The Israeli desert is abloom. In what’s being hailed as an act of “21st century Zionism” by JNF (Jewish National Fund) Canada, three new farming communities are sprouting up in Israel’s Negev thanks to an influx of pioneering families, many of whom include people previously relocated from the Gush Katif settlements in Gaza in 2006.
Housing units being built in the Haluziot communities
Since then, JNF and Keren Kayemet L’Israel (KKL) offices around the world have been providing monetary and infrastructure assistance for the new communities, temporarily titled Haluziot I, Haluziot IV and Shlomit.
Haluziot I and IV are located half a kilometre from each other in the Haluza Sands of the western Negev, about one kilometre from the Egyptian border, while Shlomit is situated just northwest of Haluziot IV.
Josh Cooper, executive director of JNF Toronto, and Joe Rabinovitch, executive vice-president of JNF Canada, spoke to The CJN last week about the project.
“The work KKL-JNF is doing [in these communities] includes land reclamation for agricultural purposes, residential plots and security roads,” Cooper said. “People think that JNF is all about planting trees, but we helped build Israel, and to this day, 62 years later, we’re still doing it from nothing – from a sand dune.”
Rabinovitch said JNF hopes the communities will be fully completed and inhabited by 2017 and that close to 2,000 people will live in these areas by then.
He added that one of JNF’s main priorities over the next decade is to bring in 200,000 people to the Negev to reclaim the land and populate the region.
For now, Haluziot I and IV are slated to have 450 residential plots, while Shlomit will have 500.
Currently, families working on the new communities live in nearby towns while awaiting completion of their new homes.
Rabinovitch said the bulk of the people clamouring to settle on and farm this land are “Orthodox Zionists” with an average family size of eight children.
According to JNF, Haluziot I currently has 105 residential plots completed, 400 acres of agricultural land set aside, four kilometres of security roads built and 12 acres of infrastructure for temporary housing set up.
Haluziot IV is similarly prepared, while the Shlomit community housing project will start soon.
Cooper said the families are aware of the risks they’ll face living just four kilometres from the Gaza border, well within range of Katyusha rockets.
During a visit to the region in February, Cooper and Rabinovitch said, they were “amazed” at the agricultural accomplishments already in evidence.
“There’s sand everywhere, and then all of a sudden, organic green fields growing carrots, and greenhouses growing potatoes and tomatoes. I literally was able to pull carrots out of the sand and eat them in land that had [been barren] since the beginning of time,” Cooper said.
But families aren’t the only thing being relocated to these new settlements. In keeping with its longstanding tradition, JNF is also re-settling trees.
“When the settlers were removed from Gush Katif [by the Israeli government], one of the things the JNF undertook immediately was to go in with tractors and remove almost all the trees that were planted near the moshavs or homes,” Rabinovitch said.
“These trees were stored [away] and they are now being replanted” in the new communities.
For its part, JNF Canada is contributing to a “general fund” for these communities and hopes to have a Canadian sponsor on board soon who will be able to provide funding “in the six-figure range,” Rabinovitch said.
Anyone wishing to contribute to this project is encouraged to speak with their local JNF office.