On Tuesday, March 8, the new JNF Western Galilee Visitors Center was dedicated in the historic city of Acre. The new center forms part of the JNF USA Go North initiative, which aims to attract some 300,000 new residents to the Galilee in order to strengthen its economic and social fabric and bring about a decrease in population density in central Israel.
“I believe that one of the main challenges of tourism is not only to encourage people to visit, but to show them things that will make them think differently. The new center will coordinate all the diverse and fascinating sites of the Western Galilee. It really changes the picture - people will come here, shop, stay over and use the facilities.”
Yariv Levin, the Minister of Tourism, was speaking at the dedication ceremony of the new Western Galilee Visitors Center, a beautiful renovated building that was established with the support of JNF USA and is located in the old city of Acre. “I’m sure that as a result of what the tourists will discover at the new center, many of them will return here for additional visits,” the Minister concluded.
The Galilee has long been known for its great potential; however it continues to experience acute social and economic problems. To meet these challenges, JNF USA, together with the Israeli government, KKL-JNF, local municipalities, youth movements and organizations such as Nefesh B'Nefesh, the OR Movement, the Reut institute and the Rashi Foundation, launched the Go North strategic investment initiative.
Go North will attract and retain 300,000 new residents to the Galilee, strengthen the economic and social life of the region and help relieve the congestion in the center of Israel. Tourism is a growth engine for regional development, employment, and population development. A strategic plan to boost tourism includes enhancing and lengthening the visitor experience and creating greater economic opportunities.
The Mayor of Akko, Shimon Lankri, noted that his city has a mixed population of Jews and Arabs who live together in harmony and coexistence. “Akko is the tourist capital of the western Galilee; over a million people visit here every year. Thanks to the new center, I believe we’ll be bringing the second million of tourists to the Western Galilee in the near future. I want to thank JNF for choosing Akko as the site of this important project.”
JNF USA CEO Russell Robinson was the moving force behind the realization of this project. “This is a collective group of people who have taken a leap of leadership to actualize this vision,” Mr. Robinson said, “people who believe and contribute. The tourists who visit the center will discover Arab hospitality, the boutique wineries, the shops, and everything else the Western Galilee has to offer. Tourism isn’t just about the numbers of tourists; it’s about the amount of time they spend, which positively affects the amount of money they spend. JNF wants to bring over 300,000 new residents to the Galilee and make people realize that it’s not an outlying or peripheral region, but an integral part of one country.”
Together with Western Galilee Now (WGN), a consortium of small tourism operators and artisanal businesses that promotes awareness of the region’s boutique wines, beers, food, and produce, along with its cultural diversity, historic traditions, and scenic routes, KKL-JNF built the new Visitors Center. The center’s goal is to inspire visitors to partake in the wide variety of tourist attractions in and around the Western Galilee and encourage them to stay longer as there is so much to do, see, taste, and enjoy. Michal Shiloah Gal-Nor, the WGN CEO, noted that tourism is about people, “and this is exactly why we share a common goal with KKL-JNF, which is also about people.”
The newly elected KKL-JNF Co-Chairman Dr. Uzi Landau recalled the words Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to the Jewish people when he laid siege to Acre in 1799: “Now is the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of civic rights among the population of the universe which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship God in accordance with your faith, publicly and most probably forever.”
“We need to learn history,” the Minister concluded, “because if we don’t know why we’re here, we won’t remain here. KKL-JNF’s goal is to strengthen and build the Jewish people’s ancient homeland. JNF USA and its supporters are not just friends, they are our brothers and sisters, and together we will realize this goal and continue developing this holy land.”