EcoNegev takes 7 visiting journalists on desert tour

Project organizer: We want their millions of readers to know about this Israel, and we’d also like to encourage tourism to the Negev.

People washing carrots (photo credit: Tom Cohen and Nava Dromi))
People washing carrots
(photo credit: Tom Cohen and Nava Dromi))
For Saskatchewanian reporter Paul Hanley, witnessing Israel’s advancements in desert reclamation and thriving Negev agricultural areas is an inspiration for further such developments in the much colder, but semi-arid climate of his Saskatoon, Canada, hometown.
“Water conservation is a big interest there as well,” said Hanley, a reporter for The Saskatoon Star Phoenix, who is also currently in the process of building an ecological village in his city.
“Seeing how everything is being done here and how it’s all connected to tourism – I’m sure our readers will be interested in that as well.”
Hanley is one of seven journalists participating in a Negev Desert ecotourism program coordinated by Ben-Gurion University’s EcoNegev group, a project organized by 21 students participating in a Stand- WithUs fellowship program. From Monday through Thursday, the predominantly environmental and tourism reporters – three from Russia, two from Italy and one from Spain, in addition to Hanley – are sampling Israeli cleantech innovation, visiting organic agricultural sites and enjoying an ancient winery, according to Tally Eyal, a masters’ student in the politics of conflict and the EcoNegev project organizer.
“We want their millions of readers to know about this Israel, and we’d also like to encourage tourism to the Negev, and if we can, ecotourism as well,” Eyal told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, during the first day of the tour.
The StandWithUs educational organization’s fellowship, which trains 150 students from six universities across the country to become ambassadors for Israel, is in its fifth year and aims to “present a positive aspect of Israel to the international community,” according to a statement from the group.
While gaining expertise in public diplomacy and Israel education through a year-long series of workshops, each campus takes on a project that is completely dependent on the group’s individual initiative, according to Eyal.
“We wanted to take Israel education in a different direction,” said Eyal. “Because we are in the Negev, we wanted to do something that brings the Negev to life.”
From there, the students figured they’d take on what Eyal called an “ecological twist” for the project.
“Ecotourism is a rapidly growing field,” she said. “Each year internationally it grows threefold. There’s so much potential there.”
“We’re doing ‘academic meets tourism,’” Eyal said.
The journalists have also already visited the Carmey Avdat Winery, which features an “ancient” irrigation system that is “completely ecological,” and they will also visit the Dead Sea on Thursday, according to Eyal.
For Hanley, who as a member of the Bahai faith has been on four previous trips to Israel, the EcoNegev tour is giving him the opportunity to really see more parts of the country and witness ecological techniques that could be helpful at home, such as using brackish water to irrigate tomatoes, he said.

“The desert region is really fascinating,” he added.
“We’ve seen some amazing things already on the first day. Right now we’re in Nitzana, where they’re doing educational work with kids on environmental issues.”
After the trip, the EcoNegev group hopes that the “millions of readers” of these journalists will be interested in seeing Israeli coverage “that is not about the conflict” and that will “encourage tourism to the Negev,” according to Eyal.
“We don’t think that now there will be a crazy influx of people to the Negev but these people do have influence,” she said.
“Even if you plant the idea, they’ll remember the name – the Negev.”