The process of desertification underway in the region is characterized by soil erosion and a reduction in the variety of local flora and fauna species. One of the objectives of the afforestation program at Hatzerim is soil improvement, which, in turn, should bring about improved land fertility and the provision of better habitats for animals and plants.
KKL-JNF has been planting trees sparsely in this region, in order to create a savanna-like landscape that will allow the development of herbaceous plants. Land preparation includes the construction of shichim, i.e., terraces or embankments that capture runoff water, an operation that reduces soil erosion and increases the quantity of water available for the trees planted on the embankments.
Initial attempts at afforestation of the area took place in the early 1950s, in a joint project between KKL-JNF and members of Kibbutz Hatzerim. The kibbutz’s shoemaker Yisrael Kosif became famous for planting trees and making the desert green, an enterprise to which he devoted most of his life.
Over the years, trees – mainly tamarisks, eucalypti and Australian varieties of acacia – were planted in groves, in roadside avenues and as windbreaks along riverbeds. Twisted acacia (Acacia raddiana), Negev acacia (Acacia pachyceras), jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi), carob, South American mesquite (Prosopis alba) and fruit trees have been planted in more recent years. In the course of these afforestation efforts the rubbish dump located between Kibbutz Hatzerim and the Air Force Museum was discontinued and its land has been reclaimed.
The Loess Park
KKL-JNF, in conjunction with Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, is planning to establish the Loess Park on the plains of loess soil adjacent to Hatzerim Forest, which provide a unique natural habitat for a variety of animals, birds and reptiles. These include the leopard fringe-fingered lizard (Acanthodactylus pardalis), which lives only in the northern Negev; the houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata), a large sand-colored ground-dwelling bird that lives on the loess plains of the northern Negev; the cream-colored courser (Cursorius cursor), a medium-sized ground-dwelling bird; the long-eared hedgehog, which lives exclusively amid the dunes of the coastal plain; and the greater Egyptian jerboa (Jaculus orientalis), a small rodent with short forelegs that moves in a series of kangaroo-like hops. It is to be hoped that the Loess Park will help to conserve the area and protect these creatures so that visitors can enjoy seeing them in the future.
Kibbutz Hatzerim was founded immediately after Yom Kippur on October 6th, 1946 and was one of eleven communities settled in the Negev on that same day. It takes its name from the Biblical word hatzerim, which is usually understood to mean “enclosures” for flocks, or “walled dwellings,” as cited in Joshua 19:8 “And all the villages that were round about these cities…,” the verse which enumerates the towns within the portion of land allocated to the tribe of Shimon, within which the kibbutz is situated.
During Israel’s War of Independence, Kibbutz Hatzerim became a command post settlement that was capable of protecting itself and which served as a springboard for the conquest of Beersheba, and, later, of the entire southern Negev. Initial attempts to farm the land were unsuccessful because of the high salinity of the local soil, and in 1959, the kibbutz members actually considered leaving the area altogether; eventually, however, they acquired the knack of cultivating this soil. In 1966, the kibbutz founded Netafim, the highly successful drip-irrigation manufacturing company that has brought prosperity to its members, who today number around 420.