KKL-JNF Honors Firefighters, Volunteers and Gaza Border Residents in Israel’s South

“Our master plan is to boost communities in the periphery of the country. We want to help the state settle one million people in the Negev.”
KKL-JNF holds a special event honoring the firefighters, volunteers and Gaza border residents who worked ceaselessly over the past few months to battle the flames caused by incendiary kites and balloons in the Gaza border region.
“Your exemplary performance over the last four months in the face of the incessant incendiary attacks and violence from across the Gaza border has filled us with a renewed sense of pride and confidence in our abilities”, said KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar.

The context - an event at the KKL-JNF Offices in Gilat, honoring the dedicated and brave-hearted firefighters and volunteers who took part in the fire-fighting and prevention campaign. Some three hundred people from a host of organizations attended the ceremony, which took place on September 4, 2018, during the first lengthy pause from the incendiary kite and balloon attacks, which had begun on April 11 of this year and continued non-stop for 130 days.

The event, which was hosted by KKL-JNF staffers Batsheva Batat and Ehud Mor-Yosef, began with a film showing the various forces on the ground battling the flames. KKL-JNF firefighters were seen operating shoulder to shoulder with firefighters from the National Fire and Rescue Authority, the IDF, and local volunteers from kibbutzim and other communities along the Gaza border.

KKL-JNF Chairman Danny Atar was invited to the stage after the film and was clearly beaming with pride. He told the audience that it had been the first time that KKL-JNF firefighters had worked so closely with their peers from the other organizations for such a lengthy period.
“The experience created new opportunities to strengthen the country’s firefighting capabilities. Just last week KKL-JNF signed a far-reaching Memorandum of Understanding with the National Fire and Rescue Authority that details how we will work together moving forward when the need arises.”

Atar went on to describe KKL-JNF’s goals for the future.
“Our master plan is to boost communities in the periphery of the country. We want to help the state settle one million people in the Negev and another five hundred thousand in the Galilee. KKL-JNF will continue bringing green to this land and help protect it. Today nobody in this country doubts the need and necessity of KKL-JNF in the development of our country. I am proud of each and every one of you. Happy New Year.”

Dedi Simchi, Head of the National Fire and Rescue Authority, said that he was happy to be at the event together with his senior command. “I am impressed by the strength of KKL-JNF. Over the last 4 months, we saw the meaning of cooperation, which produced an ability to confront everything that was thrown at us, around the clock. We set up special forward command headquarters together with KKL-JNF and our other partners, and we managed to reduce our response time to the fires by half, which reduced the amount of damage caused by a much greater percentage. My men told me that they learned a lot about combating forest-fires from KKL-JNF and we have adopted some of those techniques. I have also ordered a half-dozen of the amazing all-terrain fire vehicles used by KKL-JNF.”
Simchi said that while there was a lull in the kite and balloon terror, he does not believe that it is over yet. “Just yesterday we had a small fire in the area of Kibbutz Beeri.”
The long-serving Head of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, Alon Shuster, also came to pay tribute to the firefighters. He said that the success of the operation up until now should not be taken for granted.
“This was not an easy situation. The kite terror phenomena was new to us and there were many organizations involved in the battle, including two major fire services, the army, the police, and various regional councils. Egos were put aside and the People of Israel rose to the occasion, as we have experienced before in times of crises. This is the strength of our People.”

The Chairman of the KKL-JNF Workers Committee, Yisrael Goldstein, was greeted by loud clapping and cheering when he went up on stage. Goldstein said that he had visited the fire zone several times and was amazed by the tenacity of the firefighters.
“They are workers who are protected by work agreements. Much of the work they were performing during the last four months was nothing like what they were expected to do according those agreements. There were firefighters who never slept more than a couple of hours for days on end. During this entire period, I never received one complaint. I only heard requests from workers in other areas who wanted to come volunteer here in the south.”

The final speaker at the event was the new director of the KKL-JNF Southern Region, Daniel Gigi, who spoke about the harm caused by the fires, which included some 13 thousand dunam (3,200 acres) of prime forest.
“The damage is immense and it is not only measured by the swathes of black soot that cover in the countryside. Tourism, during what should have been a busy summer season, was affected, as was our agricultural output, the quality of our air, our leisure spots and our cycling routes.” Gigi said that restoration work is already underway and that more resources will be added after the Jewish New Year holidays.

Representatives of all the different KKL-JNF sectors and other organizations were called up to receive custom wooden plaques as a token of gratitude for their service in the battle against the kite terror, and certificates for each and every person who took part.
The ceremony ended with the singing of the Israeli National Anthem Hatikva, led by singer and Sderot native Noam Shlomo, and a blessing over wine for the New Year.