For Saskatchewanian reporter Paul Hanley, witnessing Israel’s advancements in
desert reclamation and thriving Negev agricultural areas is an inspiration for
further such developments in the much colder, but semi-arid climate of his
Saskatoon, Canada, hometown.
“Water conservation is a big interest there
as well,” said Hanley, a reporter for The Saskatoon Star Phoenix
, who is also
currently in the process of building an ecological village in his
“Seeing how everything is being done here and how it’s all
connected to tourism – I’m sure our readers will be interested in that as
Hanley is one of seven journalists participating in a Negev Desert
ecotourism program coordinated by Ben-Gurion University’s EcoNegev group, a
project organized by 21 students participating in a Stand- WithUs fellowship
program. From Monday through Thursday, the predominantly environmental
and tourism reporters – three from Russia, two from Italy and one from Spain, in
addition to Hanley – are sampling Israeli cleantech innovation, visiting organic
agricultural sites and enjoying an ancient winery, according to Tally Eyal, a
masters’ student in the politics of conflict and the EcoNegev project
“We want their millions of readers to know about this Israel,
and we’d also like to encourage tourism to the Negev, and if we can, ecotourism
as well,” Eyal told The Jerusalem Post
on Monday, during the first day of the
The StandWithUs educational organization’s fellowship, which trains
150 students from six universities across the country to become ambassadors for
Israel, is in its fifth year and aims to “present a positive aspect of Israel to
the international community,” according to a statement from the
While gaining expertise in public diplomacy and Israel education
through a year-long series of workshops, each campus takes on a project that is
completely dependent on the group’s individual initiative, according to
“We wanted to take Israel education in a different direction,” said
Eyal. “Because we are in the Negev, we wanted to do something that brings the
Negev to life.”
From there, the students figured they’d take on what Eyal
called an “ecological twist” for the project.
“Ecotourism is a rapidly
growing field,” she said. “Each year internationally it grows threefold. There’s
so much potential there.”
“We’re doing ‘academic meets tourism,’” Eyal
The journalists have also already visited the Carmey Avdat Winery,
which features an “ancient” irrigation system that is “completely ecological,”
and they will also visit the Dead Sea on Thursday, according to Eyal.
Hanley, who as a member of the Bahai faith has been on four previous trips to
Israel, the EcoNegev tour is giving him the opportunity to really see more parts
of the country and witness ecological techniques that could be helpful at home,
such as using brackish water to irrigate tomatoes, he said.
region is really fascinating,” he added.
“We’ve seen some amazing things
already on the first day. Right now we’re in Nitzana, where they’re doing
educational work with kids on environmental issues.”
After the trip, the
EcoNegev group hopes that the “millions of readers” of these journalists will be
interested in seeing Israeli coverage “that is not about the conflict” and that
will “encourage tourism to the Negev,” according to Eyal.
“We don’t think
that now there will be a crazy influx of people to the Negev but these people do
have influence,” she said.
“Even if you plant the idea, they’ll remember
the name – the Negev.”