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The sessions of the Fifth KKL-JNF World Leadership Conference opened with summaries of KKL-JNF activities in Israel and in several countries followed by lectures by professionals in particular fields.
Patrick Balkanyi, president of KKL-JNF Switzerland, opened the day by remarking how in the past days, participants had already come to know each other well. "It has been wonderful to spend Israel's sixtieth Independence Day here together. There have also been large Israel Independence Day celebrations in Geneva and Zurich as we cooperate with the many Jewish organizations in Switzerland so KKL-JNF is not alone. When I am asked why one should support KKL-JNF I answer that KKL-JNF represents Land and water, the two basic ingredients Israel - or any country - needs to exist. I emphasize to them that without Israel, there is no security for the entire Jewish nation. An investment in KKL-JNF is an investment in the future of Israel and the security of the entire Jewish people, regardless of where they live."
"I'm very young and I feel that every day is a new opportunity to learn and ask the important questions," said Advocate Shiraz Friedman, Chairperson of KKL-JNF Resources and Development Committee. As young people do not always understand the centrality of Israel, we need your help in learning how to speak to them. We need to improve our information systems, to realize that in a sense, we are marketing ideology and values and we need to find the most effective way of doing that."
Mr. Zeev Bielski, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, had received the 2008 Israel Prize on behalf of the Jewish Agency. "KKL-JNF received this prize six years ago, in honor of its one-hundredth anniversary. Everyone in Israel is aware of the work of KKL-JNF but I would like to share with you specifically my experience during the Lebanon War II. As I traveled up north almost every day - and I will never forget the sight of the forests on fire - I would say to myself, 'they are destroying our country!' However, now, when I travel north to Kiryat Shemona, I can see the green of the forest returning. KKL-JNF makes a massive difference in the quality of life in Israel. For me, KKL-JNF represents the Israel that we all want. One of my first decisions on becoming chairman of the Jewish Agency in 2005 was that we would cooperate with KKL-JNF. We both have emissaries in many of the same countries: we both work for Israel, so why should we not cooperate?
"Today, at 4:00 pm, Jimmy Kedoshim of Kfar Aza, the father of three children who was killed by a qassam rocket on Friday, will be buried. We all want peace with our neighbors but this is reality. Those who want to remain in Israel must be committed to living here. That is why the key to the future of Israel is here, in this room: because it is your support that enables Israel not only to survive, but also to improve the quality of living. The time is now - and this is what is needed most. I look forward to future cooperation between KKL-JNF, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization."
Vice president of KKL-JNF Italy, Silvio Tedeschi described some of the activities of his country. "KKL-JNF Italy sponsored an event with about 1,800 guests at the Israeli embassy. The new President of Italy is a real friend of Israel and the first country he will visit will be Israel. KKL-JNF Italy has been very active in its support of security roads in the North, Italy Park next to the Alexander River and many other projects. At the moment we are very excited about fundraising for our new project which is Halutzit, rehabilitating some of the evacuees from the Gaza communities.
Dr. Omri Boneh, Director of KKL-JNF Northern Region gave an all encompassing update on KKL-JNF's activities in the north of Israel. "The Galilee's importance in terms of its agriculture and low socio-economic status is greatly affected by KKL-JNF's planning and development, that has become a catalyst for governmental and municipal authorities to become involved, improves the quality of life for residents, attracts young families to come and live in Galilee and encourages those born there to remain.
"After the war when twelve hundred hectares of forest were burned, we focused on forest renewal, a complex, long-term, multi-year task. About 50% has already been restored, 300 hectares by re-planting and 300 by encouraging natural processes of the forests. Our efforts are based on research, using KKL-JNF research date and constantly learning more for the future. There had been a huge wave of volunteers from all sectors of Israel's society who helped forest rehabilitation, clearing and replanting and we had special permission from the Israeli Rabbinate to re-plant there even during the shmita year, as the plantings are considered healing the wounds of the war in the Galilee. This is also the first time that major Israeli private companies have supported us - such as Bank Leumi, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Elbit, Coca Cola and Israel's Electricity Company.
"However, our work is not only about forests but also about people and helping the communities to recover. We have been developing Hazor Hagliglit Park and building, throughout the forests, original look-out sites and commemoration points for soldiers who fell in Lebanon War II. We have projects which are actually agents of major change for an entire region - such as the Hula Valley - bringing new life, eco-tourism, agriculture, ecological restoration, and soil and water conservation. Without the wonderful support of KKL-JNF's international offices we could never have achieved all our goals.
"A new project we named "Path of the Righteous" will serve as a model for inter-agency cooperation and here there is a tremendous potential. KKL- JNF activities are a catalyst for private investment in the Galilee, such as the Hazor scenic route, the Manara cliff cable car and tourist ventures. We are now planning on creating an "ecological quarter" to connect the Jordan River with the Mediterranean. Only an organization like KKL-JNF can bring cities and regional councils together to cooperate on such a major project. Our goal is the sustainable development of this quarter for ecology and tourism. KKL-JNF as an NGO and an NPO has a great deal to contribute to the Galilee and to the whole of Israel. We have done just this in the past and will do so again in the future."
Zeev Hayut, CEO of Tzafona, an organization that consolidates strategic planning for the development of the Northern Region, described some of the current difficulties they face. "The Galilee has a population of which 53% is Arab, and of those 85% is Moslem. Of the children in the Galilee only 31% are Jewish! Only 7% of Israelis there today say they would consider continuing to live in the north because 87% need a good job. In order to change these figures, we need to increase employment opportunities and to improve the standard of living so that the Galilee becomes an attractive place to live.
We need you, KKL-JNF world leaders, to step in where the government stops. Our survey shows that 77% of Israel's general population believes that the North does have a great future."
For more information, please visit our website at www.kkl.org.il/eng or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org