With winter rains, green returns to scorched Gaza periphery

With winter rains, green returns to scorched Gaza periphery

After a summer plagued by hundreds of arson attacks, southern Israel’s flora is beginning to bloom again

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Lush green hues have returned to lands in southern Israel’s western Negev blackened by arson attacks from Gaza over the summer, thanks to the onset of winter rains.

Flora in the area’s beloved parks, including the Be’eri and Kissufim forests, are starting to grow back after suffering severe damage from fires sparked by hundreds of incendiary kites and helium balloons flown across the border, and farmers are again grazing cattle and planting wheat on lands scorched by fires over the summer.

A drone video taken by the Ynet news site published Wednesday showed the area once again awash in green vegetation. A similar video by a drone operator in May showed the same area with hundreds of acres scorched by the fires.

The area’s fields dry out in the hot summer months, making them susceptible to fires, which spread quickly due to the winds blowing inland from the nearby Mediterranean coast. The area turns green each winter, though, and draws tourists from around the country for the annual Darom Adom (Red South) Festival, which celebrates the blooming of the area’s red kalaniyot flowers. The festival begins in January.

The fires may actually benefit the flower bloom, Dani Ben David, director of the Western Negev Region for Keren Keyemet L’Yisrael/Jewish National Fund, told The Times of Israel during the height of the arson attacks over the summer.

Drone images show the massive destruction caused by fire kites to the Be’eri Nature Reserve, adjacent to Gaza, May 28, 2018. (Credit: DRONEIMAGEBANK)

Kalaniyot are geophytes, meaning their seeds look like onions and are protected below the ground. They compete with grasses for dominance. Since the fire wiped out the grasses, the kalaniyot will have less competition and are expected to blanket the hills with red this winter with a renewed ferocity.

The area’s forests, made up of mostly eucalyptus, pine and mesquite trees planted by local moshavim and kibbutzim starting in the 1960s and 1970s, will not recover so quickly, though, Ben David said. It takes eucalyptuses 15 years to grow to their full height, although the trees were more resistant to the fires than brush and grass.

The tactic of sending airborne incendiary devices into Israeli territory was used almost daily by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since the start of weekly border protests there in March.

Firefighters put out a fire in the Be’eri Forest in southern Israel, June 6, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Gaza protesters launched hundreds of such incendiary kites and balloons into Israel. Thousands of acres of land were burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons carried improvised explosive devices.

The protests involved mass demonstrations and the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but also saw shooting attacks, bombings and attempted border breaches as well as the arson attacks.

Hamas organized the demonstrations to protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the group said. Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.

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