional Director Danny Ben-David describes the harrowing daily experience.

Rehabilitation will take Twenty Years

When it began, Danny Ben-David still had patience for the new aerial threat. After the forests he loves so much went up in flames, he says unequivocally: Terror kites are just like mortar shells.
Makor Rishon
June 6, 2018

“I was born and grew up in Ofakim, the second generation of KKL-JNF workers. My father worked many years in KKL-JNF, so I grew up at home with a connection to nature. Every Saturday we would go for a hike in the forest, I would often join my father at work, and I knew all the former generation of KKL-JNF workers in the south. I began my KKL-JNF career thirty years ago as a tour guide, then continued to the Education Division, and in 2000, I began as a bloc forester. In 2013, I was promoted to Western Negev Regional Director. I know every corner, every forest, site and bicycle trail here. There are 35,000 acres of planted forests in the Western Negev. Planting here began in the 1950s, when new immigrants worked in the forest in order to make a livelihood.

“On April 11, the first terror kite landed, and since then, my routine has changed radically. We chase kites every day into the evening and the night. We have already had 240 forest fires that were caused by kites and balloons. We have to deal with at least ten incidents of arson every day. The fires usually start in the afternoon hours, when there’s a western wind. That’s when the terror kites arrive from Gaza – with coals, bags of fuel, and other means. Just by chance, today I was standing on the tower at the ANZAC memorial and I saw how they sent a kite out of the smoke on the other side of the border, and how it falls on our side. There was some shooting – I assume the IDF shot at the kite - but that didn’t stop it. I immediately sent a fire truck and a team, so this time we were lucky, it didn’t set the whole area on fire.

“Last Friday was a total catastrophe, so many terror kites. We had a lot of incidents that happened at the same time, we tried to put one fire out and then go to the next one, but there were places that we couldn’t get to and save them. We had to give up on some places and save others. We felt like it’s like giving up one kid in order to save another one. It was horrible. On the other hand, there were also times when I had a sense of satisfaction, because we responded quickly and did exactly what needed to be done and were able to save a lot of trees. At the end of the day we were only able to contain all the fires by 11:00 at night. We had to come back the next day to make sure all the fires were extinguished, but then another round of fires started.

“The pain we felt was immense. The Be’eri and Kisufim forests that were burnt are very old forests that were planted in the 1960s and 1970s. A lot of trees that were planted by the first settlers here, before the state was even founded, were also burnt down. I see the trees going up in flames, and I don’t know how long it will take to rehabilitate them, not to mention the birds who make their nests in the trees, the turtles who all that’s left of them are their charred remains, the bicycle trails. We’re still in the midst of this event, and I don’t think we’re capable as of yet of containing all the anger and what’s actually happened.

“To date, close to 750 acres of forests have been set on fire. To restore things to as they used to be will take at least 20 years. When agricultural fields are burned, rain falls in the winter and everything’s okay, but for forests to be restored, you need many years. This is a semi-arid region, so the rehabilitation process here takes an especially long time. In addition, it’s impossible to know how badly this will affect tourism. I hope we’ll have a rainy winter so that the area can start being rehabilitated, with the emphasis on the word ‘start’, not more.

“It’s hard to see forests going up in flames every day, but that’s our job, I know we won’t give up, and we’ll fight to the end to save every tree and every acre. I am proud of the self-sacrifice and the huge physical effort of my workers, but on the other hand I feel so frustrated, because I just don’t understand how my country can let this go on for two months already.

“In my opinion, a terror kite is just like a mortar shell. When it first started, I had patience for the kites, but that’s over and done with. The people who send them couldn’t care less about human life or nature. So many beautiful things could have been done by us and our neighbors in Gaza rather than war and chaos. When I stood on the ANZAC memorial, which is dedicated to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought here during the First World War, I was thinking that 100 years have passed since then, and this place is still being fought over. It just continues being a site of conflict, and it’s pretty depressing.”