Nestled in the Western Negev, along the desert’s edge and the border with the Gaza Strip, 32 small agricultural kibbutzim and villages have created an oasis in an otherwise overlooked part of Israel. For many residents of what is often referred to as “The Gaza Envelope,” their lives represent a stark contrast to the bustling metropolis of Israel’s center, and provide a healthy and peaceful environment focused on family and community. For years, these hearty pioneers have made their mark on Israeli history—literally making the desert bloom. However, their efforts of greening the desert have recently turned to black, as neighboring Gaza has threatened their peaceful way of life.
Since March, over 450 incendiary kites, balloons, and rockets have been launched from Gaza towards the communities of Eshkol and Sha’ar HaNegev, destroying over 6,500 acres of agricultural land and forests that the people there rely on as their main source of income and economic development. For the region’s children, a familiar and seemingly innocuous object, such as a kite, has now become a symbol of terror and fear. “This is the problem with PTSD,” said Jehan Berman, a Belgian born Israeli living in the community of Avshalom. “You can’t outwardly see that these children are also wounded.”
Fortunately, renewed hope, energy, and resiliency has come thanks to a regional partnership with Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF), whose donors from around the United States quickly and decisively mobilized in the face of the recent attacks, and provided emergency support by delivering nine new fire wagons to help fight the flames coming from Gaza.
“The fire wagons can reach deep into the fields and places that regular trucks cannot, and they have greater extinguishing abilities. The sooner you get to the site where an incendiary balloon hits the ground, it minimizes the damage,” said Yoram Levi, spokesperson for Israel Fire and Rescue Services. The existing fire stations in the area can have a response time of 15 minutes, but the localization of both firefighters and fire wagons has trimmed the waiting time down to an expeditious two to three minutes.
In a show of strength and solidarity, people from around the region and the world are doing their part to help. Local kibbutzim have allocated housing and meals for firefighters who are staying on-site at all times, volunteers have joined the firefighting efforts, JNF forestry personnel are aiding in stopping the spread of the fires, and the Israel Defense Forces has provided off-road vehicles and reserve firefighters to bolster efforts. In the U.S., Jewish National Fund lay leadership have maintained constant updates and fundraising efforts through social media, local campaigns, and by personally supporting continued fundraising to give hope to the people on the front lines.
“We didn’t know what to ask for,” explained Michal Uziyahu, Jewish National Fund-liaison for the Gaza Envelope. “But I know that JNF is exactly what our community needs. Donors touch the ground here and support us. They encourage us to dream, think, and strategize.”
Amidst the black, scorched earth surrounding Kibbutz Kissufim, a lone tree stood tall—a fitting symbol of the region’s resilience and strength. Despite the recent destruction surrounding it, small green blades of grass and vegetation poke through the burnt debris, a sign of hope for the future.
To learn more about JNF’s work in helping the people of the Gaza Envelope and to get involved, please contact James Kimmey at 858.824.9178 x988 or JKimmey@jnf.org.