Solidarity Mission - Nordic States Delegation Visits Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Desert

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"KKL-JNF is not just about supporting Israel, it's also about supporting creative solutions to living in and with the desert."

On Monday, May 18, KKL-JNF Solidarity Mission participants from Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway and Sweden toured the Negev and saw how KKL-JNF supports life in the harsh desert climate.

Group photo at Mitzpe Ramon. Photo: Tania Susskind

Black Arrow Memorial. Photo: Tania Susskind

For the Nordic States delegation to the KKL-JNF Solidarity Mission, Sunday, May 17th began with a visit to the missile-proof indoor playground in Sderot, which was built thanks to the support of JNF USA. They then proceeded to the Black Arrow Memorial, a site built by KKL-JNF and Israeli Army veterans in memory of the soldiers who fell during the state's early years while protecting the region from attacks originating in the Gaza Strip. Gaza City is just over the horizon, and Tami, the KKL-JNF guide, told the guests about the security threat Israel has faced from Gaza throughout its history, including the events that lead to Operation Protective Edge last summer.

From the Black Arrow Memorial the group drove deep into the desert, to the Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon. On the outskirts of the city, the bus turned into a side road that led them to KKL-JNF's Desert Edge project, which is supported by KKL-JNF Holland. Desert Edge supports innovations initiated by individuals or groups in the fields of desert agriculture and eco-tourism. The group visited one such project, the vineyards of the Ramon Winery, an economic-social initiative. The vineyard, which was planted five years ago, was begun by fourteen families that live in Mitzpe Ramon. They are already producing some remarkable wines, which the group tasted while sitting in the shade of a pergola that is part of the visitors' center, the infrastructure of which was also built thanks to a donation from KKL-Holland. Wine grapes grown here have a unique taste, due to the huge difference in temperature between the cold nights and hot days.

Mitzpe Ramon vineyard. Photo: Tania Susskind

Max Federmann
, the President of KKL Sweden, said that recently, "the Nordic States are building a stronger KKL-JNF by working together. We are also receiving support from the Swedish Christian community. KKL Sweden focuses on the Negev, and our projects include creating a green lung around Beersheva and financing the Ambassadors Forest water project. I had never seen this vineyard in the middle of the desert before, and, I must say, I am very impressed."

Ethel Salutskij, president of KKL Finland, commented on the news of KKL-JNF being banned at the last minute from participating in the World Village Festival taking place in Helsinki. "Later on in the day, I will be interviewed by a major Finnish newspaper. Anti-Israel organizations are distributing various untruths about KKL-JNF activities, and although I don't know how this will turn out, at least we have a voice and are being heard. We also have many Christian friends in Finland who support us and support Israel." Iakov Dondych, Vice President of KKL-JNF Finland, added that "what is most important is to emphasize the positive side of what we are doing, which helps people to relate to us differently."

Mitzpe Ramon water reservoir. Photo: Tania Susskind

It was very hot on Sunday, but that didn't dampen the Nordic States' resolve to visit as many KKL-JNF sites in the Mitzpe Ramon region as possible. The next stop was on a hilltop near the entrance to Mitzpe Ramon, where the delegation was met by Roni Marom, the local mayor. Marom explained that the barren hill on which they were standing is where KKL-JNF will be planting the Royal Grove, with the support of JNF Holland. "During the coming year, KKL-JNF will upgrade the older forest across the road," Marom said, "and this site will become the official entrance to Mitzpe Ramon. For the future, I envision a small bridge that will connect between the existing forest grove and the new one that will be planted."

At the Mitzpe Ramon water reservoir, which was also built by JNF Holland in honor of King Willem Alexander, Freddie Rosenberg, the Executive Director of JNF Holland, surprised many of the participants when he told them that there was a strong connection between the Dutch royal family and KKL-JNF.

Mitzpe Ramon water reservoir. Photo: Tania Susskind

In fact, there are KKL-JNF sites named for Queen Beatrix and Juliana, the previous queen. King Willem-Alexander is a supporter of water management issues, "which is why he is very interested in KKL-JNF's water projects," Freddie said. "In general, the Dutch have a lot of experience with water. They have too much water and Israel has too little, so in some funny way, the two countries complement each other. This water reservoir makes the desert agriculture we saw earlier possible. It is important for people to understand that supporting KKL-JNF is not just about supporting Israel, it's also about supporting creative solutions to living in and with the desert."
Wolfgang Muller, the president of KKL-JNF Norway, was in Israel with his wife, Jenny. "I'm a gardener by profession, and I studied landscaping in Israel. On our 80th birthday, that is, when I was 41 and Jenny was 39," he joked, "the gift we gave ourselves was to plant 2000 trees in Israel. As the president of KKL-JNF Norway, my goal is to keep the office going and involve

Mitzpe Ramon crater. Photo: Tania Susskind

new people, including Christian Zionists. And my wife Jenny, who is more technology-wise than I am, has a Facebook page where she updates our friends back home about all the amazing projects we're seeing on our visit here."

No visit to Mitzpe Ramon could be complete without a walk along the edge of the Ramon Crater on the breathtaking promenade, also a KKL-JNF project. Linda Herzberg, who is on the board of KKL Denmark, said. "I want to make a difference and to let people know that Israel is a lot more than just wars and problems, as it would seem from the media. When I tell people that I'm from an Israeli environmental organization, their reactions change. Doors are opened, and for me, that's what KKL-JNF is about."

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