South African WZO Delegation with KKL-JNF in the Negev:

Members of the group visited Jerusalem and Ramallah and met with people representing both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

June 3, 2010 15:24

kkl. (photo credit: kkl)

South African WZO Delegation with KKL-JNF in the Negev:
"There's a lot to learn from Israel"

A delegation of members of the media and representatives from the South African Jewish community arrived in Israel to learn about Israel firsthand:   "Our objective is to help members of the delegation to better understand the huge complexities of life in Israel and the various problems that the country is coping with," explained Reeva Forman, Vice-President of the Zionist Federation in South Africa and initiator of the delegation.  The delegation has visited Israel twice each year for the past 14 years. Forman explained: "The most reliable way to bring about a change in attitudes is by presenting all sides.  Personal meetings and visiting various sites are very important."

Members of the group visited Jerusalem and Ramallah and met with people representing both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Among the sites they visited in Israel were "Yad Vashem" and the Herzl Heritage Museum.  We joined the delegation on a day dedicated entirely to acquainting them with projects that KKL-JNF has built in the Negev with the help of its friends in Israel and abroad.  Forman noted, "KKL-JNF activities are truly a fulfillment of Ben Gurion's vision.  It is impossible to separate KKL-JNF from the past, present, and future of the State of Israel."Itzik Moshe, Deputy-Director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, guided the group on a tour of the area around the city of Beersheva and along Nahal Karkur.  He described KKL-JNF's contribution to the struggle against desertification, which includes collecting runoff water, regulating flash floods, and introducing water into the soil.  "Proper water management allows us to enrich the soil and grow trees and flora," explained Moshe.  "This is how we prevent erosion, which is a factor in desertification, while at the same time creating green areas for the benefit of local residents."

Moshe noted that desertification is a matter of grave concern for many countries.  KKL-JNF is active in this field and has acquired a great deal of knowledge and experience, and has also made some very impressive achievements.  Representatives from numerous countries come to study about KKL-JNF projects in order to apply them in their own countries. 

At the Arye Pools and Tifrah Reservoir, Eran Atner, Deputy-Director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, explained to the members of the delegation about the importance of water for the Negev and recycling water for agricultural use. The Arye Pools were recently dedicated in the presence of the donors, Tom and Rae Mandel from Australia. They channel 1.1 million cubic meters of purified effluents from Jewish and Bedouin settlements in the area. Members of the delegation were amazed to see the earthworks being carried out by KKL-JNF at the nearby Tifrah Reservoir. In another few months, when the work is finished, this reservoir will hold two million cubic meters of water. 

Thanks to this water, local farmers grow crops such as pomegranates, potatoes, carrots, peanuts, onions, cabbage, celery, corn, and citrus in the heart of the desert.  Beersheva residents enjoy urban parks that are irrigated using this purified water, including KKL-JNF's flagship project in the south – the Beersheva River Park. 

To date, KKL-JNF has built 220 reservoirs throughout Israel.  South Africa is also coping with a water shortage, and the guests were very impressed with how Israel recycles water and utilizes every drop.

During the delegation's visit to the KKL-JNF nursery at Gilat, Pablo Chercasky, the head of the nursery, explained about KKL-JNF's afforestation project.  Approximately one million saplings are grown in the nursery every year.  The trees are for planting forests and parks, while the ornamental plants are for public gardens in towns and cities.  Emphasis is placed on plants that do not require a great deal of water in order to adapt to the dry desert climate. 

The delegation's next stop was at the Qassam Rocket Museum in Sderot, the city that has been under attack from the Gaza Strip for years. Captain Ron Edelheit, a former IDF officer, explained how gangs of Palestinians smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and indiscriminately fire at Israeli civilians who live in the settlements adjacent to the border.   

At the "Black Arrow" Paratroopers Heritage and History Center, the delegates could look across the border and see just how close Sderot is to the Gaza Strip.  Next to the Heritage Center, KKL-JNF built the Arela Zuckerman recreation area with inviting picnic spots, playgrounds, and an attractive garden.  The entire site is accessible to disabled persons and has picnic tables that can accommodate people in wheelchairs.  The Armistice House, a national heritage site restored by KKL-JNF, is nearby.  This is where the armistice talks with Egypt were conducted at the end of the War of Independence 62 years ago. 

From there the delegation continued to the Nir Am Reservoir, which was built thanks to contributions of friends of KKL-JNF from Canada.  The reservoir has a capacity of one and a half million cubic meters and stores waste water from Tel Aviv and the surrounding area.  The water is harvested during the winter, after which it undergoes a purification process and is used to irrigate fields in the spring and summer.  The road around the reservoir leads to a scenic lookout named for Asaf Siboni, a member of Kibbutz Nir Am who fell together with 72 other soldiers in the 1997 helicopter accident. A large set of wind chimes represents the number of years of Asaf's life. 

At Kibbutz Nir Am, the delegation met with Avi Kadosh, the secretary of the kibbutz, Shimon Keren-Tzvi, treasurer of the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council, and Micha and Betty, two senior kibbutz members.  The members talked about life in the shadow of the Qassam rockets: "Our lives have changed completely since the Qassam attacks began eight years ago," said Kadosh.   "Each time the alarm sounds we have 15 seconds to take cover.  This means that children cannot play outdoors and people cannot wander freely outside their homes.  It's easier to talk about the children and to say they are afraid, but the truth is that everyone here lives in fear.  More than 800 Qassam rockets have fallen in the kibbutz and 60 houses have been hit, but miraculously, no one has been killed.  The Qassam rockets were aimed at Sderot but fell short and hit the kibbutz.  People joke that we only get second class Qassams," smiles Kadosh sadly. 

What impact did the visit have on South African media people?
Johannes de Villiers remarked, "It's not easy to understand Israel because there are so many different opinions.  But I think that now I have a deeper understanding of the situation here."

Thabo Leshilo said, "During the six days that I have been here, I have a better understanding of how complex this country is.  As media people, we have to avoid relating to things that occur here in an abstract manner.  It is amazing to see what such a young country has succeeded in achieving, and I'm certain that many countries in the world can learn a lot from Israel.  I was particularly impressed with how you have succeeded in foresting and populating the desert.  This is truly an amazing feat.  Desertification is an international problem and it was interesting to see how Israel is dealing with it."

David Steynberg said, "The visit didn't surprise me, but it confused me a bit.  It's clear that there is no simple answer to what is happening here, and I don't know if the situation can be solved.  We saw an impressive model of coping with the desert.  There is no doubt that KKL-JNF is a pioneering organization."

Martin Williams stated, "Israel and South Africa have similar ecological problems, and I get the impression that Israel is coping with them more efficiently.  This is the first time I have been to Israel, and the visit was really exciting."

Members of the Jewish community in South Africa were extremely interested in the study tour, during which they encountered places and people that represent different aspects of the country.  Some of them had visited Israel previously, and for others this was the first time.  Fay Picker remarked, "We received a comprehensive picture of what's going on in the country. We got to visit places that we would not have been able to see in any other framework.  Israel wants to progress and succeed despite the difficult problems it is facing."  

"I am proud to be here and to see Israel's many successes.  Israel is a country without natural resources, but in spite of that, it has made many achievements," said Bernard Wainstein.

Esther Weinstein, Director of KKL-JNF's Tourism Department, summed up by saying, "Israel is coping with a series of challenges in addition to the problem of security: settling the country, developing sources of water, agriculture, and struggling against desertification.  KKL-JNF is at the forefront of the efforts to deal with these various matters.  South Africa is contending with similar questions, and I am certain that the tour provided information and aroused interest." 

For Articles, comments or use please contact
 Ahuva Bar-Lev
KKL-JNF – Information and Publications
 Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493

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