Belgium and France Mission Visits Gaza Border Communities

On Monday, August 18, a KKL-JNF solidarity mission of over fifty Belgian and French citizens took advantage of a short-lived ceasefire to visit towns and villages in the Eshkol and Merhavim regional councils.

Via www.kkl.org.il


Since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8th, very few missions have been able to visit the Israelis communities located on the border of the Gaza Strip. However, on Monday, August 18, a KKL-JNF solidarity mission of over fifty Belgian and French citizens took advantage of a short-lived ceasefire to visit towns and villages in the Eshkol and Merhavim regional councils. 



Olivier Rafowicz & Jacqui Ben Zino. Photo: Courtesy of KKL Belgium

The trip was organized by Jacqui Ben Zino, the president of KKL Belgium, and Olivier Rafowicz, the KKL-JNF emissary in Belgium. Mr. Rafowicz is also a reserve colonel in the Israeli army who was drafted for 25 days during Operation Protective Edge, and he took advantage of his military training and expertise to provide the group with professional explanations of the battlefield. Mr. Ben Zino, who is also the head of the Zionist Federation of Belgium, was accompanied by his wifePnina

The mission was comprised of French and Belgian citizens who were in Israel at the time and expressed their desire to learn about the situation in southern Israel firsthand and to encourage the residents of this hard-hit part of the country. Ms. Shiff, one of the participants, had asked Olivier how she could help. "I called her back," Olivier said, "and said that the best way to express your solidarity would be by joining the mission." In retrospect, the members of the mission realized that they had been able to visit the region on the last day possible, since the ceasefire was broken by Hamas on Tuesday, and they were very grateful to KKL-JNF for arranging the visit. 


In front of a destroyed kindergarten in Kibbutz Kfar Azza. Photo: Courtesy of KKL Belgium

Communities visited by the mission included Kfar Aza, Peduyim, and Sderot. In Kfar Azza, the mission met with local residents, who expressed their gratitude for the visit and for the support they received from KKL-JNF before and during the war, including prefabricated portable bomb shelters, trees planted by KKL-JNF to shield the village from sniper fire from Gaza,security roads, and more. Kfar Azza is located right next to the border, and mission participants were able to see the soldiers who had spent the past weeks fighting the Hamas terrorists. 

In Sderot, the group visited the local police station, where they saw an exhibition of Kassam projectiles that had been fired on the city from Gaza over the past few years. They also heard about how the city's residents try to live normal lives while under constant threat and about the damage the city has sustained. 


Being hosted by local residents at the Merhavim Regional Council. Photo: Courtesy of KKL Belgium

At the Merhavim Regional Council, the mission was greeted by Armi Faraji, the deputy head of the regional council. The guests were invited to a country-style lunch that was organized by the local residents. One of the women who hosted the mission said that her father had been a KKL-JNF employee, so she felt as if she was hosting "her extended family."  The mission also traveled to the headquarters of the Eshkol Regional Council, where they visited the crisis control room and saw a map of where missiles had fallen and how the regional council functions at times of emergency. 

"As a result of the trip," Olivier concluded, "the members of the mission learned about the psychological and material difficulties of this impossible situation. They also saw how much KKL-JNF is a central part of the daily life of Israel's south. KKL-JNF took responsibility for whatever it could as quickly as possible at this sensitive time and place, out of a sense of commitment to the local residents and to the state of Israel."