Former German Minister Dirk Niebel Visits KKL-JNF Sites in Israel

Sunday, February 02, 2014 2:27 PM

"Israel really is a beautiful country, and I sincerely believe that a political solution can be reached with its neighbors for everyone's benefit and welfare."

Former German Minister Dirk Niebel visits KKL-JNF projects around Israel from Jan 27 – 31, as a special guest of KKL-JNF. Sites visited included Italy Park, the Yad Hanna Reservoir and Purification Plant and Hula Lake Park. Mr. Niebel also planted a tree in the Grove of Nations in Jerusaelm.

L-R: Tour guide Yishai, Aviram Tzuk, Dirk Diebel, Sarah Singer and Jana Marcus-Natanova.
Photo: Tania Susskind

"Without the work of KKL-JNF, many very important projects would never have been accomplished. KKL-JNF has been able to do what it's done thanks to people all over the world who care about the living conditions and quality of life in Israel," said Mr. Dirk Niebel, former German Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development. Mr. Niebel was visiting Israel from Monday, January 27 to Friday, January 31 as KKL-JNF's guest. Former Minister Niebel's visit included meetings with KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler and other KKL-JNF officials, along with visits to KKL-JNF projects throughout the country.

Yad Hanna Reservoir and Purification Plant. Photo: Tania Susskind

On Wednesday, Mr. Niebel visited sites in central and northern Israel, accompanied by Ms. Sarah Singer, the vice president of KKL-JNF Germany, who initiated the visit, and Ms. Jana Marcus-Natanova
, director of KKL-JNF's European Desk. The day began at KKL-JNF's Italy Park, which is located on the banks of the Alexander River. The minister heard about how pollution and waste had turned the river's channel into a fetid sewage canal. A major source of pollution was effluents from the Nablus streambed, the main tributary of the Alexander. Together with other organizations, KKL-JNF began changing the situation in 1995 by purifying the river and creating recreation areas and paths for hikers, cyclists and ATVs.

Mr. Niebel's next stop was the Yad Hanna Reservoir and Purification Plant, where he was greeted by Umberto Yaakov, the plant director. This installation is located right on the border between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, literally next to the security fence. Umberto explained that before the fence was built, the residents of Kibbutz Yad Hannah were constantly shot at and suicide bombers infiltrated their way through to nearby Netanya. With the help of KKL-JNF, building of the reservoir and plant was completed in 2003. Its purpose is to treat the sewage that runs from Nablus and Tulkarem into the Alexander River. Originally, it was intended to serve as a model of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians but unfortunately, since Second Intifada, the Palestinian Authority has refused to speak with Israel.

A spot of bird watching at Hula Lake Park. Photo: Tania Susskind

"The amounts of sewage we receive from Nablus and the villages around it are constantly increasing," Umberto explained. "A German-Palestinian development project responsible for building a purification plant on the Palestinian side of the fence was recently dedicated, which improved things for awhile. A couple weeks ago, however, we stopped receiving treated water and once again the riverbed brought us terrible sewage. I tried to call the Palestinians to see what had happened, but they didn't answer my calls. This is the trouble with being dependent on unreliable sources who often don't want to cooperate for political reasons."

After lunch in the picturesque Upper Galilee village of Tzfat, the small group traveled to Hula Lake, where they were met by Aviram Tzuk, KKL-JNF Upper Galilee and Golan Region Director, who talked about the past, present and future of this breathtaking park, where over 500 million birds of different species stop over on their migratory flights between Europe and Africa. The KKL‑JNF restoration project has turned the area, which covers 75 sq km, from an ecological disaster into an area flourishing with a great diversity of vegetation and wildlife.

The crane feeding project. Photo: Tania Susskind

The Hula Valley has also become a great attraction for tourists, with bird watching sites, waterways full of fish, recreational areas in natural surroundings, animals, birds and a great range of possibilities for cycling and walking. Aviram also showed the guests a model of the new Stephen Harper Visitors Center, which had just been dedicated in the presence of the Canadian prime minister. "Hopefully, it will be ready by your next visit to Israel," Aviram added.

Hula Lake, which attracts over 400,000 visitors annually, was declared one of the world's ten top bird-watching sites by BBC Wildlife. Besides the many songbirds, waterfowl and birds of prey, about 35,000 cranes arrive in the autumn months, and about 15,000 of them stay for the winter. Local farmers, whose fields used to get severely damaged by the birds, worked together with KKL-JNF to find a way to co-exist. At a cost of 2.5 million NIS annually, KKL-JNF feeds the cranes in a specially designated area to keep them away from the fields. As the former minister saw for himself during a tour of the site, the park enables visitors to see the cranes close-up, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Planting a tree with Efi Stenzler in the Jerusalem Forest. Photo: Rafi Ben Hakun, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

For former minister Niebel, who also served as the vice president of the German Israeli Society, this was his first visit outside of Germany since he left politics at the end of December. "I'm thinking about what I want to do in the future. When Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Germany, both he and Chancellor Merkel asked me to identify projects in Africa that both countries could cooperate on. I think KKL-JNF could be an excellent partner for trilateral cooperation with Israel and Germany, together with the JNF Germany office. There is government funding for initiatives related to fields that KKL-JNF is active in, such as saving biodiversity and sustainability."

Before leaving, Mr. Niebel expressed his hope that peace will come to this region.
"Since I've been in politics, I've visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority many times. Israel really is a beautiful country, and I sincerely believe that a political solution can be reached with its neighbors for everyone's benefit and welfare. I don’t think we have any other alternative."

Photo Gallery: Click on each thumbnail for the full image