Israeli towns and farming communities abutting the Gaza Strip are set for a green makeover in a broad tree-planting project — not to spruce up their appearance but rather to camouflage them from Hamas rocket fire in the next conflict.
Spearheaded by the IDF and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the 13 million shekel ($3.3 million) initiative will forest the areas hardest hit by missile fire emanating from the coastal strip in last summer’s 50-day war.
Kibbutzim, access roads and the Sderot-Tel Aviv railway line are to be obscured by thousands of trees that will be imported from elsewhere and planted.
Gaza-border communities not only acted as convenient targets for Hamas and other terror groups operating from the enclave during the conflict. They also served as waypoints that enabled missile operators to calibrate distances, bearings and directions for outgoing rocket fire.
The project seeks to address these concerns by masking homes, roads and geographical features, making them more difficult to identify when seen from Gaza.
Plans for the afforestation campaign predated the summer conflict, following which the scope of the initiative was widened and additional areas were designated for plantation. With irrigation and piping infrastructure laid down in recent months, saplings and full-grown trees will now be transplanted in the area.
“The security-[based] tree-planting venture is stepping into high gear amid a demonstration of solidarity between communities,” Alon Shuster, head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, told Ynet news Monday.
“Mature trees that were uprooted in Kfar Aza due to demographic growth are being replanted in neighboring Nahal Oz. This is an example of mutual responsibility,” Shuster said, referring to two kibbutzim that sit one kilometer and two kilometers from the Gaza border, respectively.
Thousands of rockets were fired at Israel during last summer’s hostilities between the Jewish state and terrorist groups in Gaza.
Over the course of the 50-day conflict, approximately 2,200 Palestinians were killed — Israel contends that half were combatants, while the Palestinians say that most were civilians — and 72 people were killed on the Israeli side, including 64 soldiers. Israel blames Hamas for all civilian casualties since it emplaced its war machine in residential areas.
Eleven soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from tunnels dug under the border. Israeli defense officials believe Hamas has managed to dig several tunnels to be used for attacks near the Israeli border in the seven months since the end of the war.