David Nahmias Center

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

The David Nahmias Center is located at the KKL-JNF compound at Gilat, not far from Ofakim.

The KKL-JNF David Nahmias Center is located at the KKL-JNF compound at Gilat, not far from Ofakim. The historic compound extends over 53 hectares (132 acres) and has been active since the early days of the State of Israel. KKL-JNF also operates the Gilat Plant Nursery that provides forest and ornamental trees for afforestation in southern Israel.

The visitor center introduces visitors to KKL-JNF activity in the Negev. Along the side of the center is the tree trail – a forest excursion trail accessible to people with physical disabilities. Other elements at the compound include a rescue garden for extinct fruit tree varieties, a historic workshop for the extraction of fibers from agave plants and an experimental jojoba grove. KKL-JNF’s southern region offices are also located at the Gilat compound.

A comprehensive excursion at the Gilat Center that includes a visit to the nursery and its environs lasts for about four hours. A KKL-JNF guide leads the tour, as this is an active work site. KKL-JNF’s interpretation team can also combine a visit to Gilat with other fascinating sites in the area.

  • How to get there

    KKL-JNF’s southern region offices at Gilat are about four kilometers east of Ofakim. The entrance to the site is about 300 meters south of the Gilat Junction (route 25), and is reached via the Nasi Junction to the east.
  • Geographic location-

    Northern and western Negev
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Park-

    The Visitor Center, the Tree Trail, the Agave Project, the Rescue Garden, the Jojoba Plot.
  • Facilities-

    The center is open Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 to 16:00. The center is open only to groups and visits must be arranged in advance. The visit to the center includes interpretation and is free of charge. Students and educational institutions can arrange visits by contacting: The Education and Youth Department, KKL-JNF Southern Region, tel: 08-9986131. Other groups can arrange visits via KKL-JNF’s Kav LaYaar Forest Hotline, 1-800-350-550.
  • Type of parking-

    Picnic parks

Projects and Partners Worldwide

The KKL-JNF David Nahmias Center at Gilat is developed thanks to a contribution from friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.
Photo: KKL-JNF

The Visitor Center

The visitor center is located in a renewed building, which was built on the site of one of the buildings that stored the agave fibers produced in Gilat in the 1950s. The new building preserves the architectural characters of the former storehouses, which were Nissen huts that are constructed from sheets of corrugated steel bent into a half cylinder.

The center is air-conditioned and has a sophisticated conference room for seminars for small groups of people. The central hall has six square columns on which there is information relating to KKL-JNF activity in settlement, water, forestry and community development.

The center commemorates the life work of the late David Nahmias (1927-2000) who headed KKL-JNF’s southern region and later the KKL-JNF Land Development Authority. David Nahamias worked to roll back the desert and from 1995 to his death headed KKL-JNF’s “Action Plan: Negev” that opened new settlement horizons in the Negev.

At the entrance to the center is the “time dial” – an interactive process that illustrates the scope and variety of KKL-JNF activity in the Negev – built of three rotating rings. In order to “defeat” the time dial it is necessary to match the correct combination of actions and places.

The Tree Trail

One hundred and fifty species of trees and shrubs brought from the world over were planted in the acclimation plot at Gilat, to test their suitability for afforestation in the Negev. The trees were planted in groups of 15 of the same species, and were irrigated only during the first two years following planting. The experimental plot is now a forest tree garden with a path traversing it.

The 400-meters long path, begins at the small picnic area near the visitor center and is a circular paved, accessible path. Seventeen trees are marked with their names. Along the path are engraved bits of information on the Negev and the tree species at Gilat that enrich the walking experience. An old fire watchtower, once used by KKL-JNF fire spotters, completes the picture.

Visitors become acquainted with a number of eucalyptus species. There are more than 800 species of eucalyptus trees, which originate in Australia and other islands around it. Many of them are adapted to the conditions in the Negev. Quite a few of the eucalyptus groves that now cover the Negev slopes began their journey at Gilat.
Other tree species originating in Australia that grow along the path are Calitris propinqua, a conifer from the cypress family, Allocasuarina lehmenniana and Casuarina lepidophylla. These trees have characteristic minute scale-like leaves reminiscent of needles, although they are not. Casuarina boulevards are common in Israel since the days of the 
British Mandate.

Some of the tree species tested at the acclimation plot were rejected for afforestation in Israel, but still grow at Gilat, providing visitors with an opportunity to become acquainted with them. These include Acacia salicina, a small Australian tree and Prosopis juliflora, a species similar to our acacias that is extremely important ecologically and creates a beautiful avenue on both sides of the path.

The Agave Project

About 100 meters west of the Nahmias Center is an abandoned plant once used to produce fibers. At this stage, it can only be seen from the outside, as entering the building is unsafe.

The story of the building is fascinating. In the 1950s, many new immigrants (olim) settled in the Western Negev. Joseph Weitz, who headed KKL-JNF’s forestry division wanted to develop an agricultural project for the new settlers. Growing agaves seemed an excellent solution.

Agaves have green, succulent leaves. By means of a simple process, the leaves are dried and used to produce tough sisal fibers to make ropes and sackcloth, items that were very popular products in those days.
Producing the fibers and the cloth required working hands. Agaves that originate in Mexico, thrive in the dry Negev climate. The foresters at KKL-JNF were aware of this fact, because agaves had been grown plantations throughout the Negev 
since 1943.

In his imagination, Weitz saw thousands of acres of agaves, but there were no saplings available. Attempts to purchase them in Kenya were unsuccessful as the Kenyas were afraid of competition and harm to their industry. In 1953, Ze’ev Meites, an agronomist at KKL-JNF, somehow succeeded in getting thousands of agave saplings out of Kenya. The story, however, did not end there. The customs officials at Eilat, upon seeing the strange plant, thought it was a shipment that had arrived by mistake and were about to dump them into the sea.

Luckily, at the last minute the saplings were saved.

The agaves grew and flourished. In 1957, KKL-JNF (20%) and Zionist businesspersons from Mexico established a sophisticated plant to process the fibers at Gilat. Hundreds of families from the town of Ofakim and moshavim in the region made their livings growing and processing agaves.

Although the beginning looked promising, success was short-lived. In the early 1960s, synthetic fibers, which were stronger and cheaper than sisal, were introduced. The plant at Gilat began operating at a loss and in 1966 was finally shut down.The Gilat Plant Nursery is KKL-JNF’s regional nursery. It produces hundreds of thousands of saplings every year, for planting throughout the Negev. The nursery offers a fascinating tour for visitors in which they learn how the saplings are produced, how to garden with water saving plants and enjoy a visit to the parent-stock plots where there are many exotic plants.

Some one thousand species from all parts of the globe grow in the parent-stock plots. This is a natural treasure, one of the richest gardens of plant species in Israel.

Before setting out

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.
The Gilat Nursery collaborates with the Israel Ministry of Agriculture on various projects. One of them is the production of nectar plants that provide forage for bees in seasons in which wildflowers are absent. Pollination by bees is necessary for honey production and is also important for fertilizing agricultural crops. Preserving healthy bee populations is essential for successful agriculture.

Another project conducted with the Ministry of Agriculture is growing saplings, particularly eucalyptus, for agroforestry. These saplings are used for afforestation of abandoned fields. Instead of leaving the fields empty, saplings from the Gilat nursery are planted, to grow trees that will be used for timber or other uses. The nursery also grows plants for research, such as plant species scientists use for cultivating natural pest enemies or for plant acclimation studies. The nursery also collaborates on other studies such as landscaping in habitats with unique issues (e.g. beaches) or the community “adopt an acacia” project, in which desert acacia saplings grown from seeds are planted near their parent trees.

All these and other similar topics are elaborated during a visit to the Gilat Nursery.

The Rescue Garden

The rescue garden is a plot dedicated to preserving varieties of fruit and ornamental trees that originated in the Northern Negev. The plant propagation material is collected from abandoned orchards and other sites in southern Israel. These trees, which survived to this day, have proven their resistance to arid conditions and it is important to preserve their genetic material. Tree collection is done in collaboration with scientists from the Volcani Institute and members of the Biblical Fruit Society of Israel. The source of each tree is known and its data is exactingly recorded, to locate the outstanding trees in the garden, whose resilience has been verified.

The rescue garden will serve as a parent-stock plot for propagation material to produce saplings for planting in KKL-JNF forests in southern Israel. The trees in the garden include varieties of fig, grapes, sycomore, carob and acacia.

The Jojoba Plot

Jojoba shrubs were planted in this experimental plot in the 1970s to test their suitability for growing in the Negev. The jojoba is a large green-gray shrub native to the deserts of the western United States and Mexico that has fruits up to two-centimeters across. The fruits have hard brown seeds that have a high proportion of oil. Jojoba oil is very resistant to oxidation and is odorless and colorless, which makes it valuable for the cosmetics industry. The plant has adapted very well to Israeli conditions.

A Walk to the Agavas in Nahal Shimriya

Agava plantations from the 1950s, survived near Nahal Shimriya, about a kilometer north of the Gilat Nursery. In winter, when the weather is amenable, walking north to visit the plots is a pleasant excursion, bringing back memories of the time these plantations supported the inhabitants of the Western Negev. It is possible to arrange an excursion in advance, which leaves through the back gate of the Gilat compound, next to the former Agava plant near the KKL-JNF sawmill.