Big business and the environment can, it seems, be a winning combination if the right people get together and collaborate. Right in the middle of green fields dotted with the brilliant red of anemones in flower, the American Express Forest has been planted in Re`im Forest, near Kibbutz Be’eri in the south.
As a contribution to the local environment, the Negev and residents of the Gaza periphery, the credit card company has acquired 10,000 trees for planting. Of these, 7,000 have already been planted on behalf of clients of the company, and additional customers are being invited to join the campaign.
Dozens of American Express staff members attended the forest’s inauguration ceremony, and it was clear that getting out of the office into the open air, exchanging their computer keyboards for spades, and planting trees with their own hands was a very special experience for them.
The spectacular expanses of the Negev, which are now in full flower, provided the perfect backdrop for the occasion. On the previous day, a Saturday, thousands of visitors had thronged the area to attend the Negev’s Scarlet South Festival. For a whole month, from Tu BiShvat until Purim, people are invited to come and view the anemones and take part in a variety of events that include meditation in natural surroundings, rides in a hot-air balloon, cycling excursions and a farmers’ market. This year, as always, KKL-JNF is an active participant, and has organized an Anemone March in memory of Shoshana Damari, the Israeli singer who became a legend in her own lifetime. KKL-JNF also operates information stations at each of the sites whose development is being made possible with the help of Friends of KKL-JNF in Israel and throughout the world.
Now that the excitement of the festival had died down – at least until the following Saturday – the planting ceremony could take place in a relaxed and festive atmosphere amid the magnificent landscape.
Irit Batat, Deputy Marketing Manager at American Express, told us: “I remember how I came here a year ago to view the area, and I fell in love with it at first sight. We all said straight away: this is where our forest is going to be. Planting trees is the very essence of Zionism, and I’m proud that we have the privilege of being a part of it.”
Yaron Dayan, a premium and loyalty programs manager at the company: “We owe a debt to the environment, and that means we have to take action, not just make declarations. But apart from the environmental aspect, this is also a contribution to the community, and it’s about connecting the periphery to the center of the country. Cooperation between a company like ours and a ‘green’ organization like KKL-JNF is perfectly natural as far as we’re concerned. We’ve linked the campaign to a drive to encourage our clients to receive their monthly bills by e-mail rather than as printouts, so there’s a dual contribution here: we’re both planting trees and reducing the number of forests that are cut down.”
According to Michael Ben Abu, Director of KKL-JNF’s Israel Fundraising Department, the organization’s productive cooperation with the business sector benefits both Nature and the public. “Your contribution is of special importance,” he said, “especially in this location at this time, in the wake of the Cast Lead campaign.”
, KKL-JNF regional director, said at the ceremony: “All KKL-JNF’s achievements are based upon successful partnerships. Together with you we are creating a means to ensure continued development in the Negev and support for the communities of the Gaza periphery. We’ve seen over the years how strong they’ve been, and we haven’t forgotten that it’s our job to support and encourage them.”
The American Express Forest, which includes eucalypti, tamarisks
(Tamarix aphylla), acacias, white broom (Retama raetam) and other trees
native to the region, was planted by schoolchildren, soldiers and
bereaved families over a period of about two weeks. “This is our
direction now,” explained Mizrahi, “We want to encourage the local
vegetation, instead of concentrating on pines and other species
imported from distant countries.”
The Re`im Forest is situated in a protected area of badlands that
extends over an area of around 5,000 dunam (approx 1250 acres). The
reserve includes the upper basin of Nahal Sahaf, which has created a
closed valley containing a prehistoric site, lush vegetation and a wide
variety of wildlife: gazelles, porcupines, turtles and monitor lizards.
The area is especially famous for its magnificent anemones, which
flower in February and March.
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