(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
The Cyprus Ministry of Tourism has presented the State of Israel with a very special gift in honor of the New Year; a donation of 300 trees to be planted in the Carmel Forest, and the symbolic planting of an olive tree by the Cypriot Ambassador. “Instead of sending a holiday gift to the Israeli travel agents who work with us, as we do every year, we opted for an expression of friendship between the two nations by means of a gift with added value,” said Louisa Varaclas, Director of the Cyprus Tourism Organization in Israel.
At the ceremony, Cyprus Ambassador to Israel Dimitriis Hatziargyrou said that relations between the two countries have been flourishing for years, despite the turbulent region in which they are located. “Planting an olive tree is a symbolic act for all peoples, representing hope for peace and love for nature,” he said. “It is a life-giving act, which is exactly what KKL JNF does in all the areas of its endeavors.”
The Ambassador said that before arriving in Israel, he had expected to find an arid wasteland here. He wondered how there could be such a green and pretty country in the Middle East, and he learned about KKL-JNF's wonderful work. “The trees we are planting here are the best sign of friendship between our countries,” concluded Ambassador Hatziargyrou.
The Carmel Horn Forest, where the planting was done, covers an area of around 300 hectares near Yokneam, whose northern edge meets the Carmel National Park.
Cyprus was one of the first countries that came to Israel’s aid during the huge forest fire in the Carmel region about ten months ago. The Cypriot government sent aircraft and teams of fire fighters to help combat the flames. After helping to save the forest, Cyprus is now participating in its rehabilitation.
“We Israelis will never forget the help you extended to us in a time of trouble,” said Andy Michelson, KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol. Michelson emphasized the importance of planting trees by quoting a traditional Jewish teaching: "If you are planting a tree, and you hear that the Messiah has arrived, you must first finish planting the tree and only then go forth to greet him."
Israel travel agents who work with Cyprus were among the honored guests attending the ceremony. About 40,000 Israeli tourists visit Cyprus annually, while in the other direction, many Cypriot citizens visit Israel for advanced medical treatment. Moshe Avisar, representing the travel agents, expressed his great appreciation for the excellent cooperation between the travel agents and the Cyprus Tourism Organization.
Aharon Lopez, Chairman of the Israel-Cyprus Friendship Association
and former Israel Ambassador to Cyprus, noted that the good relations between the nations, and between the governments of Israel and Cyprus, are manifest not only in mutual aid in times of crisis, but also in joint initiatives in business and tourism. “Planting these trees is a special blessing for the new year,” said Lopez, “representing the strong bonds between the nations and expressing support for the Carmel rehabilitation efforts.”
After the ceremony, which was conducted in Hebrew and Greek by Director of KKL-JNF's Fundraising Department Michael Ben Abu, the ceremony participants got to work planting trees. Ambassador Hatziagyrou proved that diplomacy was but one of his talents as he masterfully worked with the spade to plant the olive tree. "It does not look like the first time you're planting a tree," Michelson remarked, smiling.
The event was aptly summed up by Louisa Varaclas, who said, “As the trees grow, so should the connections between Israel and Cyprus grow and prosper.”
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