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Terror Burns and JNF Plants

August 15, 2018

The situation in Israel has not being reported almost at all in the foreign media, and very little we know about what the citizens of the south of Israel, specially bordering with Gaza are enduring over the last three month.

"JNF Canada including our local chapter in Manitoba and Saskatchewan Region has embarked in a Campaign to help the situation and our brothers and sisters in the south of Israel:

"Terror Burns and JNF Plants"

The Kite Terror on the Gaza border continues! Every day, more fields, forests and nature reserves are burned and destroyed, along with the hearts of the local residents. Over 450 fires by "fire kites" have caused millions in damages!

In particular, severe damage has taken place in the Be’eri and Kesufim Forests. TERROR BURNS & JNF PLANTS – Join the JNF Canada campaign to rehabilitate, replant and regreen what is being destroyed.

The following is a detailed description of the situation:

Life on the Gaza Border – Fighting Fires Daily

Balloon and kite terror has become a daily reality for the people living near the Gaza Strip border, destroying forests, agricultural fields and nature reserves. KKL-JNF foresters who usually care for forests have become firefighters out of necessity. The following is a description of what daily life has become for both local residents and also for KKL-JNF staff.

In the Land of the Kites

Lugassi with the utility van, Baruchi with the skullcap on his head and the two-way radios, Saeed the lookout with his binoculars, the firefighters in their yellow vests who were called away from the Galilee, and a meal of shawarma in the shadow of the tower. Itay Ilnai traveled throughout the Gaza peripheral region, accompanying the people whose hearts are seared at least twenty times a day.

The fires that have been raging over the past several months in the Gaza peripheral region have left enormous scars — not only in the fields, forests, and carpets of anemone blossoms, but also in the hearts of the people who live in this tormented region of Israel. Itay Ilnai went on a journey in the land of fire, Kassam rockets, terror tunnels, and kites and balloons laden with explosives.

The yellow fire truck with the words “KKL-JNF — Lower Galilee” painted on its roof, speeds through the watermelon field of Kibbutz Alumim in the Gaza peripheral region. It turns toward the black smoke that is rising slowly from a small grove of eucalyptus trees at the boundary of a cauliflower field. Khatib Baniya, wearing a yellow vest and sporting a mustache, points the nozzle of the fire hose and begins spraying water on the low flames. Like the fire truck, he too has been called from the north: by day he prunes trees in the forests of the Galilee, but this week he is working as a firefighter.

A few squirts of water and the fire subsides, leaving a black circle and smoking tree trunks. Baniya surveys the area with a professional eye and says: “That’s two dunams gone.” The incident is over within ten minutes, and the tree pruner turned firefighter folds up the fire hose and goes back to the truck. Baruchi writes another line in his notebook: “Alumim, Sunday, 3:10 P.M. Fire. Grove. Extinguished.”


First Station: Kibbutz Be’eri

Moshe Baruchi has been walking around with a notebook since April 11. “Every fire is documented and numbered,” he says, pointing to the wrinkled spiral notebook. We sit at the base of a KKL-JNF lookout tower in the Be’eri Forest — a spot that has become an improvised fire station over the past two and a half months. The carpets of anemones that bloom here have been replaced by ugly black scars of extinguished fires.

Baruchi is in charge of everything here, including the takeout shawarma that arrives for lunch. A resident of Netivot, he has been working in KKL-JNF for 31 years. He pruned trees at first, then managed teams, and in recent years he has become the chief inspector of the western Negev. He is a serious, responsible man. “All this area is mine,” he says, taking in the landscape with a glance.

He has been here since the fires began: at the base of the lookout tower, surrounded by two-way radios, day after day. “Except for the Sabbath,” he says, rearranging the skullcap on his head. Four KKL-JNF fire trucks are at his disposal, and he directs them skillfully among the fires that are started without letup. It is almost impossible to speak with him for more than two minutes running because he might pick up one of his radios at any moment to tell Lugassi to go there, Ahmad to come here, or Shlomi to go around. “The main thing is to get to the fire as quickly as possible, before it spreads,” he says. “Usually a utility van with a driver is enough — it carries a 400-liter container. If that doesn’t do the job, I send out a fire truck.”

The fires break out at a dizzying pace. After they swept through the wheat fields in the northern part of the Gaza peripheral region, and after the farmers cut them back in response, the balloon-senders began to focus on the forests of the Be’eri region. KKL-JNF employees from the central and northern regions were mobilized in order to meet the demand and provide support to the southern district. “We had 26 fires, just in KKL-JNF forests, on the toughest day,” Baruchi says. “When I go out to work in the morning, I don’t know when I’ll be coming back.”

Baruchi’s eyes — which are located several dozen meters above him, high in the tower with the KKL-JNF flag flying above it — are named Saeed. He is a Bedouin man, 22 years old. As he prepares a cup of tea for me, he points: “There is Gaza, Be’eri, Netivot, Kissufim, Ofakim, Re’im.” He rolls his Rs, and pronounces the Hebrew letter ayin deep in his throat. The sea is visible from his office as well, but that is not as interesting, since there are no fires there.

“Spotting fires is my job,” he says as he continues to walk around his axis, looking through his binoculars. Smoke rises south of us, and he reports it to Baruchi right away, who sends Lugassi out. “I start at eight in the morning and go until it’s dark,” Saeed says. “Every day, including weekends. On a regular day I spot ten to fifteen fires. On Fridays and Saturdays, there are usually more than twenty.”

Do you like your job?
“At first it was tough. Boring. But now it’s OK — there’s action all the time.”
He tells me that h

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.