Yom Haatzmaut: Water – The Source of Life

KKL-JNF Water Reservoir Expert Moshe Cohen Chosen to Light Torch on Independence Day 2012.

Mitzpe Ramon Reservoir. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives
In honor of Israel’s 64th Independence Day, the Chairman of the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Ceremonies and Symbols chose thirteen people to light torches at the ceremony on the eve of Independence Day, the 3rd of Iyyar 5772 (April 25th, 2012), on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. That year’s theme was "Water, the Source of Life", and Moshe Cohen, who is responsible for KKL-JNF's water reservoir project, was one of the people who were chosen to light a torch.

Life-giving reservoirs

The thirteen representatives were chosen by a public committee headed by National Ceremony Center Director Hannah Hacohen. Avi Dickstein, Director of KKL-JNF’s Resources, Development and PR Division, who was also a member of the committee, explained: “The fact that a KKL-JNF staff member is lighting one of the torches is a sign of the esteem in which the State of Israel holds our organization and an expression of appreciation for KKL-JNF’s unique contribution to the country’s water economy. The 240 reservoirs established by KKL-JNF, help Israel’s water economy by collecting floodwater and purified sewage water. These reservoirs are designed to refill twice a year, which means that they contribute about half a billion cubic meters to the water economy and supply approximately half the quantity of water required for Israel’s agriculture.

Moshe Cohen. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives

“The reservoirs established by KKL-JNF with the assistance of its friends worldwide help irrigate half a million dunam of agricultural land (one dunam = approximately a quarter of an acre), which produce tens of thousands of tons of fruit, vegetables and flowers. Most of this produce is exported, providing a livelihood for thousands of families in Israel’s Negev and Galilee regions,” Dickstein concluded.

Mr. Stas Misezhnikov, the Minister of Tourism, who is the chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Ceremonies and Symbols, said: “At this particular juncture in time, the issue of water, which is the central theme of this year’s Independence Day, has assumed increased national importance. It is both a local and a global issue that impacts each and every individual who lives in Israel. The choice of this year’s torchbearers reflects the centrality of water for life in our country.”

Hannah Hacohen, Director of the National Ceremony Center at Israel’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, said: “This is a wonderful list of people who were chosen after a complex process. Each torchbearer represents initiative and a field of activity related to the central theme. Coping with the fact that Israel is a country dependent on life-bestowing water is part of our renaissance in our homeland and a sign of our ability to face the challenges that confront us by means of determination, initiative, creativity and a strong belief in the path we have chosen.”
Moshe Cohen – Thirty years in the service of mankind and the environment

At the Alonim Reservoir, 2007. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives

Moshe Cohen, KKL-JNF’s Director of Development Projects, was born in 1945 in Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov, and graduated from the Technion’s Faculty of Agricultural Engineering, where he specialized in soil, water and plant technology. Today he is considered a world-renowned expert on soil preservation, water reclamation for agricultural purposes and the diversion of runoff water for collection in reservoirs.

Moshe Cohen's biography reflects the best in Israeli society. When he was in Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov, he worked as a youth group educator. He served in the Israeli army as an infantry officer and an armored patrol officer, and when he returned to the kibbutz, he combined his educational duties with a variety of farm responsibilities.

He has been working since 1982 for KKL-JNF, an organization that focuses on the practical realization of Zionist ideals, a vision that corresponds to Cohen’s own. Under his management, KKL-JNF has so far constructed some 240 water reservoirs throughout Israel, desert regions included. Thanks to his work, KKL-JNF's water reservoirs have become Israel’s fourth aquifer.

Moshe developed KKL-JNF’s tricolor symbol, which uses brown, blue and green to symbolize the organization’s development, conservation and restoration projects according to the natural resources that they represent: soil (brown), water (blue) and landscape (green).
Innovative techniques

Yatir Reservoir. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Moshe Cohen is considered an oracle on a wide range of issues relating to soil and water, and he is also involved with the development of innovative water-purification techniques, such as KKL-JNF’s bio-filter project, which biologically purifies urban runoff. The water thus “saved” is used for recreation, tourism, fish-farming and to augment ground water.

Cohen represents KKL-JNF at international conferences and hosts experts visiting from abroad. Under his tutelage, KKL-JNF plays a leading role in river drainage and flood prevention in Israel. He is the driving force behind KKL-JNF’s river restoration project. Many of Israel's waterways were formerly sewage canals, but now, thanks to KKL-JNF, they have become beautiful public parks and preferred recreation sites for the Israeli public. He has also planned land management projects that have solved the problem of salinity in the fields of communities in the Dead Sea region. In addition, Cohen has done much work in KKL-JNF's Hula Valley and the Hula Lake restoration project, which has transformed the area from an ecological disaster into an area flourishing with a great diversity of vegetation and wildlife.

Zuqim Reservoir. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives

Moshe Cohen is the driving force behind KKL-JNF’s river restoration project. He is a member of the administration of many of Israel’s watercourses, including the Jordan, Lachish, Soreq, Besor, Beersheba, Harod and Taninim streams. Many of these waterways were formerly sewage canals, but now, thanks to KKL-JNF, they have become beautiful public parks and preferred recreation sites for the Israeli public.

Another unique field to which Moshe Cohen devotes his expertise is soil conservation and the prevention of erosion at KKL-JNF sites. One such project is soil conservation in Switzerland Forest, on the slopes above Tiberias, the goal of which is to prevent the steep hillside from eroding and endangering the lives of the people living below. Increased soil erosion also makes it difficult for farmers to continue working their fields.

Cohen also initiated and developed GIS - KKL-JNF’s Geographical Information System, a sophisticated mapping system that is a vital tool for the management of Israel’s forests and open spaces, which is also used by the fire service when necessary.

Rahat Reservoir. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Cohen also works together with Mr. Itzik Moshe, the Deputy Director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, who leads KKL-JNF efforts to combat desertification, a phenomenon that threatens vast areas throughout the world. Among the techniques used by KKL-JNF to combat this troublesome phenomenon is runoff-water harvesting, in which rainwater flowing downhill is collected and diverted to areas earmarked for planting. These areas are planted with bushes and trees, which, with the passage of time, enrich the soil with organic materials, thereby increasing the ground’s fertility potential and encouraging the growth of vegetation that provides grazing for flocks and wild animals.

Along with all his other occupations, Moshe Cohen continues to devote time to education, which has remained close to his heart.

The many and diverse KKL-JNF activities and projects that Moshe Cohen has furthered and developed have made an enormous contribution to the state, its people and its environment. He serves as an example of a person whose vital work for Israel is done quietly and with modesty.

The following are the names of the Independence Day torch lighters who were chosen by the Ministerial Committee on Ceremonies and Symbols:
1. Esther Avraham: A graduate of the Wingate Institute, now a hydro-therapist who treats handicapped civilians and IDF veterans.
2. Maya Braun: A twelfth-grade student at the Moshe Sharett School in Netanya who invented a solar-powered water purifier that won  first prize in a young scientists’ competition.
3. Rubik Danilovitz: Mayor of the city of Beersheba, which, according to the Bible, was named after the well dug by Abraham that provided water in an arid environment. The mayor will represent the residents of Beersheba and of Israel’s southern region, who have displayed fortitude and endurance while under constant attack by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip.
4. Alex Wiznitzer: Chairman of the Board of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
5. Moshe Cohen: A civil engineer and KKL-JNF professional who is the driving force behind the building of over 240 water reservoirs by KKL-JNF throughout the country.
6. Lior Lafber: A twelfth-grade student at the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa and a Sea Scout instructor in the Scouting Movement who will be joining the Navy next year as a cadet.
7. Uri Moran: An educator at Mossensohn Youth Village in Hod HaSharon who teaches and inspires his students to save and recycle water along with land conservation.
8. Herzl Naor: An expert in practical hydrology who for decades has been responsible for developing water sources in the Arava.
9. Orit Scotelski: A doctoral student of ecology and environmental policy who coordinates water issues in the Society for the Protection of Nature’s environmental protection division.
10. Shlomo Tzewiler: A farmer from Hod HaSharon who has introduced water-saving irrigation methods and has taught colleagues and young people to conserve water.
11. Professor Emeritus Menahem Rebhun: An internationally acclaimed scientist and academic famous for his work on filtering methods and improved wastewater and sewage treatment techniques.
12. Dr. Hanna Rosenfeld: Director of the National Center for Mariculture in Eilat and an expert on fish breeding.
13. Giora Shaham: A water systems analyst and the planner of the Hula Valley reflooding project. He is presently involved in planning and protecting the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) beaches.