Thursday, March 3, 2011

Northern Negev Tour

The Original Be’eri Site

The original Kibbutz Be’eri was one of the “11 points” settlements established on Moatzi Yom Kippur October 6, 1947 by the 100 18-20 year old from the youth movements Noar Oved, Tsophim (Scouts) and Iraq Pioneers. Be’eri is the pen name of Berl Katznelson for whom the kibbutz is names. The land was originally the Arab village of Nahabir. The kibbutz was involved in the War of Independence. After the war the kibbutz moved to more suitable land 3 km south east of the original site. Today the remaining buildings are the water tower and security building.

Note: Nahbir – the site were Kibbutz Be’eri was founded, as part of 11 points established in the Negev after Yom Kippur in 1946. Kibbutz Be’eri was first called Nahbir, the same as the Arabic name of the area, which beans “badlands.” Later on it was renamed for the literary name of Berl (Be’eri) Katznelson, who had passed away at the time. All that remains of the old Be’eri is the security building riddled with bullet holes, the kibbutz water tower, the communications trenches and water pipe line marker.

During its first few years, the Kibbutz made a living by sending its members out to work at the Dead Sea Works, planting forests and roads. At home, they developed agricultural enterprises including, a dairy farm, orchards and field crops.

Today it is part of the Eschol Regional Council and has a population of 780.

Bitronot Be’eri Reserve – this large nature reserve covers an area of some 5,000 dunams. Because it resembles a crater it is sometimes referred to as the “Be’eri Crater.” Nahal Sahaf (Wadi Nehabir), a tributary of Nahal Habesor, penetrates the loess soil, drains the area and creates an area that is bisected as if with a saw. “Bitronot” can be translated as “badlands.” And in fact, it is difficult to work these lands for agriculture due to the dense network of channels that cut deeply through the soil, which is why these are the only lands that the Arabs were willing to sell to the JNF

ANZAC Memorial

About four kilometers to the north lies the ANZAC Monument, commemorating the ANZAC soldiers who died in the Third Battle of Gaza in World War I

ANZAC memorial – About 4 km. northwest of Kibbutz Be’eri is a memorial to the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Armed Corps who fell in the battle for Gaza during World War I. The memorial, which is shaped like the letter “A,” was built in 1967 on the 50th anniversary of the capture of Gaza by the British troops. The memorial looks out over the battlefields of the First World War

The Be’eri Sulfur Mines – Sulfur deposits in the area of Be’eri were discovered during the First World War by soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who were staying in the region. In 1933 a Jewish-British company lead by the geologist Williams began excavating the sulfur and carried out preliminary work. In 1946, after some 10,000 tons of sulfur had exhausted the deposits, the mine and the nearby factory closed. To date one can see the abandoned factory building, a deep water cistern and the strong smell of sulfur.

"Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah - from the LORD out of the heavens…" (Gen. 19:24) Note: Often the quote is “brimstone” and fire...brimstone is yellow, elemental sulfur.

The Black Arrow Heritage Site

Our first stop was the Black Arrow, an amazing heritage site located off Road No. 232 and next to the entrance to Kibbutz Mefalsim (west of Sderot). It was named for an action in Gaza carried out in 1955, after an Israeli in Rehovot was murdered by infiltrating Arabs called ’fedayeen.’ From the site we could easily see Gaza, and the border between us, about a kilometer away and surrounded by a sophisticated electronic fence.

The Black Arrow sheds light on an exciting early era in IDF history: the years between 1953 and 1956, when paratroopers carried out 70 operations against terrorists. At the time, the army did not yet have firm military traditions; new and innovative methods of fighting that the paratroopers initiated during that period later became standard IDF practice. Each rock tells its own story of a daring operation, mainly in Hebrew, but an audio guide offers information in English.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban explained the provocations to the Security Council on October 30:

During the six years during which this belligerency has operated in violation of the Armistice Agreement there have occurred 1,843 cases of armed robbery and theft, 1,339 cases of armed clashes with Egyptian armed forces, 435 cases of incursion from Egyptian controlled territory, 172 cases of sabotage perpetrated by Egyptian military units and fedayeen in Israel. As a result of these actions of Egyptian hostility within Israel, 364 Israelis were wounded and 101 killed. In 1956 alone, as a result of this aspect of Egyptian aggression, 28 Israelis were killed and 127 wounded.

One reason these raids were so intolerable for Israel was that the country had chosen to create a relatively small standing army and to rely primarily on reserves in the event of war. This meant that Israel had a small force to fight in an emergency, that threats provoking the mobilization of reserves could virtually paralyze the country, and that an enemy's initial thrust would have to be withstood long enough to complete the mobilization.

Note: Unit 101 and Battalion 890 re Qibya Unit 101 was a special forces unit of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), founded and commanded by Ariel Sharon on orders from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in August 1953.[1] It was created in order to better deal with a spate of Arab fedayeen attacks against Israelis, which the IDF was unsuccessful in halting.[2]
The unit was merged into Battalion 890 during January 1954, mainly because they killed dozens of unarmed citizens during the raid known as Qibya massacre into the village of Qibya.[1][3] Beside the Sayeret Matkal, they are considered to be the unit with the most influence on the Israeli infantry oriented units—including both special and conventional units.[3]

Armistice House

On our way out of the site we saw the small restored building known as Armistice House. It was here that, until 1967, Egypt, the UN and Israel arranged for the exchange of prisoners.

Nebiya Mari

Now we headed for Nebiya Mari, named for Col. Mari. Born in the small Druse village of Hurfeish, Mari was indisputably one of the finest officers in the IDF. After his death, the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, made up of area kibbutzim and moshavim, decided to forge a connection with the Druse in Galilee where Hurfeish is located. The result was this unusual memorial site, whose lookout offers a stunning view of Gaza City. Nearby stands the olive tree that Nebiya’s parents planted in their garden when their son was born.

According to our guide, Shaul Gefen from Kibbutz Dorot, every year Druse from Galilee meet here with Negev settlers at a moving ceremony in memory of Col. Mari. Despite its location near Gaza, no ceremony has ever been canceled.

Nir Am Reservoir

Large reservoir at Kibbutz Nir Am developed by the Jewish National Fund, filled with purified sewage and used for irrigation.

NIR AM reservoir is a reservoir with a storage capacity of 1.5 million cubic meters. It is fed with recycled water from the "Shafdan". The reservoir will provide water for the irrigation systems of the kibbutzim of Nir-Am and Mefalsim that, together, use 2.6 million cubic meters of water a year, of which 1.4 million cubic meters are in the summer alone. The reservoir will be filled during the months of October to March, and the water will be used from May through the summer months.

Note: Shafdan Treatment Facility: The centerpiece of this innovation is the Shafdan wastewater treatment plant in the densely-populated Greater Tel Aviv region. This plant alone treats 130 m\illion cubic meters of water annually. The water quality is high, making it suitable for all forms of irrigation, including for oranges, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, wheat and flowers. On a personal note: My daughter and her family live in the Western Negev and their hot houses use the treated water from Shafdan to grow peppers, cherry tomatoes and other vegetables for export. A special 90 km. pipeline has been built to the Negev, carrying water from reservoirs and other sources specifically for purposes of agriculture, in addition to the drinking water pipelines.

The Shafdan facility is in Rishon LeTzion, Israel. The additional water it creates could reduce the cost of fresh food. The new technique of introducing fish into the water reservoirs has proven to be an enormous asset in the preservation, clearness and quality of the water. The quantity and types of fish will be determined by biologists.

Water from the Nir Am area played a crucial role in Negev settlement, which grew in relative leaps and bounds from 1939 to 1946. The two Negev water carriers established in early 1947 both led out of Nir Am; the settlements were supplied by hundreds of kilometers of 15-cm. pipes which had put fires out in the London blitz during World War II.

So miraculous was the blooming desert created by Negev settlements that members of a United Nations Commission visiting Nir Am in the summer of 1947 couldn’t believe their eyes. Commission chairman Justice E. Sandstrom, certain the flowers he saw couldn’t possibly be rooted in the soil, decided to find out for himself whether he and his committee were being duped and plucked a gladiolus (sword-lily) right out of the ground!

Note: Nir Am Kibbutz: NIR AM (Heb. נִיר עָם; "The People's Plowed Field"), kibbutz in southern Israel, 6 mi. (10 km.) N.E. of *Gaza, affiliated with Iḥud ha-Kevuẓot ve-ha-Kibbutzim. Its founding in 1943 by immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, most of them *Youth Aliyah graduates, constituted a step in the expansion of Jewish settlement toward the Negev. Abundant groundwater reserves were discovered soon after, and in 1947 the first pipeline leading to the Negev outposts was laid from the Nir Am – *Gevar'am area. In the Israeli *War of Independence (1948), the kibbutz became the headquarters, hospital, and supply center for the settlements in the south and Negev, cut off for several months from the rest of Israel. The kibbutz economy was based on intensive field crops, citrus groves, and dairy cattle, as well as a factory for fine cutlery. In addition, the kibbutz developed a tourist industry, including a resort, water museum, paintball, an environmental activities site, and catering. In 2002 its population was 301.

Note: The first “Negev Pipeline” 1947 Opening of a 6 inch (0.15 meter) 190 KM pipeline to the northern Negev:

The first 'Negev pipeline', became operative in 1947 and assured a reliable if limited supply of water to most of the settlements in the Negev (although several settlements still had to rely on local wells). This modest pipeline transported water from wells in the northwestern Negev, an area relatively rich in underground water. The first stage consisted of 190 km. of 6"-diameter pipes supplying one million cubic meters (MCM) annually. Later on this line was converted to a 20"-diameter pipeline supplying 30 MCM annually. The significance of this pipeline was that the concept of transporting water from farther north to sustain the southern arid section of the country was now firmly established.
The Black Arrows Memorial - Northwest Negev

Perched on a hill overlooking a portion of the patrol road and electronic fence surrounding the Gaza Strip - and affording a view over the Palestinian neighborhoods and Mediterranean beyond - the Western Negev Black Arrows memorial site is overwhelming.

The sheer size of the site and the number of soldiers and civilians memorialized in the groups of enormous white rocks placed around the site forcefully brings home some of the heavy Israeli losses incurred in military and terrorist action over a three year period in the 1950s.

The Black Arrow Association was founded by a group of veteran paratroopers who served during that dramatic and painful period of reprisal actions. The not-for-profit Black Arrow Association set out to create a military heritage site to preserve the memory of comrades killed in battle, many of whom having died a short distance from the site that has developed into a most powerful salute to their bravery.

The site is dedicated to the military heritage of the paratroopers during 'the period of reprisals.' From the end of the 1948 War of Independence to the outbreak of the Sinai campaign in 1956 hundreds of Israelis were killed and more than one thousand wounded in terrorist attacks inside the State of Israel.

Since the beginning of the 1950s, groups of soldiers from neighboring countries and armed Arab marauders known as 'fedayoun,' spawned fear, death and destruction, particularly in the border villages some of which were settled by new immigrants from North Africa, groups of Holocaust survivors as well as members of Zionist youth movements.

One of the Israelis murdered was a young kibbutz member from that part of the Negev. In April of 1956 kibbutz Nir Am member Roi Rutenberg was murdered in an ambush at his home, a short distance from the present day Black Arrow site. On a small hill overlooking the Western Negev kibbutz, a black horse and rider stand out against the skyline in memory of Rutenberg.

Reprisal actions were initiated by the Israel Defense Forces. In the three years prior to the Sinai campaign, Israeli forces carried out 70 forages into Egyptian-held Gaza and the then Jordanian-held West Bank in retaliation for acts of infiltration, theft and murder carried out in Israel by enemy soldiers and gangs of fedayoun.

Unit 101 was created in the summer of 1953 and those who served in the unit were revered. One of the most famous of the l01s was former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon.

On each of the large rocks spread out over the extensive Black Arrow site, a plaque gives details of each of those raids. Audio information stations can be found at vantage points throughout the site, the in-depth explanations provided both in Hebrew and English.

For the first five months after their inception the 101s operated alone and were then merged with paratrooper battalion 890, and carried out the remaining actions as one combined unit. In 1956 they were joined by the advanced training battalion of the NAHAL – an acronym in Hebrew for 'combat pioneer youth.'

"These paratrooper battalions restored self-respect and self-confidence to the State of Israel and to the IDF in particular, and the commanders battle cry of "follow me" became a national motto," explains Moti Blustein, a seasoned guide and veteran member of nearby Kibbutz Niram.

Blustein, a salt of the earth Israeli with an impressive handlebar moustache, proves to be a walking, talking almanac when discussing the Black Arrow site and surrounding region, even though he spends a great deal of his time guiding Israelis in far away places the likes of Morocco, Spain, China and countries in the Former Soviet Union.

Moti takes us to the main section of the Black Arrow site. Over a low wall one receives a breathtaking vista of the central and northern neighborhoods of Gaza, and in the not so far distance, the sun shines on the Mediterranean.

Pointing out various large buildings in the near distance, Moti explains in detail what it is that one can see so clearly. Not only see, but also hear. Gaza is close enough for one to hear calls for prayer coming out of the Palestinian mosques, to hear car horns beeping in the busy streets of the commercial areas – to actually feel Gaza.

"That building over there," says Moti pointing to a grayish-looking large complex, "is Shifa Hospital where the leadership of Hamas were hiding in the cellars during Operation Cast Lead. Everybody knew they were there but because it is a hospital it was left untouched."

As Moti points out a few other much heard about Palestinian neighborhoods and explains what it meant for the local residents to live under constant threat from the Kassam rockets fired from such close quarters, an Israeli patrol jeep drives slowly along the sophisticated electronic fence.

The jeep kicks up huge clouds of dust and Gaza disappears – temporarily.

"There were days when going to visit Palestinians we befriended in Gaza was so natural that we didn't discuss it in particular," says the white-haired kibbutz member, wistfully looking across the short distance between the Black Arrow site and the Palestinian homes about a kilometer away.

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