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JNF liaison for the Gaza Envelope Region Michal Uziyahu.                   

Surprisingly, terrorism isn’t the biggest concern for the chief security officer of Israel’s Central Arava region, Nadav Eylon.

Although terrorism isn’t far from his mind, Eylon really focuses his efforts on preparing his community for natural disasters such as earthquakes, flash floods and rockslides.  

“We’re pretty familiar with disasters in Israel,” Eylon said. “But we also know that everyone is a potential volunteer, everyone is a potential angel that can help when the time is necessary.”

Eylon will represent the Central Arava Region at an upcoming Jewish National Fund (JNF) event, “The Magic of the Negev Desert: From East to West and Everything in Between.” 

The event is designed to discuss why living in the remote areas in the Negev is critical to the survival and growth of Israel. 

Despite being a remote region, the Arava is the third-largest area in Israel. Central Arava also is known for its vast agricultural production. According to the nonprofit Nefesh B’Nefesh, the region has more than 400 different farms that produce more than 60 percent of Israel’s fresh vegetable exports. 

With just more than 3,000 residents in Central Arava, the area, Eylon notes, is not the most accessible for emergency relief. He oversees all the operations in the area, which include police, fire, search-and-rescue and counterterrorism. To help when a disaster arrives, Eylon coordinates a group of dedicated volunteers in each area of operation. 

“For many, this isn’t their day job,” Eylon said. “If there’s a search-and-rescue operation that’s going on, someone who’s normally a farmer is going to have to drop everything to join in the search-and-rescue. It can really be anyone in the area.”

Eylon has a familial history involving national security. His grandfather was a founding member of Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. 

When asked if he considered security work something of a family tradition, Eylon said that if you live in an area where “99 percent of your neighbors don’t really want you there, and you want to live a normal life, you tend to focus on security.”

But Eylon wanted to make it clear that he does not want residents in the region to be afraid. He believes that when everyone is calm, going about their everyday lives, feeling safe, that’s when he is successfully doing his job. 

Because of the prevalent dangers that he and his community face, Eylon believes that the more people he trains the safer the region will become. The safety of an area can’t solely rely on one person, he pointed out. 

“The community here has to be strong,” Eylon said. “That’s why you have to rely on your neighbors. You have to be as transparent as you can in order for the people to know that they can count on you when something happens and know who they should turn to if they have a problem.”

Michal Uziyahu, the JNF liaison to the Gaza Envelope region, will also attend the upcoming event. Uziyahu was previously a JNF ambassador tasked with educating thousands of Americans about recent barrages of rocket attacks and fire kites.  

Since March 2018, thousands of rockets have been fired into the Gaza region, destroying much of the area’s agricultural land. 

The rocket attacks have resulted in residents designing and building bomb shelters. Children play inside at an indoor playground in Sderot. 

Although Uziyahu and Eylon face different challenges in their regions, both are focused on strengthening their respective communities. 

When things are bad, Uziyahu said, it’s easy to feel alone. But volunteers are available to help respond in emergency situations in her area. And managing expectations and apprehension also helps.

“The first thing that you feel when you go through what we call an emergency routine day-to-day is to begin to expect it,” she said.

Uziyahu said that everyone has a role to fill in any of these emergency situations in order to make sure that the community is safe. This includes training potential leadership and combating trauma in these situations.

“I wish to show everyone that we are handling our reality in a very positive way,” Uziyahu said. “We are also very grateful to the JNF and to our American friends who are supporting us.”

Eylon has heard it said that the Israelis are considered to be the last pioneers.

“I know it’s a cliché, but we really take lemons and turn them into lemonade,” he said. “Making the desert bloom is what we’re setting out to do.” JN

 

 

For more information about the event, which will be held on Jan. 15 in a private home, email dreback@jnf.org or call 480-447-8100, ext 964​.

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