A Symbol of Peace - Greek President Plants an Olive Tree

July 2011

“The nation of Greece would like to express its deep love and friendship for another ancient people in this region, the nation of Israel,” said Dr. Karolos Papoulias, the president of Greece, during a brief tree planting ceremony at KKL-JNF's Grove of the Nations tree planting site. The grove is located just beneath the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Center, where the Greek delegation had visited prior to the tree planting ceremony. Papoulias, who was in Israel on a three-day official visit from July 10-13, was accompanied by his wife May, Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis, Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos and Deputy Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Yannis Maniati.

The Greek president and his delegation were greeted by KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, along with KKL-JNF Head of Protocol Andy Michelson and Michael Ben Abu, director of KKL-JNF's Israel Fundraising Department. Upon his arrival at the site, Dr. Papoulias unveiled a plaque commemorating his visit.

President Papoulias planting at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
President Papoulias planting at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Referring to the olive tree sapling he was about to plant as a “symbol of peace,” President Papoulias said he wanted to convey the deep sense of friendship felt by the Greek people for the State of Israel: “We are united with your nation historically and culturally, and in our joint desire to advance security and peace. I hope that the new chapter recently opened in the ties between Greece and Israel will be a new beginning that will continue to develop and flourish long into the future, just like this tree, for the sake of both of our nations, and also for the sake of all the nations of the region,” said the Greek president.

“I am very pleased that you have joined a long line of international leaders who have planted a tree in Jerusalem,” said KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, noting that in Jewish tradition, planting a tree is the most important expression of friendship. He added that by planting a tree, the president was following in the footsteps of Abraham who, when he wanted to make a covenant with Avimelech, king of Gerar, planted a tamarisk tree in what is today the Israeli city of Beersheba.

“Greece and Israel are neighbors, both bordering on the Mediterranean Sea," Stenzler continued. "We have firsthand knowledge of the professionalism of your country's foresters and nature protection rangers. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the president and the people of Greece for coming to Israel’s aid during the December forest fire which devastated the northern Carmel forest. Greek planes were among the first to come help Israel put out the raging fire. Thanks to you and the planes you sent, we were able to prevent a larger disaster,” Stenzler said, to a round of applause from the Israeli members of the audience.

The president unveils the Greek plaque at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The president unveils the Greek plaque at the Grove of Nations. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Wishing a speedy and healthy recovery for the Greek economy, Stenzler concluded: “We at KKL-JNF would be pleased to cooperate on ventures related to water, energy conservation, afforestation and more, together with Greece, a country we love and respect.”
Upon his arrival in Israel, President Papoulias first met with Holocaust survivors. He also held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni. President Peres thanked Papoulias for helping to reduce tensions in the region by stopping the flotilla which had intended to sail from its shores for Gaza. Papoulias spoke of the difficult economic crisis his country was going through, noting that he would be happy to take advice from Peres, who was the prime minister during Israel’s economic crisis in the 1980’s. Papoulias also toured the Old City of Jerusalem, which included a visit to the Greek Patriarchate and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

After the words of greeting, President Papoulias and his wife planted and watered the olive tree sapling. KKL-JNF Chairman Stenzler presented the president with a certificate commemorating the planting of the tree and gave his wife a special gold KKL-JNF pin depicting a tree. As he and his delegation made his way to their cars, Papoulias mentioned to Stenzler that planting the tree had been a very emotional experience for him, because, he said, "for me, this symbolic gesture signifies peace.”