Three and half months after responding to Israel's plea for help and firefighting planes to assist with containing the Carmel forest fire, the president of Cyprus, Mr. Demetris Christofias, visited Israel on Monday and was warmly received. At noon, President Christofias was invited to plant an olive tree in the Forest Grove of the Nations, which is located on Mt. Herzl, just below the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, after his visit to Yad Vashem.
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler invited the president of Cyprus to join the other heads of state who had already planted an olive tree in the Grove of the Nations, as a symbol of peace, partnership and brotherhood between the nations of the world. "In the Jewish tradition, the most sublime expression of friendship is planting a tree. When our father Abraham wanted to make a covenant with Avimelech, the king of Gerar, he planted a tree in Beersheba," Stenzler said.
The ceremony took place in the presence of Israel's ambassador to Cyprus, Mr. Michael Harari, and the ambassador of Cyprus to Israel, Mr. Demitrus Hatzigaro.
The Grove of the Nations is part of a unique project to preserve and develop the Jerusalem Forest. The grove was founded in 2003 as a joint project of KKL-JNF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the "Olive Tree Route" to promote intercultural dialogue, agriculture and peace among the nations of the region. To date, 48 presidents and heads of state from all over the world have planted trees in the forest grove, including the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, the late president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, the prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berluskoni, and also the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, who in March, 2007, planted the first olive tree in the grove that was part of the worldwide "Green Belt" project to plant one billion trees that was announced by the United Nations as part of the fight against global warming.
"This is a very unique forest grove, and when heads of state come to Israel, we have an opportunity to suggest planting a tree to them," Stenzler said. "Israel loves Cyprus – a large island with wonderful people that you, Mr. President, represent. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the help you gave us last December during the forest fire. We at KKL-JNF, which is the largest Jewish green organization in the world, are grateful to you and your people."
Stenzler told the audience about KKL-JNF activities over the last 109 years: "Our founding father, Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, was very disappointed during his first visit to the land of Israel. He had imagined Israel to be green and flowering, a land flowing with milk and honey. When he first arrived, he thought he had come to the wrong place. There were no trees or anything else here."
"110 years have passed since then, and in the meantime, KKL-JNF has planted over 240 million trees throughout Israel, from the north to the south. We are experts in afforestation in semi-arid regions. More than 70% of the area of the state of Israel is desert, and we literally accomplish miracles in them," Stenzler said. "After the world was taken aback by recent events in Japan, which served as a reminder of the tremendous power of the forces of nature, we must learn how we can work together with nature rather than against it. As the largest Jewish organization in the world involved with afforestation, global warming, water harvesting, desalination, sewage water recycling and many other ecological projects, we will be happy to cooperate with Cyprus on joint initiatives for everyone's benefit," he added.
The president of Cyprus, Mr. Christofias, thanked Stenzler for the invitation to plant a tree in the Grove of the Nations: "The olive tree is native to the Middle East and was always of importance to the two nations and their lands. The olive tree is the most popular tree for the nations of the Mediterranean basin. Homer, the great poet of Ancient Greece, called olive oil 'liquid gold' in his Odyssey, and the olive is also one of the most important symbols in the Bible," said the president of Cyprus. "Since ancient times, the olive tree has been a symbol of peace and intercultural dialogue, something that we, in Cyprus, are very much in need of and are working hard to achieve, and I am certain that this is also the case in Israel," the president said.
The president of Cyprus, who was visibly impressed by hearing about KKL-JNF's
forestry accomplishments, said that trees were one of the most important tools of the peoples of this region in their struggle against desertification and global warming: "I would like to congratulate KKL-JNF for this peace initiative. This is an impressive initiative and I am proud to be part of it."
The president of Cyprus also expressed his condolences to the families of the people who were killed in the Carmel forest fire: "I would like to express my sorrow for the national disaster that took place in Israel last December, the Carmel fire, which destroyed part of one of your most beautiful forests. My heart goes out to the victims of the fire and the bereaved families. At the same time, I am happy that we were able to provide our modest assistance to Israel in its time of need."
He also noted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told him that the seven fire fighting planes that Israel had recently leased would be available to Cyprus whenever it would need them.
When it came time to plant his tree, President Christofius said that planting a tree was a symbol of solidarity between the two nations: "It is brotherhood that defines the ties between us, also as regards the challenges the future holds in store for us. By planting this tree, symbolical an act as it might be, we are expressing our hope that the entire region will enjoy peace and prosperity."
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