Over the next 5 years, Blueprint Negev will bring 250,000 residents to the region.

In response to the piece posted last month by Avrum Ehrlich, ‘Now Can We Make the Negev Bloom?’, I would like to bring to your attention the crucial and relevant work Jewish National Fund (JNF) is doing.

JNF has been on the job for a very long time. Developing the Negev did not start now as a response to the Gaza disengagement, rather this has been a vital part of our long term vision for the country.

Well before the disengagement, JNF began to realize its vision – which seems to mirror Mr. Ehrlich’s – of developing the Negev Desert with its Blueprint Negev initiative. In the works is the building of vital reservoirs, developing infrastructure for tourism, creating a philanthropic development bank, the expansion of existing communities and the creation of new ones.

Over the next five years, Blueprint Negev will bring 250,000 new residents to the Negev. Over the next 10 years, 100,000 housing sites will be created in 25 new communities.

Founded in 1901 and ever since a caretaker of the Land of Israel for Jewish people everywhere, JNF touches all aspects of daily life in Israel. JNF has planted more than 240 million trees to beautify the land and protect vital ecosystems. Our water management initiatives provide 1.2 million Israelis with water, we create new communities, construct security roads, create agricultural innovations, and build and maintain green spaces for recreation and tourism.

As for the immediate question of the Gaza evacuees, JNF was asked by Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres to be at the forefront of resolving these post-disengagement challenges, and the building of communities in the Negev.

JNF, and one of its partners in the Negev, the OR Movement, is already on the job working with the Ministry of Housing to interview each of the settlers; determine housing, employment, and school needs; make assessments; and create solutions.

OR’s already established toll-free number, has been widely publicized on radio, TV and newspapers, enabling all evacuees to call and begin availing themselves of resources and information.

JNF-OR’s immediate goal is to bring five or six of the evacuated communities together for opportunities in the Negev in a manner that would provide them with hope, jobs, living solutions, and education.

We have already determined we need to provide many caravillas, homes approximately 900-1200 square feet – much larger than caravans, to fit the large families – of $50,000 each including purchase and delivery that can be built and located within three to six weeks. These are temporary houses but they are homes to these families in flux.

We have to create infrastructure – which is very expensive. Some of it has already been built through the leadership of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Nitzan and other areas. But more is required.

These short term housing solutions will allow people to start building new communities, houses, farms, public areas, water resources, parks, community centers, synagogues recreational sites, schools and businesses, so that they will have a new place to work, live, and to begin a new life.

The cost of Israel’s disengagement plan is skyrocketing. The immediate need is significant and urgent. A failure to respond to it would render the long-term billion-dollar program irrelevant.

What JNF-OR, the Negev/Galilee and the people need is required NOW, really now. What is it? It is the need to provide, very quickly, temporary housing solutions for the next 1-2 years until the permanent communities are built. We need to set our sights on engagement – not disengagement – and on continuing to build on the vision that has sustained us as a People for thousands of years.

It is where JNF-OR can make a real, immediate and significant impact on people’s lives.