"Israel and Italy have beaches on the same sea, the Mediterranean, and our ties go back in time, but it is not only a sea that we have in common. Both of our countries share a historical love of nature, and both of our countries are dedicated to preserving their natural heritage." KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, greeted the President of Italy, His Excellency Mr. Giorgio Napolitano at KKL-JNF's Grove of the Nations tree-planting site in Jerusalem, where President Napolitano and his wife planted an olive tree.
Upon arrival at the site, which is located on Mount Herzl, just below the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, President Napolitano unveiled a plaque marking the special occasion. The brief but moving ceremony was presided over by Ing. Raffaele Sassun, president of KKL Italy, in the presence of Mr. Yitzhak Eldan, Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol and other dignitaries.
KKL-JNF World Chairman noted that Israel and Italy's dedication to the environment is expressed by the natural parks and forests both countries are committed to protecting: "This is especially important in an industrialized world. KKL-JNF has been doing this for over one hundred years, and its work has defined Israel's landscape. One of our jobs is to make the desert bloom and to stop desertification, and we can make this vision a reality thanks to the help and support of our friends throughout the world. Our friends in Italy have supported projects in the Segev region, at Yatir Forest, which is a unique experiment in afforestation in a semi-arid locale, and of course at Italy Park.
"We believe that the way to achieve our common goals is by cooperation and joining hands. I would like to take this opportunity to propose that KKL-JNF and Italy commit to collaborate on projects related to water, organic olive trees and agricultural research. In this context, I would also like to mention the "Olive Tree Route" project, which is part of UNESCO and the Council of Europe's initiative to establish an "Olive Tree Route" around the entire Mediterranean basin, and which we inaugurated a month ago together with the president of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres.
"Trees in general, and olive trees in particular, symbolize growth and longevity. On behalf of the people of Israel and on behalf of KKL-JNF, I wish President Napolitano and the Italian people long life, prosperity and growth."
Mr. Raffaele Sassun, president of KKL Italy, noted that President Napolitano was a champion of democracy and a staunch defender of the Jewish people. "President Napolitano has been at the forefront of the war against anti-Semitism, and has never hesitated to unmask the various forms anti-Semitism might take. He has spoken out against the phenomenon of Holocaust denial, which is unfortunately so rampant at the present time, and he has noted that anti-Zionism is often a modern form of anti-Semitism. His brave stance has been a constant source of pride for Italian Jewry.
"KKL-JNF projects express our desire for peace with our neighbors. KKL Italy supports the new Halutzit villages, which are situated at the triangle created by the borders of Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. We want to see the endless stretches of yellow desert sand transformed into lush green fields and communities. Mr. President, I thank you for your support, which has been both moral and practical, and for your personal identification with Italian Jewry and the state of Israel."
KKL-JNF Co-Chairman Avraham Duvdevani read the Planter's Prayer in Hebrew. Immediately afterwards, President Napolitano and his wife planted their olive tree in the Grove of the Nations, enjoying a perfect view of the carpet of green forests that surrounds Jerusalem.
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