The Arava region
resembles an enclave of African territory that has poked its way into Israel. The acacia trees so closely identified with the African savannas feel at home here, and remain utterly unimpressed by the summer’s heat: they know it all too well from back home. The Arava has its own way of compensating trees for the tiny amount of rain that falls annually, as the long, narrow valley that accommodates it collects rainwater that flows down from the Negev and the Mountains of Edom. As this water accumulates near the surface, it provides moisture for the trees.
To travelers to Eilat unfamiliar with the region, the Arava appears endless, but this is by no means the case: local communities are expanding and new farmland is eating up ever larger areas of the landscape. But more than just land is in short supply here. Farming in the Arava requires huge quantities of water, and this ever-growing demand necessitates the creation of new water drilling sites that reduce groundwater levels and leave extensive areas of prairieland gasping from thirst. The acacia trees and the rest of nature sustain serious damage.
In order to remedy this to some extent, KKL-JNF, working in conjunction with Arava communities, has launched the Adopt an Acacia campaign, which is being funded by JNF Australia
and the Central Arava Regional Council. This campaign is designed to restore acacia trees to their former position in the landscape along the edges of farmland and around the periphery of local communities (though not, however, on the prairies themselves).
Acacia seeds gathered from the areas nearby the central Arava communities have been germinated at KKL-JNF’s Gilat
plant nursery and over two thousand saplings have already been planted, each in the area close to where its original seed was collected.
Acacia trees carry an enormous ecological burden: they provide cover for wildfowl, and numerous species of wildlife feed upon their leaves and fruit. The acacias, however, are not the whole picture, as the Arava supports a wide variety of plant species. Some of these are common in East Africa, and are referred to as “Sudanese plants.” In Israel, however, they are rare, and it is important to conserve them.
Hila and Itzik Elbaz of Hatzeva have taken the Adopt an Acacia campaign one step further by caring for trees deeper into the prairie and fostering the growth of rare local varieties, mainly in the area of Nahal Gidron, which passes to the north of Hatzeva.
A large part of the ecological damage is the result of a lack of awareness, and it is often possible to locate new farmland in an area where the vegetation is less sensitive.
Although the plants in this region are not as well known as, for example, cyclamen or the Gilboa iris, plants such as Cocculus pendulus, Pentatropis nivalis, desert date (Balanites aegyptiaca), Zygophyllum album and Lycium depressum are no less vitally important to local nature and biodiversity.
One good way to increase awareness is to signpost sites where important plants grow.
KKL-JNF Southern Region Community
Director Talila Livschitz has enlisted to help. Botanist Mimi Ron supplies the information, Neta Or of Ein Yahav writes the text and KKL-JNF provides the signs and positions them at the relevant sites. Signposting is not yet complete, but the general public is already welcome to tour the area, discover these plants and take a stroll along a short footpath through the Nahal Gidron gully.