(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister of Italy, Professor Romano Prodi, planted a tree at the KKL-JNF Grove of the Nations in the Jerusalem Forest on Monday, becoming the twentieth Head of State to participate in the tradition.
At the site, located on Mount Herzl, just below the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Prime Minister Prodi unveiled a plaque marking the special occasion. Raffaele Sassun, president of KKL Italy, welcomed the PM on behalf of KKL-JNF, opening the moving ceremony in a humorous vein that drew a laugh.
"I have a personal reason to thank the Prime Minister for visiting Israel at this particular time. My son is studying in Israel, and the PM's visit provided me with a good reason to come here to see him! Planting trees symbolizes life, joy and continuity," he continued.
"After the tree planting ceremony, the Premier will visit the Negev town of Sderot, the target of constant bombardment by Kassam missiles. Professor Prodi is the first Head of State to visit Sderot, and I would like to express my appreciation to him for this sign of solidarity with Israel in general and with the Negev in particular."
KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stentzler, greeted the Prime Minister: "Our two countries share the Mediterranean, the love of nature and the need to care for it. Italy may serve as an example of an industrialized country that respects and cares for its green areas. Here in Israel, KKL-JNF has turned a dry and barren desert into a green land covered by trees. We have been able to accomplish this thanks to the help and support of our donors the world over and KKL Italy has been one of our staunchest supporters. Italy Park in the central region is only one of the sites that we have developed with their help. It has become a tradition for Heads of States to plant trees when visiting Israel. Planting trees is a symbol of peace, true friendship and hope for prosperity and long life, so I would like to bless Prime Minister Prodi and all citizens of Italy with that hope for the future."
Prodi remarked that it was a great pleasure and honor to plant a tree in the Jerusalem Forest: "The Jerusalem Forest provides the citizens of your city with moments of reprieve from the constant tension of the Middle East. I pray that one day its inhabitants will be able to spend many peaceful moments beneath the shade of its trees.
"First and foremost, I bear testimony to the close ties between our two countries. Italy supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State and to live in peace. We believe that suffering has been the lot of the people living here, for too long and Italy, together with the European Union, will contribute in every way possible towards the renewal of the peace process.
"Mr. Chairman, your organization, KKL-JNF, has chosen to protect the environment. KKL-JNF not only plants trees, develops water resources and fights desertification, but is also engaged in research relating to the critical environmental crises we are presently facing. Italy admires your scientific excellence and innovativeness. We will continue to follow your work, just as we will follow the growth of this sapling I am about to plant. I would like to thank you and KKL-JNF for making this experience possible for me."
Prime Minister Prodi recited the Planter's Prayer in Italian, and accompanied by both ambassadors, he planted a young olive sapling in the Grove of the Nations.
Sassun had also said ealier: "When the KKL-Italian delegation visited Israel in 2006, they were very excited about Negev development and decided to commit themselves and their Italian compatriots to a peace project entitled "Safe Route" - sixteen kilometers of natural park around the Gaza Strip.
"We need young people and young ideas for a young land. The Talmud tells the story of Honi Hama'agel, who saw an older man planting a carob tree that would mature only seventy years later. Honi asked the man why he would plant a tree that he would never benefit from. The man answered, 'When I came to the world, I found trees that others had planted for me. I want to leave trees for my own grandchildren.' I would suggest, Mr. Prime Minister," Sassun concluded, "that the tree you plant here today be dedicated to future generations and to your own grandchildren."
Yitzhak Eldan, Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol, presented the Prime Ministerwith a special pin in the shape of an olive tree, and toasted his health and that of the young sapling. "Prime Minister Prodi is going from here to place a wreath on the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, after which a helicopter will take him to Sderot, together with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. I am happy to see that the Grove of the Nations, whose idea I initiated together with KKL-JNF, is growing beautifully. It is my "baby", along with the Ambassador's Forest near Beersheba."
We had the opportunity to speak with Stenzler, who had a "scoop" for us. "In my discussions with the PM, we decided on a joint Israeli-Italian research project on the cultivation and propagation of organic olive trees. The first stage of this project will be joint research carried out by scientists of our two countries. The second stage will be the actual planting of organic olive trees in the Arava desert, along the Israel - Jordan border. My dream is that there should also be a third stage to this project - a day when we share the results of our research with all our Arab neighbors, so that the olive tree, a symbol of peace, becomes one of the means by which peace is expressed in a practical manner that also benefits our common ecosystem."