Aussie Ambassador 224-88.
(photo credit: )
"The first thing I want you all to do is to fan out and search for empty rocket launchers that were dumped between the eucalyptus trees," Gur Rotem instructed the eager group of eighth-graders who had come to clean up the Nahal Kamah streambed on Clean up the World Day in the Negev. "What on earth can we do with those pieces of junk?" asked Meital, one of the students. "You'll see!" Gur answered.
Together with the rocket launchers, the children gathered rocks and straw, and under Gur's watchful eye, mixed the straw with earth and water, which they used to cover the empty rocket launchers that had been carefully piled up. The structure was covered with the mud, and lo and behold - a park bench had come into being!
This was only one of the various activities organized by KKL-JNF throughout the country on Monday, 22nd October - Clean up the World Day in Israel 2007, with an emphasis on the Negev, thanks to the steadily increasing support of JNF Australia, and thanks to JNF America, which committed to massive support of the project. A central ceremony was held in a large Bedouin tent in Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in the Negev, where the guests of honor included the Australian ambassador to Israel, James Larsen, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF Vice-Chairman Yigal Yasinov, and the mayor of Rahat, Talal al-Qarnawi. Hundreds of children from Rahat, local kibbutzim and nearby villages participated in the cleanup, together with part of the IDF's Desert Reconnaissance Unit, many of them Bedouins.
Stenzler reminded the participants that when Israel was founded, it had a population of only 600,000, while now 7,000,000 people live in our country: "This means that cleaning up and caring for the environment is everyone's task. We can't rely on government offices or other institutions to do the job for us. Just as my friend Mayor al-Qarnawi has taken the initiative in his city of Rahat, there are another 106 local authorities and 170,000 volunteers cleaning up as we are doing. Mr. Mayor, I would like you to know that although KKL-JNF is a Jewish organization, our mission is to carry out projects that benefit all the citizens of Israel, regardless of their religion or ethnic affiliation. My prayer today is that Israel will be a cleaner country and that next year when Clean up the World Day comes, there will be less garbage but more volunteers!"
Stenzler presented Mayor al-Qarnawi with a certificate, identical to those presented in all thirty countries participating worldwide in Clean up the World Day. Mayor al-Qarnawi welcomed everyone to Rahat and especially thanked Stenzler, whom he has known and regarded as a friend for many years: "I would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to you and to KKL-JNF for being our partner in development here in Rahat. This is a day on which, thanks to KKL-JNF's initiative, all the various sectors of Israel's populace are working together on a project that concerns us all - keeping our world clean. KKL-JNF not only plants trees, it spreads love between people with a common goal. Today, when Jewish and Bedouin children cleaned the streets of Rahat with their green garbage bags, I saw how much this meant for the residents of my city. KKL-JNF is building our common future, and together we will create a better and cleaner Negev for all to share." In recognition of KKL-JNF's ongoing support of Rahat, Mayor al-Qarnawi presented Stenzler with a bronze plate engraved with the city emblem.
Clean up the World Day was the brainchild of an Australian by the name of Ian, who invited people to clean up Sydney and this eventually, became a worldwide project, thanks to the traditional support of the Pratt Foundation of Australia. The guest of honor at the ceremony was the Australian ambassador to Israel, James Larsen, who had come together with his parents, who were visiting him in Israel: "I am proud to be here with you in Rahat today. In Australia, it took us quite a while to realize the importance of cleaning up and the environment, and Clean up the World Day was critical in creating this awareness. I am pleased to support this effort in Israel today."
Ami Uliel, of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, thanked the founder of the Pratt Foundation, JNF Australia and JNF America, whose generous support made Clean up the World Day in the Negev possible, as well as providing special biodegradable garbage bags. He also spoke about KKL-JNF's next project in Rahat: "We are planning a major park in this region, Nahal Gerar Park. The streambed of Nahal Gerar goes right through the middle of Rahat, the second largest city in the Negev. Together with the municipality and other government offices, we are will create a park on an area of 1,500 dunam that will include lawns, public institutions such as schools and a local theater, a small lake and fruit gardens. We look forward to this project's implementation."
To get a feel of the sort of activities that were taking place throughout the country, we spent the day with students from the eight grade of the Mevo'ot Hanegev School, in Kibbutz Shoval, across the highway from Rahat. This unique school is environmentally oriented and its pupils are from all the different ethnic and social groups of the region - new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, Bedouins and children from the local kibbutzim and moshavim.
The streambed of Nahal Kamah is a fifteen-minute walk from the school grounds. Eucalyptus trees provide shade and greenery, but unfortunately the area is strewn with garbage everywhere. KKL-JNF's Ilan Miara explained to the children that Clean up the World Day is about educating everyone on the importance of caring for the environment every day of the year: "If we don't educate people, then cleaning up one day will have no effect. The idea is to do something that everybody in Israel hears about and to encourage the populace to be involved all year long. Today you will not just be cleaning, but also learning about how garbage is recycled."
In addition to building park benches out of discarded rocket launchers, children had collected plastic bags, which they cut up and weaved into bracelets and water bottle carriers. Another group of children went cycling up and down the streambed of Nahal Kamah into an abandoned building near the highway. "Until 1948, this building served as the headquarters of the British mounted police," Miriam, a teacher from Mevo'ot HaNegev, told us. "The mounted police were actually the sons of the local Bedouin sheikh who rode camels and horses and enforced some degree of law and order in this region, which was rather like the Wild West. After Israel was founded, the building became a clinic for local Bedouin, and when Rahat was built, the building was abandoned. Since then it has become an eyesore and a garbage dump. Today we are cleaning it up and whitewashing the walls. The children suggested that it be made into a place where people can rent bicycles to ride around the region." While Miriam was telling the children about the history of the building, Alya, a young Bedouin girl from Rahat, excitedly raised her hand: "My father told me that when he was a child, he used to come here whenever he was sick!"
Ido Argaman, principal of the Mevo'ot Hanegev School, had plans for the Nahal Kamah streambed. "We decided to adopt this site, which we think has a lot of potential. We are working together with KKL-JNF on fixing the area up and making walking and cycling trails, in addition to picnic tables and benches. There are ancient water cisterns and agricultural terraces on the nearby hills. This could become a very special place, and such a joint project would be really educational for the kids. I hope it will be approved and funded."
If everywhere in Israel - and in the World - everyone would be as enthusiastic about cleaning up as those we met in the Western Negev, we may all look forward to a much cleaner, more beautiful world.
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