President Peres Plants Acacia Tree at Arava Open Day

"The Arava is a natural laboratory of the greatest importance, and the knowledge acquired here should be shared with our neighbors.

January 20, 2011 15:11

KKL_200111_A. (photo credit: KKL)

"The Arava is a natural laboratory of the greatest importance, and the knowledge acquired here should be shared with our neighbors. Israel owes the people of the Arava a huge debt," said President Shimon Peres, who was the guest of honor at a ceremony that took place on Wednesday, January 19, at the Open Day Agricultural Exhibition at the Yair Research and Development Station in the Central Arava. He joined thousands of visitors from all over Israel and from abroad at the exhibition, where hundreds of booths showcased the world-famous agricultural achievements of the Arava desert, along with displaying agricultural equipment, local produce and arts and crafts. KKL

"In my opinion, the Arava is one of the seven human wonders of the world," President Peres continued. "I don’t think that there's another place in the world that has performed similar agricultural miracles. Every time I come to the Arava, I'm introduced to a new species of pepper. The people here have literally accomplished the impossible."Until recent times, Israel looked towards Europe and the Christian nations, but now, most of the world's population lives in Asia, where they really don't know much about Abraham or Moses. The Jews they have heard of include Marx, Einstein and Freud – and maybe Kissinger. So they think that the Jews are probably a clever people, but what makes them really appreciate our wisdom is our agricultural innovativeness, specifically desert agriculture.

"Today, there is a danger of terrible famine in the world and ecological disaster. When I was a child, I would never have imagined that a day would come when clean fresh air could not be taken for granted. The earth can barely support its current population. Here in the Middle East, I would remind us all that Israel cannot afford to be an island of prosperity in the midst of an ocean of poverty, hunger and bitterness. We must share our achievements with our neighbors.

"Coming here is always a very emotional experience for me. This marvelous exhibition is proof of how people can learn how to make the most of very little," President Peres concluded.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler noted that the two-day exhibition was scheduled to coincide with Tu Bishvat: "If someone were to ask me, where can I see an authentic Israeli holiday, my answer to that person would be, here in the Arava, where we see and taste Israel at its finest. It is in this harsh climate that 60% of Israel's fresh produce is grown, a feat that was accomplished thanks to the state of the art agricultural technologies that were developed at the local Yair R&D station. We understand this very well at KKL-JNF, which is why we fund 50% of the budget of the R&D stations in the Arava and throughout the country, with the help of our friends around the world. Here at the Yair station, we recently inaugurated a new laboratories building, thanks to a donation from JNF USA. KKL

"President Peres has promoted Ben Gurion's vision of making the Negev bloom for over fifty years. At the present time, he is a leading spokesman for green technologies and alternative energy sources. He holds a torch to lead the way for a better and a greener Israel and inspires us to make our country worthy of its citizens and our citizens worthy of this wonderful country."

"This is the second time that we are hosting the president at the Arava Open Day, and I must say that whenever he is here, he brings vital energies that inspire us all," said Ezra Ravins, director of the Central Arava Regional Council. "The president planted an acacia tree, which is mentioned in the Bible in connection with the desert tabernacle. Its roots go down deep into the Arava soil, as do ours. The dream of making the desert bloom is a vision that President Peres has been partner to since the time of David Ben Gurion. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Israeli government and KKL-JNF for their support of the Arava."

Dov Litvinof, director of the Tamar-Dead Sea Regional Council, also spoke at the KKLceremony: "In another year, the Dead Sea will be declared one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I would say that the agriculture here is also a world wonder. The agricultural exhibition allows us to stop for a moment and realize the miracle of what is being grown in the salty sands of the desert. The decision to live here is not an easy one to make, due to the harsh climate and the sense of being so far away from the rest of the country, but it is true Zionism. I especially want to thank all the people at the R&D station; they are the spirit that gives life to the farmers."

As Mr. Ravins mentioned, when President Peres arrived, he went directly to the site of the Adopt an Acacia project, where JNF Australia supports an initiative to protect the Arava's acacia trees. The president planted an acacia tree in honor of Tu Bishvat, and asked about the importance of the acacia tree for the Arava. A representative of the R&D station explained that the tree is an integral part of Negev ecology, and that the local eco-system, including the flora and fauna, are dependent on it. After planting the tree, the president asked the local schoolchildren if they knew any Tu Bishvat songs, and he joined them in singing Tu Bishvat higi'a, hag l'ilanot – "Tu Bishvat has arrived, a holiday for the trees." On his way to the ceremony, president Peres visited the tropical fish pavilion, one of the unique ways Arava farmers have found to support themselves, with the help of the R&D station.

KKL-JNF Director General Ms. Yael Shealtieli planted the tree together with President Peres. She spoke with us about KKL-JNF's involvement in Arava settlement: "Ezra Ravins showed us a waiting list of people who want to move to the Arava, conditional on having a place to live and a means of supporting themselves. We were very impressed by the figures he showed us, and this year, KKL-JNF will be investing an unprecedented amount of money in Arava infrastructure.

"KKL-JNF is involved in every aspect of Arava life. Just recently, it was KKLdiscovered that the border fence was located on the Israeli side of the border rather than on the border itself. With the cooperation of the Ministry of Defense, we moved the fence to its proper location, adding 2000 dunams of land to the Arava."

Mr. Eilon Gadiel, director of the Yair R&D station, told us that KKL-JNF had been partner to Arava development from day one: "KKL-JNF is everywhere here, building water reservoirs, infrastructures, agriculture – you name it.  KKL-JNF is a full partner to everything that goes on the Arava, especially the R&D station. You have to understand that without the R&D Station, there would be no means of livelihood in the Arava, and without KKL-JNF, there would be no R&D station."

KKL-JNF also had a booth at the exhibition that was expertly manned by Dorit Sudovsky, who told us about people's reactions: "The first thing people have been saying when they see the KKL-JNF booth is 'Hooray for KKL-JNF', and they all take the green ribbons that are a way of identifying with the Carmel forest restoration process. I was surprised to see how familiar people are with KKL-JNF activities. A few people even mentioned the limans KKL-JNF creates in the desert to trap rainfall and grow trees in desolate landscapes."

Ehud, one of the visitors at the KKL-JNF booth, grows dates in Neot Hakikar on the southern tip of the Dead Sea: "When Neot Hakikar was first founded, in 1970, it was KKL-JNF that did all the infrastructure work for our community. KKL-JNF plants and gives life when others burn forests down. I always like to say that KKL-JNF represents Israel's roots in the earth."

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