A Constructive Response to Terror: Growing Communities in the Western Negev


No country should have to tolerate violence, murder and terror.

As we all know, in recent months an alarming trend has started in Israel. The media calls it “lone terrorists” and the world simply ignores it. But we who live here have to call it as it is: violence, murder and terror that no country should have to tolerate.
These terrorists come from all over Israel, legally and illegally, and seek to carry out attacks against Jews in Israel. They claim that they are protesting against the attack on them, on the Temple Mount, and on discrimination, but past experience teaches us that no matter what is said or done, these terrorists won’t change their ways.
This brings us to two conclusions. The first is that we need to find a political or military solution; the when and how is up to the government and army. The second conclusion is that until that solution is found, we can’t just sit back and not defend our people and borders. We can respond by strengthening the borders of Israel, not only in words but also in deeds. By establishing communities, cities, institutions and factories, we reinforce our position on the ground saying, “This is our land, the land promised to us.”
David Ben-Gurion, in his 1956 article, “To the South,” saw the development of the Negev as a national mission from an economic and security perspective. “Without settlement of the Negev and the southern state we will not have economic independence and security,” he stated. Ben-Gurion also drew from the Bible in his promotion of Negev settlement. Settlement in southern Israel strengthens not only the border’s security but also the economy. For years, the Negev was seen as weak, in terms of its population, technology and development. With 70 percent of the territory of the State of Israel classified as desert, it is inconceivable that the area would remain undeveloped. Populating the south and making it blossom is a national mission, important for both the security and economy of Israel.
In recent years, there has been a new trend in the development of southern Israel in terms of settlement and economic development.  More and more communities are cropping up in the Negev, and many companies are choosing to set up their businesses in Be’er Sheva, Sderot, Kiryat Gat, Mitzpe Ramon and others.
As part of this movement, a new community has been established in the sands of Halutza, in the western Negev, near the Gaza Strip border and close to the border of Egypt. Halutza covers an area that was mostly uninhabited until the Israeli government and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) stepped in to spearhead the building of three communities there. The newest community is Shlomit, which we started from scratch about four years ago. Shlomit, along with Bnei Netzarim and Naveh, is part of the “Gaza border community,” designed to strengthen the borders with Gaza and Egypt to prevent terrorist infiltration and drug smuggling.
Most of us came to the community of Shlomit from the center of Israel and a few from Gush Katif. If you ask us what made us leave our comfortable life and come to this “hole” called Shlomit, we wouldn’t know how to explain it exactly. But we do know that something was missing, and the faith and desire to do something brand new and in the spirit of pioneering made us leave everything behind. Friends and family are a two-hour drive away. We are far from shopping and employment.
Sometimes, mortars are shot to harm and disrupt the routine of our lives, especially during operations like the Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge operations. Even during routine days, we receive alerts by the military on the terrorist organizations’ attempts to infiltrate Israel through tunnels or across border fences. Despite the fear, our community grows stronger. We know that the purpose of terrorism is to break our spirit — and that is not an option. So, during Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge we remained in our community, strengthened the neighboring towns by visiting them, and provided food and gifts to the soldiers serving in the area.
Shlomit started with just 15 families. Around us was mostly sand, no roads, no playground, let alone employment and medical centers. Today, we are already 50 families, and although we are still living in temporary structures, most of us are already planning our permanent homes. The community itself has been developed and, thanks to the assistance of JNF, we now have a large playground. As education is a top priority, our first permanent structures — again with the great assistance of JNF — will be preschool and kindergarten buildings. We are also building a synagogue and ritual bath.
Our vision for Shlomit extends beyond the 1,500 residential units included in the building plan. We are slated to be the strategic center of the Halutza area, with educational institutions, a shopping center and a community center. The growth of Shlomit and the Halutza region has made a huge difference in the lives of the tiny communities scattered throughout the Negev, representing new opportunities in employment, education and recreation.
One of the strongest signs of our success is that in the small kibbutzim and moshavim in the area, absorption of new residents has increased significantly. With the presence of Shlomit and the other Halutza communities, young people are seeing the Negev as an alternative to the more established cities, and are returning to their childhood homes.
Hila Halevy is a resident and founding member of Shlomit, one of three communities (along with Bnei Netzarim and Naveh) in the Halutza region located in the northwest Negev on Israel’s borders with Egypt and Gaza. JNF has supported Halutza’s growth from the beginning, investing close to $10 million in clearing land for housing and farming, purchasing temporary prefabricated homes, laying basic infrastructure, paving roads and constructing educational and recreational facilities. 


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