Ambassadors Tour Southern Israel with KKL JNF

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 10:51 AM

Ambassadors to Israel tour Israel's south with KKL JNF and the International Development Cooperation Department of the Israel Foreign Ministry.

With exemplary punctuality, ambassadors to Israel from different countries met on April 16 for the annual excursion organized for them by KKL JNF and the International Development Cooperation Department of the Israel Foreign Ministry, in order to acquaint them with the environmental work being done by KKL JNF.
The ambassadors were from countries in Europe, Africa, Central and South America and Asia. Some had been serving in Israel for a few years already, and some had arrived only a few months earlier. For all of them, however, the trip was a revelation, as they later said.
At the Besor R&D Greenhouses
The tour began at the experimental greenhouses at the agricultural research and development station in the Besor region, and was guided by station director Myron Sofer. The guests were invited into the climate-regulated room where the shelf lives of different species of flowers for export are tested. Sofer explained about the importance of the agricultural research stations, their applied research, and about services offered by scientists to local farmers who live in the vicinity, when faced with agricultural problems.
The next stop was the experimental greenhouse for growing strawberries. The plant beds are hung on stands at a height that allows for picking strawberries without having to bend down. The fruits themselves are suspended in the air. Baskets full of freshly picked strawberries had been prepared for the guests, and it was these fragrant baskets that broke the diplomatic ice. Everyone had to have a sample, and then they were smiling and praising the taste.
The visitors also saw the traditional net greenhouses where cherry tomatoes and bell peppers are grown. This was the ambassadors' first encounter with the methods of growing these popular vegetables in all their varieties.
After the tour, the ambassadors heard a comprehensive lecture about the International Development Cooperation Department and its diversity, with an emphasis on the agricultural sector and the sharing of knowledge between Israel and other countries. The second part of the tour addressed the role of KKL JNF in combating desertification and developing water sources. During the drive through the expansive and green cultivated areas of the Western Negev, the ambassadors received detailed briefings on the water reservoir and purification system, which at present provides for the reclamation of 60% of Israel’s effluents.
Nahal Beersheba Park

Talya Lador Fresher addresses the ambassadors. Photo: Gabi Bron

The ambassadors continued to Nahal Beersheba Park, where development along 7 kilometers of the streambed has been progressing rapidly, with the support of friends of KKL JNF in Germany, Canada, Australia and USA. Project Manager Itai Freeman met the ambassadors and spoke about the dramatic changes made along the streambed.  What was formerly a sewer and garbage dump now features a beautiful promenade with landscaped islands of greenery, lighting and benches. One million shekels have been invested so far in the project, which includes the Bell Garden and amphitheater.
Work has also begun at the site for creating the manmade lake that is to become a major recreation venue. The water in the lake will be supplied by the wastewater treatment plant in Beersheba and by the more distant Shafdan plant, where the wastewater of the Dan region is treated. Itai Freeman answered the ambassadors' many questions.  “When the plans were presented there were many skeptics who said, 'you will never succeed'. Today, however, thanks to the productive cooperation between KKL JNF, the Beersheba Municipality, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Nahal Beersheba Administration, we are able to show the impressive progress that will be completely changing the quality of life of the residents of the capital city of the arid Negev.”

Belarus Ambassador to Israel Igor Leshchenya. Photo: Gabi Bron

At a luncheon, where the Sderot's culinary finest was served, the ambassadors met KKL JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, who told them about KKL-JNF's main projects. “The biggest problem, not only for Israel but also for many other countries, is the ever increasing extent of desertification. Scientists estimate a rate of 1% desertification per year, which means that twenty years from now the deserts of the world will have grown by 20%, and even Europe will be affected by this. Another big global problem is food supply, since the population of the world is supposed to grow in the coming decade from 7 billion at present to 10 billion people. This means less food and less water for more people.” Stenzler enumerated the work being done by KKL JNF to reduce the effects of these global problems, such as planting forests, developing methods for recycling water, producing more food on less land, rehabilitating rivers and harvesting rainwater and floodwater in semi-arid regions.
In her greetings, Chief of Protocol Talya Lador-Fresher of the Israel Foreign Ministry told the ambassadors that there is great importance in planting groves and forests in regions near the edges of deserts, and that applied research in difficult climates, and the development of reliable sources of income for local residents is especially important.

Radovan and Michelle Javorcik. Photo: Gabi Bron

Later, we asked Efi Stenzler why KKL JNF invests so much in publicity for ambassadors of foreign countries. “It is very important for us,” he replied, “that ambassadors in Israel see, with their own eyes, some of the work being done by KKL JNF in Israel, and that we are also able to assist other countries by means of the knowledge we have accumulated in those fields in which we are considered world experts. I am especially referring to combating desertification, tree planting in deserts and applied research in development of water sources for agriculture. I have always believed that seeing something is better than hearing about it. It was important for me to emphasize that although we are an organization of the Jewish people, we assist, here in Israel, all the citizens of the country, and inviting ambassadors on this tour, and on previous tours, helps them understand that we are capable of assisting their countries too. As a non-government organization, we have already signed agreements with several countries in the world, in North and South America and also in Africa. We are also presenting our organizational potential for working in those areas where the government is limited because of budget constraints and economic priorities.”
The Slovak Republic Ambassador in Israel, Radovan Javorcik, came on the tour with his wife Michelle. The Slovakian Ambassador has been serving in Israel for 9 months so far, and for him, the tour was a kind of introduction to the multidisciplinary cooperation systems in Israel. “The subject that particularly interests me on this tour,” said Javorcik, “is how different government and non-government organizations communicate with each other in order to execute joint projects. I have seen a great deal of interest in the Israeli efforts to rehabilitate open spaces that have been harmed by human activity, and in the cooperation of various authorities in the development of regions with borderline climates.”

Kenyan Ambassador Augustino Njoroge. Photo: Gabi Bron

The Ambassador from Kenya, Augustino Njoroge, expressed great interest in all the topics presented in the course of the tour. “What we were shown today is very interesting, and undoubtedly there is great potential for collaboration in the agricultural field as well as in the development of arid regions. Agricultural development is always important to us.’’
Belarus Ambassador to Israel Igor Leshchenya, who has been serving in Israel for six years, expressed thanks for the tour on behalf of the ambassadors and also for the tree planting ceremony. “This tour is accompanied by a great deal of emotion. Factually, all the forests we see today in Israel were restored to the landscape by the hands of the Israelis. It is therefore a great privilege for all of us to be leaving with the good memories we have from our term of service in Israel, by means of planting a tree. We all learn about the country where we are serving, through personal encounters. After six years in Israel, I can say that for me, Israel is the largest country anywhere, if we are talking about the number of meetings I have had with interesting new people in the course of my term of service.”
Planting Trees

Ghana ambassador Henry-Hanson Hall plants an almond tree. Photo: Gabi Bron

The ambassadors proceeded to the Dudaim Site west of Beersheba, which was developed with a contribution from friends of KKL JNF in Australia. There, they all climbed onto a truck suited for driving in the field.  With the guidance of Itzhak Moshe, KKL JNF Deputy Director for the Southern Region, they traveled on dusty desert roads to the tree planting area in the Ambassadors Forest, located by near the Lehavim Junction and Beersheba. There, in a plot of desert on the pale loess hills, the flags of all the countries, whose ambassadors were there with KKL JNF, were waving in the wind, and it was there the traditional tree planting ceremony took place.
Elisha Mizrahi, KKL-JNF Director for the Southern Region, spoke about the afforestation undertaken in the arid Negev over the last 22 years. “The trees you see on the slopes around here are at most seven years old, and they are the best proof that by using ancient methods, which we copied and renewed with modern means, a variety of trees can grow even in a desert with an average annual precipitation of 200 millimeters or even less.”

Serbian ambassador Zoran Basaraba plants a tree. Photo: Gabi Bron

Waiting for the ambassadors in the holes that had been dug for planting were saplings of a tamarisk, a sycamore, an almond, a carob and even a mulberry tree, all of which grow and flourish in the Negev. “I hope they will believe me that this is indeed a sycamore tree,” said Zoran Basaraba, the Serbian Ambassador in Israel, with a smile, after he planted the sapling he chose. “This day has been fascinating for me and only reinforces the positive feelings I have for Israel and its citizens. Clearly KKL JNF has a lot to offer in the area of cooperation, and one must appreciate the fact that a considerable portion of this cooperation, especially in the field of applied research, is extended to all who seek it.”
The Kenyan Ambassador specifically asked to be photographed with his wife planting an almond tree in the soil of the Negev, and the Ethiopian Ambassador, Helawe Yosef Mengistu, wanted to know if KKL JNF could provide him with several eucalyptus seeds in order to plant them near the single eucalyptus tree next to his house in the village where he lives in Ethiopia. “It would make me so happy,” he said, “if I could grow, at home, a few more eucalyptus trees of the beautiful species I have seen here in the desert.”