"Although there were considerations about canceling this conference owing to the current global financial crisis, I am certain that we made the right decision to go ahead. I am especially gratified that the conference is once again meeting in the Negev, which is a statement that no matter what, Negev development is at the top of our priority list." Ami Uliel, director of KKL-JNF Southern Region was describing KKL-JNF's plans for the Negev to the participants of the 2009 KKL-JNF World Marketing Conference. "At present," he continued, "there are two major projects that are changing the Negev. The first is Nahal Beersheva Park, which is partly completed, although there is still much to develop. The second project is desert savannization, which refers to the thousands of acres being planted with our world-famous desert afforestation methods. We should remember that trees are not passÃ© - they still remain the essence of KKL-JNF."
Conference participants spent Monday, 4th May, touring the Negev and seeing KKL-JNF projects as they are being carried out on site. Ms. Keren Muhs of KKL-JNF Germany put it, "Although I know the Negev and have read KKL-JNF materials on its work in the region, seeing it yesterday gave me the real experience of what life in the Negev is really about." Everyone agreed that the best method of connecting friends of KKL-JNF to the Negev is to bring them to see KKL-JNF's work firsthand.
The topic that most impressed conference participants was the research on both desert agriculture and sustainability, in which KKL-JNF is at the forefront. "I'm amazed to see what is being accomplished in the Negev," remarked Frank Wilson of KKL-JNF Canada. "I feel that we need to invest more time and effort in sharing the fruits of our research with the rest of the world. On the safari truck tour, we heard about an Ethiopian delegation that was in Israel last week, learning how to adapt our anti-desertification methods to Ethiopian conditions." Sarah Gold of Australia added that in addition to bringing more people to Israel to learn about KKL-JNF firsthand, "we really need to inform about the wonderful work we are doing together with third-world countries."
Itai Freeman, director of the Nahal Beersheva Park project, went into greater detail about the park, which is a KKL-JNF flagship project, intended to serve as an impetus for Negev development in general. "The 1250-acre metropolitan park is amongst the most effective ways to improve the quality of life in Beersheba, the capital of the Negev. The river only flows during winter flash floods and the park is like a small oasis in the south of the city. Nahal Beersheba Park is actually an environmental reclamation project since it is located on the site of a former quarry and garbage dump and will transforming the city's backyard into its front garden. The largest project in the park - the central promenade - is already in use. Another anchor project - restoring the historic Bet Eshel - links ancient history from thousands of years ago to the history of modern Israel. The artificial lake is completely based on recycled water that originates in water projects funded by KKL-JNF. Other projects underway include Abraham's Well, the Turkish bridge restoration, the ANZAC project, and more. This Tu BiShvat plantings were organized for Beersheba children - many of whom visited the area for the first time. The park is a long term project, with a strategic plan extending to 2020."
Negev development and the KKL-JNF projects in other parts of Israel are, needless to say, dependant on funding and during the current economic crisis, it is no easy task to maintain the level of contributions that KKL-JNF has enjoyed to date. Amos Asa-El, senior Jerusalem Post columnist and staff columnist for the Wall Street Journal, presented a review of the world economic situation and its effect upon Israel. He noted that one indication of the gravity of the global economic situation is that everyone has started to talk about economics. "Fortunately, the situation in Israel today is paradoxically the exact opposite of the worldwide situation. The Israeli economy is no longer centralized. The major turning point came in 1985, when Israel experienced an inflation rate of 413% and the government took drastic measures, including abolishing subsidies, freeing market mechanisms, slashing the defense budget by 20% and freezing prices. Since then the Israeli economy began to mature. In the 1990's we absorbed a massive wave of immigration from the Former Soviet Union, who provided new consumers. Our technology became famous abroad.
"In 2003, we faced our worse recession ever along with a terrible wave of terrorism. Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu initiated a second economic reform, transforming the Israeli economy into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In today's crisis Israel is on the receiving end and can only treat symptoms, not causes. In short, Israel has entered the global crisis in much better condition than many other countries. Nevertheless, the non-profit sector has suffered because many non-profit organizations are supported from abroad.
"There are, however, some positive points. The non-profit industry has been affected mainly on the macro level of large donors. Small-scale donors have been much less affected and still want to remain participants in the development of Israel. The crisis could increase immigration to Israel from developed countries, who are feeling increasingly insecure. I am confident in our ability to weather these difficult economic times."
In response to Mr. Asa-el's lecture, conference participants reviewed the situation in their respective countries and it became apparent that although each country is different and deals differently with the situation, there are advantages to promoting KKL-JNF that are shared by all countries. As Michael Jacobson of the USA phrased it, "All of us in the greater KKL-JNF community are in this together and this is where we need to focus." This is particularly true now when emphasizing KKL-JNF's ecological orientation and world-class accomplishments in water recycling, desert agriculture and other fields is critical. The shared feeling was that especially in today's economic climate, KKL-JNF is considered the smart place to fund and its full transparency policy is a marked advantage.
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