The President of Macedonia:"We are building a memorial museum, not only as testimony to Jews in Macedonia, but also as an educational center for future generations."
The President of Croatia: "The planting today is not only in my and my wife's name, but in the name of the entire Croatian people."
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, in the company of his wife and a dignified entourage of aides and Croatian media teams, planted an olive sapling in the Grove of Nations on the edges of Mount Herzl and the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. President Mesic and his wife came to the planting site immediately after a fraught and moving visit to the Yad Vashem Museum. The emotions were still clearly visible on everyone's face.
That being the case, Croatian President Mesic dedicated most of his speech at the ceremony to the Holocaust. "A few minutes ago we paid our respects to the six million Jews who were murdered in the framework of the greatest crime humanity has ever known. But by planting this tree we are turning to life, facing the future and so, the planting today is not only in my and my wife's name, but in the name of the entire Croatian Republic."
President Mesic added that Croatia and Israel had a good relationship that was bereft of disagreements. That being said, he sought to underscore a number of historic facts that have been distorted. Firstly, atrocities that were committed by the Ustasha in Croatia during the Holocaust were not the acts of the Croatian people, but of people who had been brought from the outside by the occupying Germans. Secondly, the Croatian anti-fascist resistance movement against the Nazis was the largest in any part of former Yugoslavia and much of its strength was derived from its Jewish members. "The Jewish members of the resistance movement did not merely join the movement: they were among the organizers of the entire resistance; they contributed to the liberation of my country and of all Yugoslavia from the boot of Nazi occupation as among those at the head of the struggle against fascism were no fewer than nine Jewish generals."
Earlier in the day, in a separate ceremony, also highly charged with emotion, the President of Macedonia, Gjorgje Ivanov, and his wife had planted an olive sapling in the Grove of Nations overlooking Mount Herzl and the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. He spoke with great feeling before the planting. "The friendship between Macedonia and Israel is many years old. Our common history begins hundreds of years ago but was brutally severed when 99% of the Jewish communities of Macedonia were deported to death camps within one single day during World War II. In their memories, we are now building a memorial museum, which we hope will serve not only as testimony to the lives of the Jews in Macedonia, but also as an educational center for future generations."
The modest ceremonies were held in honor of the Presidents' visit to Israel, with KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler and Executive Director of KKL-JNF's Resources & Development Division Avi Dickstein welcoming each President and their entourages.
Stenzler addressed the President of Macedonia with respect and praise, drawing a connection between Israel's ancient history and the contemporary tree planting custom. "Ever since our forefather Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba to symbolize the pact between him and Abimelech, King of Gerar, we have continued with this tradition which expresses friendship. Over the past 108 years KKL-JNF has been re-foresting the State of Israel, planting some 230 million trees in the Land so that, in practice, there are far more forested areas in Israel today than there were at the start of the twentieth century - and we are continuing to plant."
As Stenzler spoke about the breadth of KKL-JNF activities - ranging from forestation through construction of reservoirs for recycled, purified water for agriculture to innovative agricultural R&D - he invited both the Macedonia experts and Macedonia's public organizations that are engaged in similar fields, to establish working relations with KKL-JNF and the State of Israel for the benefit of both countries and indeed, for the universal struggle to preserve global environment.
President Gjorgje Ivanov replied that planting a tree symbolizes that Macedonian roots are beginning to take hold in the soil of Israel. "I would be happy if the younger generation of Macedonia would come here on their visits to Israel to monitor the growth of this olive tree."
Later in the day, Stenzler, warmly welcoming the President of Croatia under the blistering Israeli sun, said that Israel, like Croatia, was a young country. "Our two countries rely on a rich past and a magnificent heritage. Even the weather is similar, although Croatia is blessed with a richer, more varied nature, while Israel is continually battling water shortages and desertification." Stenzler expressed the hope that the two countries would develop scientific cooperation and research projects in their joint fields. "Our experience in water recycling and agricultural development is in the public domain, and we are always glad to share it with others, just as we are glad to learn from the experience of researchers and similar organizations for the benefit of our countries and of the environment throughout the entire world."
At the first ceremony, the entire entourage stood on its feet as the Macedonian ambassador to Israel, Pajo Avirovik, and the designated Israeli ambassador to Macedonia, David Cohen, recited the Planter's Prayer. At the second ceremony Croatian Ambassador to Israel Marcia Matcovic and Israeli Ambassador to Croatia Yossi Amrani recited the Planter's Prayer.
Both President Ivanov and his wife and President Mesic and his wife applied themselves happily to the task of planting and despite the intense heat, they were very scrupulous about the planting, even watering the young saplings with much care.
The names of both the President of Macedonia and the President of Croatia were added to the names of dozens of Heads of State from around the world who have already made this gesture by planting a tree in this grove with their own hands.
In fact, the two new olive saplings were planted precisely on the first anniversary of the dedication of The Olive Tree Route in Israel initiated by Yitzhak Eldan Director of Ceremonies, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
These olive saplings represent another step in the worldwide struggle against global warming, to which KKL-JNF is party, within the framework of the United Nations Convention for Climate Change. As each certificate notes, "this tree will absorb approximately 1.5 tons of carbon from the atmosphere and bring new life to the environment. By planting this tree you have helped curb global warming."
This December KKL-JNF will attend COP 15, the fifteenth meeting of the Conferences of Parties, a conference held annually by the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and this time in Copenhagen, Denmark. The KKL-JNF delegation will join the conference as part of Israel's official delegation headed by the Ministries of Environment and Foreign Affairs. KKL-JNF will participate as an observer, being an NGO, together with KKL-JNF Denmark.