Greek Prime Minister Plants an Olive Tree

August 2010

Expressing the hope that more olive trees would be planted in the Middle East rather than bombs, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou planted an olive tree in the KKL-JNF Grove of Nations in the Jerusalem Forest.

“Thank you for the work you are doing for peace and the initiative you have taken in planting this historical tree and symbol which is so close to our hearts throughout the world but also in Greece,” the Prime Minister said as he prepared to plant the olive tree sapling. “The olive tree also symbolizes peaceful coexistence - something we need so much in this region and something we are working hard for in the Middle East, something we want to see in our region in southeastern Europe.”

Prime Minister Papandreou at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Prime Minister Papandreou at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Prime Minister Papandreou’s two day visit to Israel on July 21-22 was the first visit to Israel by a Greek prime minister in three decades. During his visit the Greek leader met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Opposition Leader Kadima MK Tzipi Livni. He also toured the Old City of Jerusalem which included a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and a meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos.

Greeting the prime minister at the Grove of Nations as he prepared to unveil the special plaque commemorating the planting of the olive tree sapling, Ambassador Yitzhak Eldan, Chief of State Protocol for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed deep satisfaction to see the Prime Minister of Greece - who several years ago initiated the Mediterranean Olive Tree Route at UNESCO and the Council of Europe - planting an olive tree in the Grove of Nations.

Eldan, who was the initiator of the Olive Tree Route in Israel, worked together with KKL-JNF for three years to establish the route in Israel which begins in the Upper Galilee and ends in the Negev. “Jerusalem and the Grove of Nations are at the heart of this route,” he noted, adding that the route is symbolic of peace, intercultural dialogue, education and sustainable development in the Middle East.

Andy Michelson, Head of Protocol for KKL-JNF, warmly welcomed the Prime Minister and his delegation which included Dimitrios Droutsas, Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs, Georgios Petalotis, Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister and Government Spokesman, Kyriakos Loukakis, Greek Ambassador to Israel, Ioannis Zepos, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dimitrios Dollis, Advisor to the Prime Minister and Christos Panagopoulos, Ambassador Director of Diplomats. The delegation members received maps of the Olive Tree Route paths in Israel.

Greek Prime Minister speaking at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Greek Prime Minister speaking at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Michelson noted that planting trees in Israel has been a very important part of the KKL-JNF ideology for the past 110 years. He told Prime Minister Papandreou that KKL-JNF viewed his visit to the Grove of Nations as a very important part of his historic visit. “Here you get to come and plant a tree with your own hands. That tree grows and it is a living thing", said Michelson.
Avi Dickstein, KKL-JNF's Executive Director of the Resources and Development Division, representing Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman, noted the deep historic contributions Greece had made to the world, including the concept of democracy, the legacy of the Greek philosophers and the Olympics. He also noted the similarities between the climate in Israel and Greece, and the peoples of both countries.
“We share a close friendship and your historic visit enhances that connection,” he said. “With your visit here you are joining the fight against global warming and improving the quality of life of people around the world.” Dickstein noted that with 55 offices worldwide - including one in Athens and one in Saloniki – KKL-JNF deals solely with the issues of forestation, land reclamation and water conservation. “We are extremely proud and happy you came here today to plant a tree in Jerusalem, the symbolic city of peace of the entire world,” he said.
Prime Minister Papandreou, who had come to the Grove of Nations following a visit to Yad Vashem, noted that several years before, when Greece was about to host the 2004 Olympic games they too had initiated a similar park which allowed visiting heads of states to plant an olive tree in support of the ancient idea of the Olympic Truce where warring cities and groups agreed to put aside their differences in favor of finding a solution to their disputes. He noted the most important prize in the first Olympics in ancient Greece was an olive branch wreath.
“These (similar parks) show how close we are and I think this is symbolic of the strengthening of the relations between the Greeks and the Israelis,” said the prime minister.
Prior to the planting of the sapling, Greek Ambassador to Israel Kyriakos Loukakis read the Planter’s Prayer in Greek while Israeli Ambassador to Greece Ali Yahya read the prayer in Hebrew.
Following the planting ceremony, KKL-JNF's Dickstein presented the prime minister with an especially framed certificate of appreciation marking the occasion. He noted, following a private conversation with Prime Minister Papandreou, that the prime minister had agreed on a follow-up seminar in Greece on developing cooperation in the region in regard to the olive tree, adding that this would add to the peace efforts.
Prime Minister Papandreou said planting a tree was truly a very positive action aiding people worldwide and Michelson invited the Prime Minister to come again in the future to visit the tree and witness how it had grown.