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"I want to thank Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund for everything they have done at Hula Lake Park over the years and for helping to realize its tremendous potential. Nature knows no political borders and neither do birds. I hope that Hula Lake Park will serve as a beacon of peace for our entire region." President Shimon Peres was speaking on Sunday, March 8 to KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler at Hula Lake Park, where the president met a group of artists from all over the world and Jewish and Arab children, all of whom were doing art in nature, inspired by the magnificent flora and fauna of the Hula Valley.
Twenty-six renowned artists from England, France, Holland, Scotland, Greece, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Kenya, the United States and Israel were spending ten days at Hula Lake Park as part of a special "Artists for Nature" (AFN) project. Mr. Ysbrand Brouwers of the Netherlands, the founder and director of AFN, described some of the foundation's goals and reasons for coming to Hula Lake Park: "AFN was founded in 1990 and promotes art in nature at various unique sites throughout the world. Hula Valley is an amazing place that is a stopover for millions of birds on their seasonal migrations, and our goal is to promote this site through the arts. On Friday, we will present an exhibition of our work and in the future, we hope to publish a book dedicated to Hula Valley. Our aim is to get sites like the Hula higher on the political agenda, and your president's visit here certainly helps us to achieve that goal."
As mentioned, besides the cranes and other migrating birds, the Hula had other guests on Sunday. Jewish and Arab schoolchildren from Petach Tikva's Neve Oz elementary school and the Jaljulya elementary school spent the day drawing birds and nature and getting to know each other. KKL-JNF guides organized various activities for the Arab and Jewish schoolchildren to break the ice and get them to intermingle. For example, the children had to arrange themselves in two groups, each organized according to height, from shortest to highest. That didn't take too many language skills, but when they were asked to arrange themselves according to age, they really started communicating in English and Hebrew.
Iram, who teaches English at the Jaljulya school, said that this was her first time at Hula Lake Park: "It's really an amazing place. We prepared for the trip by organizing nature workshops and drawing pictures at school, some of which are on display here. It's really nice to see how the kids break down the barriers between them. The adults should learn a lesson from them."
Mr. Hijli Aboud, principal of the Jajuliya school, told us that he believes that peace is created here and now, without too many sophisticated theories or philosophies: "We all live according to national and tribal myths, this is an opportunity for a different sort of encounter. There were over a hundred children at our school who signed up to come here, but there was only place for 30, although in the end, we brought 36 children."
Anat Schreiber, an Israeli artist from Kiryat Tivon, worked with the children in nature together with Dave Daly, Denise Larbelle, Barry Van Dusen and Omri Balaban, all artists on the AFN program: "Before the children started drawing, it was important for us to help them connect to nature. In my opinion, the thing that gets in the way of drawing most is fear - the fear to make a mistake. We spoke about it and I think their pictures show that they really got beyond their inhibitions."
President Peres viewed an exhibition of the children's pictures, accompanied by KKL-JNF World Chairman Stenzler. Needless to say, the children were proud and excited to meet the president of Israel in person. He then proceeded to the Crane Observation Point, where he met the visiting artists. Kioko Mwitiki from Kenya presented the president with two birds he had recently sculpted: "My sculptures are always from recycled materials I gather at the site I am working at. Over the next few days, I am going to be working with recycled scrap metal. There are old tractors scattered around here and other stuff, from which I will take whatever I can use."
No visit to Hula Lake Park is complete without seeing the cranes close up, so President Peres boarded one of the Park's "hidden wagons" along with his aides, the artists and KKL-JNF personnel. Famous Israeli ornithologist Dr. Yossi Leshem described the crane's migratory routes and habits to the group. "The cranes we see here today just arrived yesterday from Ethiopia for a stop on their way to the Ukraine. They love Israel, especially because of the great food they get from KKL-JNF. They were eating the crops of the local farmers, so KKL-JNF started feeding them grain, just as the tractor we see at this very moment is doing. As soon as the project began, the cranes left the fields alone and told all their friends about the free meals. The cranes are like Israelis - they like being together, they make a lot of noise and they love peanuts and humus."
Dr. Omri Boneh, head of KKL-JNF's Northern Region, noted that Hula Lake Park is an example of how all the various green organizations and government offices and ministries can work together to realize a common goal. "The Hula is also a place where the values that President Peres has espoused over his long public career are put into practice. For the past ten years, Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis have been working together on a project that uses Barn Owls and Kestrels to reduce rodent pest damage to agriculture, making peace a reality by means of cooperation for the common good."
Sunset was fast approaching, President Peres had to leave, and the cranes were ready to say goodbye to their visitors before going to the water where they would spend the night. Alai Broder, a fifth-grader from the Petach Tikva elementary school, summed up her experience for us: "I tried to draw the birds in different situations and backgrounds. It was great to meet children my age from Jaljulia, they were really nice. I think that meetings like this contribute towards world peace. We are children; we're still young, so maybe it's us who will make the change."
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