(photo credit: kkl)
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to
KKL-JNF World Chairman:
"I would like to establish a similar organization in
"As you were speaking, Mr. Chairman, I had an idea to do the same thing, to create a similar institution in Italy, so that we could do in Italy what you are doing here in Israel." Such an unexpected statement could only have come from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
, a leader famous for his unexpected statements and deeds.
Accompanied by eight government ministers and a large entourage, the Prime Minister arrived at the Grove of Nations at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, soon after having landing in Israel, in order to do one of the things he likes best – planting an olive tree: "I think that I am the only Italian alive today who planted so many trees," the Prime Minister began. "In my estate in Sardinia I have no fewer than twenty ancient olive trees that I collected, each of them 1,000 years old. I even have one tree which, according to an official document of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is 2,000 years old. When I proudly show them to my guests and friends, I say in jest that this tree came straight from Gethsemane, and that the depression in the tree was caused by Jesus when he leaned on it."
The olive tree planted by Berlusconi in the Grove of Nations is of course somewhat more modest, but Mr. Berlusconi was clearly moved by the event: He bent down, enlarged the planting hole by hand, and then packed the earth back around the sapling with a hoe, but also by using his hands. Before the planting began, the Italian prime minister said that he follows KKL-JNF's activities in Israel and is very aware of its struggle against desertification and its efforts in the fields of afforestation and water conservation: "It occurred to me that the knowledge you have here is very important for many countries in the world, especially for Africa, where there are a lot of water-related problems. Not too long ago, I participated in one of the closed UN meetings on the subject of combating desertification, and I recommended that any UN initiative on combating desertification should include a representative from Israel."
The Italian Prime Minister's remarks were received with loud applause. Berlusconi said that in his party's platform for the upcoming regional elections in Italy, he demanded that an unconditional clause be included: "I demanded that all my party's candidates go to one of Italy's historical sites, where they were take an oath on a number of matters, one of which is their commitment, if they are elected, to plant a specific number of trees in their region."
Together with KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, the Prime Minister unveiled a plaque commemorating the occasion, which took its place alongside the names of other heads of states from all over the world who already planted trees in the Grove of Nations. The entourage then made its way to the large tent, where the president of KKL-JNF Italy, Raffaele Sassun
, greeted the guests. Sassun described the many expressions of Italian friendship for Israel and the excellent relations between the two countries. He quoted words that Berlusconi had written in the guest book at the home of Gideon Meir, the Israeli ambassador in Rome: "I declare my friendship to the state of Israel, and that Israel can always
rely on me."
In his remarks to the distinguished guest, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler
spoke about the different ways friendship was expressed over history, whether by a handshake, a greeting, or some other gesture: "In the Jewish tradition, the highest expression of friendship is the planting of a tree, just as our father Abraham did when he made a covenant with Avimelech the king of Gerar, when he planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba."
Stenzler added that Berlusconi is famous for his friendship for Israel,
which makes it especially gratifying that he agreed to plant a tree in
the Grove of Nations. He briefly reviewed KKL-JNF activities, showing
why KKL-JNF is Israel's largest green organization. "And if we're
already talking about Italy, then we have to talk about olives. Israel
and Italy have a lot in common, as they are both located on the shores
of the Mediterranean. The olive tree is one of our common denominators.
About a year ago, we began developing the 'Olive Tree Route' along the
length of the country, the purpose of which is to preserve our
landscapes and our heritage by means of olive trees, which are integral
parts of the Israeli landscape from the Galilee to the Negev Desert. We
also want to promote a spirit of peace between all the citizens of
Israel. You, Mr. Prime Minister, are known to be a great promoter of
peace, and we would be happy to cooperate together with you and your
country to develop a similar 'Olive Tree Route' in Italy, as part of
our dream, that in the future, this route will eventually encompass the
entire Mediterranean basin."
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Stenzler presented a symbolic gift to the Italian Prime Minister, a
KKL-JNF Blue Box, and explained what it symbolizes: "The Blue Box is a
symbol that unites the entire Jewish people with the Jewish state, and
reminds us that this is the home of the entire Jewish people, who are
partner to its development and ongoing achievements."