KKL-JNF World Chairman at Negev Conference:
"Without the Negev, Israel could not exist"
"David Ben-Gurion said that if we don't insist on developing the desert, Tel Aviv will not survive. Without the Negev, the state of Israel could not exist, and Israel's central region must forego a certain degree of budget allocations in favor of the Negev." KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler
was speaking at the 2010 Negev Conference, which took place in Beersheva on Tuesday, March 23. Stenzler reviewed KKL-JNF's accomplishments in the Negev in the past, and reiterated the organization's commitment to Negev development for the future.
"Over the past five years, KKL-JNF has invested IS 480,000,000 in the Negev. Before the state was founded, KKL-JNF purchased 166,000 dunams of land in Israel's south. KKL-JNF has prepared land and infrastructures for new villages and agriculture, and I can promise you that in the future, KKL-JNF will provide infrastructures for any new village that will be founded. As an NGO, KKL-JNF can accomplish things quickly, cutting the bureaucracy that impedes government projects.
"Without water, agriculture cannot thrive and life cannot exist. To date, KKL-JNF has built 65 water reservoirs for floodwaters and recycled effluents in the Negev. KKL-JNF also invests in research and development stations that find innovative ways make Negev agriculture possible. For example, in Revivim, brackish water is used to irrigate olive trees and for fish breeding ponds.
"We are talking about bringing 300,000 people to the Negev by 2010, but we must realize that people will not come here if there is not quality of life. Besides education and work, quality of life means a green environment. Studies have shown that the value of real estate increases sharply when it is located near forests and trees. Over the past three years, KKL-JNF has planted 30,000 dunams of forest in the Negev, an unprecedented figure. We are famous worldwide for our cutting-edge methods of desert afforestation, which helps combat desertification. We are able to grow trees in areas that receive only 100 mm annual precipitation, as compared to 2000 mm in some regions of Europe.
"We could not accomplish any of this without the help of our friends from 54 different countries in which KKL-JNF has chapters and local offices, who contribute generously to promote Negev development. In this context I would especially mention JNF America, led by Stanley Chesley, Ron Lauder and Russell Robinson.
"KKL-JNF recently concluded an agreement with the Israeli government according to which we agreed to exchange built-up KKL-JNF land in Israel's central region for lands in the Negev and the Arava. The Negev is the place for current-day pioneers and lends modern-day meaning to Zionism. It is where we are helping to make Ben-Gurion's vision into a reality."
The conference, which was the initiative of the Vice Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, Mr. Silvan Shalom
, was divided into three plenary sessions, which focused on employment and initiatives in the Negev, ways and means of realizing Minister Shalom's goal of 300, 000 new residents by 2020 and how the civic sector would respond to moving Israeli army bases from the central region to the Negev. Besides the KKL-JNF World Chairman, government ministers, Knesset members, army officers, local mayors and business people addressed the conference, along with President Shimon Peres. The following represents a few excerpts of some of their remarks:
said that it was fortunate that Ben Gurion's vision of a densely settled Negev had not been realized until now: "In the past, we didn't know the importance of settling regions in an environmentally-friendly manner and we would have overpopulated and spoiled the Negev. There's a lot of land here, but we must be careful not to waste it. The Negev is about people, not government. We need to build high and take advantage of the most modern construction methods. The Negev is experiencing a revolution and is fast becoming the region of the future. I believe it will become a magnet for visitors from all over the world."Finance Minister Yuval Steinetz
reviewed the Negev's history and talked about plans for the future: "King Solomon realized the importance of the Negev for international commerce and decided to build a port at Etzyon Gever, present-day Eilat, which was a gate to the East. In my opinion, moving central Israeli army bases to the Negev will serve as a powerful catalyst for the entire region. Israel's economy is primarily based on its outstanding human resources, and the presence of the army's top people here, many of whom will choose to make their homes in the Negev, will change the region dramatically. This government is seriously committed to Negev development. We have allocated funds to create jobs for both the Jewish and Arab sectors, along with improving roads, creating railway lines and building new villages. Nahal Beersheva Park is an example of a catalyst for change that will dramatically affect quality of life in the Negev's capital city. I believe that in ten years from now, visitors will find a new and different Negev."
According to Major General Yoav Galant, commander of the IDF Southern Command
, "cooperation between the military and civilian sectors is especially important in the Negev. The purpose of Operation Cast Lead was to ensure the safety of the residents of the South, and we are all grateful to our brave soldiers who are ready to sacrifice for this purpose. Thanks to them, 2009 has been the quietist year we have had here in over a decade. Our enemies saw what the IDF is capable of, and I can tell you that they are worried. I can also assure you that every effort was made to avoid civilian casualties – for every civilian who was unintentionally killed, three terrorists were eliminated. The accepted ratio in the world is five civilians dead for each terrorist, and generals from the armies of some of the countries most critical of Israel come here to learn our methods. I would like to invite all of Israel to the Negev for the Pessah holiday – come to celebrate and hike the desert trails. The IDF is protecting our borders and is responsible for your safety. I can assure you that you are in good hands."Vice Minister for Negev and Galilee Development Mr. Ayub Kara
said that our goal in the Negev was to do the impossible: "I look forward to regional cooperation with Jordan and Egypt. We must also face reality – the Bedouin sector has not been dealt with fairly, which encourages extremism. The Bedouins are loyal to Israel and in 2009, the largest percentage ever of Bedouin young people enlisted in the army. We need to promote green energy. Oil is the fuel of international terrorism, and the sooner we can offer green energy alternatives, the sooner we will cut off terror's lifeline."
"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come" said Professor Avishai Braverman, former president of Ben Gurion University and current Minister of Minority Affairs.
""There is no country in the world with people more talented than our citizens. What gets in the way of Negev development is government bureaucracy, and that Gordian knot must be cut by a swift stroke of the sword. We also have a once in a lifetime opportunity to provide equal opportunities for the Bedouins. The government must be generous on the one hand, and uphold law and order on the other hand. I would emphasize two basic principles – employment and women's education. When I envision the Negev's future, I must admit that I am hopelessly optimistic."
The conference concluded with the presentation of Negev awards to Professor Ze'ev Zachor
, president of Sderot's Sapir College, and to the Jewish Agency. Natan Sharansky
, chairman of the Jewish Agency, accepted the award on the Agency's behalf. He recalled his first Pessah seder in Moscow: "I was 25 years old at the time, and most of us couldn't read Hebrew, but the words 'Next year in Jerusalem' brought us together and gave us hope, even though the KGB was standing right outside our door."
KKL-JNF's Rinat Kedoshi and Hagit Ohana
, were responsible for the KKL-JNF pavilion at the conference, where participants could learn about KKL-JNF activities in the Negev and sign up for the KKL-JNF email list. "People are really interested in finding out more about KKL-JNF," Rinat said, "and I can't believe how many people signed up for our activities. We've actually had to empty the registration form box three times!"
We met Pinhas Shukrun and his son Shai
from Beersheva by the KKL-JNF pavilion. "Is there anyone in Israel who
hasn't heard of KKL-JNF? I was born in Fez, Morocco, and every Friday,
my parents would give me money for the KKL-JNF Blue Box. For us,
KKL-JNF meant Zionism and our connection to Israel."Ami Oliel,
head of KKL-JNF's
Southern Region, had a thick portfolio in his arms. "People will be
speaking at the conference today and sharing a lot of important
information. At KKL-JNF, we believe that actions speak in a powerful
voice, and doing is my primary focus. Over the past year, KKL-JNF
invested IS 140,000,000 in the Negev, in everything from
infrastructures to tourism and water reservoirs. We enjoy a high level
of cooperation with all the government ministries and offices
represented here today, but most of all, with the local residents. The
Negev has been at the top of KKL-JNF's priority list, and with the help
of our friends around the world, the Negev can look forward to a
promising and exciting future."
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