On the Ruins of Kibbutz Nitzanim
For a small place, in the heart of nature, the community of Nitzan (Nitzanim) is extraordinarily rich in tokens from the past. Nitzan is hemmed in by tilled agricultural fields, scented citrus orchards, tall eucalyptus stands and golden sand dunes. Yet amidst this pastoral environment, it has survived vivid historical remnants to serve as constant reminders of the not-so-peaceful past.
Nitzanim – founded in 1943 by East European Zionist Youth; fell to the Egyptians on June 7, 1948; Nitzanim was re-established s a Youth Home is 1949 and later in 1998 as the village of Nitzan. The former Kibbutznikim rebuilt their kibbutz a few miles away after Israel’s War of Independence.
The best place to start is the local Nitzanim Field School (you can contact them through 08-6727895, Sunday to Thursday from 08:00 to 16:00.) It’s located in a spectacular building of historical interest which has been known for decades as “The Palace”. Not only does the field school provide guided tours of the area, but it also shows a 15-minute film (for a token fee) of the 1948 infamous battle which took place at the site leading to the Jewish surrender to the Egyptians. “The Palace” and its surroundings have been restored and include monuments to the fallen soldiers, with a special focus on the fallen female fighters.
The well-maintained Nitzanim cemetery is the last resting place of the kibbutz founders and the tombstones are a testament to the numerous countries of their origin before they settled and cultivated this coastal community. The ornate black metal gates at the entrance mirror the history of the place: the agriculture, the smuggling in of Jewish immigrants off the coast during the pre-State days when British mandatory law severely restricted immigration and the army operation to extract the women and children of the kibbutz before the Egyptians arrived. The 23 soldiers of the Givati Brigade who fell defending Nitzanim have a memorial section in the cemetery and their sacrifice is remembered annually on Fallen Soldiers Memorial Day.
After the Egyptians conquered the kibbutz, when Israel re-conquered the area, the original kibbutznikim rebuilt their kibbutz nearby but not exactly where they were before. Instead, a school was established in Nitzanim for Youth Aliya (Immigration to Israel). It was run by the dynamic Dov (Berl) Shiver, a Holocaust survivor. After his death in 1962, the large, flowering garden was named Gan Dov (Dov’s Garden) – to honor his memory.
On October 21, 1967, Egyptian missile boats attacked the Israeli Navy Ship (INS) Eilat (a few months after the end of the Six Day War. Forty-seven people were killed, more than a hundred were injured, and some are still missing until this day. Amongst the dead was Major Yehoshou Barnëah, brutally cutting short his promising career. His friends from the Hungarian Zionist Youth Movement planted some eucalyptus trees in his memory on Tu B’Shvat 1968.
There are several other memorial plaques scattered around the area that used to be Kibbutz Nitzanim. A few old buildings still remain from that time, as well as the water towers.
Nitzanim is surrounded by a nature reserve, open to the public 24/7, with several well-marked paths. The best time to visit is late winter and spring when the rains have made the area green, the anemones are poking their bright red heads above the ground, the white broom is at its peak and there is water in the reservoir.
Other things to do in Nitzanim
Being a coastal municipality, there is a beautiful beach that is accessible via a narrow asphalt road surrounded by desert sand dunes and vegetation. Nearby the beach is the Nitzanim Sands Nature Reserve where visitors explore fascinating flora typical of both Mediterranean and African plant life, take hiking trails and discover numerous heritage sites.
Getting to Nitzanim
It is off Highway 4 between Ashdod and Ashkelon.
This article was kindly submitted by Shifra Shomron, a resident of Nitzan and a novelist author of Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim