"Fires do not distinguish between one person and another. During the terrible fire that raged here in the Carmel Forest, representatives from twenty different countries came to Israel to help us, including firefighters from the Palestinian Authority, and there was a powerful sense of solidarity." KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler was speaking at the dedication ceremony of a unique new ya'arit fire truck in the Carmel Forest, near the Carmel Forest Spa Hotel, at the site where KKL-JNF firefighters were able to stop the huge fire from spreading. The new fire truck was a gift of KKL-JNF France and the France Israel Foundation, which was represented by its president, Ms. Nicole Guedj. The ceremony was graciously emceed by KKL-JNF's Etti Lankri, who greeted the many distinguished guests from Israel and France.
"The Carmel is sacred to Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze," Stenzler continued. "It is mentioned both in the Old Testament and also in the New Testament. On behalf of KKL-JNF, I would like to thank our friends in France for their unfaltering and consistent support. I would especially like to thank Dr. Frederic Nordmann, the president of KKL France, for being our partner in good times and difficult times.
"From this spot, we can see the Mediterranean Sea, the sea that connects us to France and other countries, some of which Israel does not have diplomatic relations with. France could be a bridge for us to some of those countries. KKL-JNF is not a political organization, but we have an international agenda when it comes to being of assistance wherever we can. For example, just last week we dedicated a model youth village and farming project in Rwanda. KKL-JNF has achieved international renown for its expertise in afforestation in desert regions, but we are not just about trees. Water is another field that we are very active in, and as of today, 50% of the water Israel allots for agriculture comes from KKL-JNF reservoirs.
"I would also like to thank the firemen from the Haifa district, who are represented here today by Commander Mordechai Sherman, the deputy director of the Northern Israel Firefighting Services, for the self-sacrificing dedication they exhibited while fighting the Carmel forest fire. I would like to hope that in the future, they will be unemployed, but the combination of extreme dryness and the winds we have here are unfortunately a sure recipe for future fires. This is why the new KKL-JNF forest fire truck is so important for us. It was designed according to KKL-JNF specifications, based on the lessons we learned from the Carmel fire, and one of its special features is its ability to travel on forest trails. We are very grateful to Ms. Nicole Guedj, the president of the France Israel Foundation, for her support of this initiative, and wish her many more years of helping people in different places throughout the world."
Fire Trucks are an essential component of KKL-JNF’s fire-fighting network. When a wildfire in one of Israel's forests or woods is spotted, as was the case in the recent Carmel forest fire, it is essential for the firefighters to reach the site as fast as possible. Fire trucks that are outfitted with the latest equipment and can reach inaccessible sites throughout the country are vital for the survival of our green environment.
Ms. Guedj, a former French minister and president of the France Israel Foundation, said that talk of cooperation between the foundation and KKL-JNF had begun even before the fire: "A number of projects were being considered, but then the fire broke out, and we decided that helping to prevent such a catastrophe from reoccurring was the top priority. Material damage can be fixed, ecological damage is more difficult and takes longer to remedy, but the pain of loss of life is forever. One of the prison service cadets who was on that bus was a French woman from Dimona who made her home in Israel, and her picture will always be engraved in our memories. We look forward to future cooperation with KKL-JNF."
Mr. Nicolas Roche, Deputy French Ambassador to Israel, said that he was delighted to be at the dedication ceremony and added that he felt a personal connection to the fire fighting efforts: "It so happened that I was visiting the nearby Israeli army base from which the airplanes that participated in the fire fighting activities took off. There are a number of ways that we feel connected to today's ceremony. First of all, on an emotional level - we have a vivid memory of the 44 people who lost their lives on the bus that went up in flames not far from here. Second, although this was a terrible tragedy, the help Israel received is evidence that Israel can count on France and other European countries during times of crisis. Finally, there is the actual material assistance we sent at the time, which consisted of five fire planes and 80 tons of fire retardants.
"Looking at everything in perspective, it is my firm belief that the spirit of regional cooperation and bottom-up approach that we saw during the Carmel forest fire can be a positive impetus for the nations of the Mediterranean basin in the future."
Dinah Sorek of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is also the vice-president of the France Israel Foundation, explained a bit about the foundation: "The foundation was founded in 2005. It was a joint initiative of the leaders of Israel and France at the time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Jacques Chirac, and the idea was to encourage cooperation between the two countries in the fields of economics, culture, science and education, among others. This is the first time that the foundation has participated in a joint project with KKL-JNF, but as Ms. Guedj noted, it will not be the last."
Dr. Frederic Nordmann, president of KKL-JNF France, recalled that the fire had made a powerful impression on the friends of KKL-JNF in France: "People were calling our office and asking how they could help. We worked together with the France Israel Foundation and decided that purchasing a fire truck was one of the best ways to channel people's desire to support Israel. We are very pleased to actually see the fire truck, which is ready to join KKL-JNF's fleet and help contain future fires."
Colonel Franck Louvier, the head of the French-Israeli Firefighters, said that he came to Israel for the first time when he was 13. "I was here to help fight the fires that started during the Second Lebanese War, an experience I will never forget. My intention is to make aliya to Israel in another year, and my plan is to live in Eilat. I hope to continue to serve as a firefighter when I move here, but as a volunteer."
The moving ceremony concluded with the national anthems of both France and Israel.
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