(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan, Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich and KKL-JNF's Co-Chairman Eli Aflalo, were in attendance, together with prominent figures from the Negev and pupils from Beersheba’s Ben Gurion School.
The proceedings, which were reported both in Israel and worldwide, were opened by Yair Nagid, CEO of the Beersheba Center for Stage Arts, who expressed his pleasure at finding himself on the spot where Israel’s largest park is in the process of being established with help of KKL-JNF USA, Canada and Germany. The Beersheba River Park will include extensive lawns, a pond where vegetation is already taking root, sports facilities and an amphitheater that is currently under construction. Nagid, a native and resident of Beersheba who has been active in local affairs for many years, told those present: “In recent years, before our very eyes, the dream has started to become a reality, and the Prime Minister is among the many people responsible for this vision of making the desert bloom, and for the establishment of the park in particular.”
Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich took the podium and welcomed all those present. He thanked the Prime Minister for the government’s decision of 2009 to invest large amounts of money and resources in the Beersheba river and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan for promoting the project and ensuring it moved forward. “Thanks to this investment in the Negev, Beersheba will become the region’s green lung and a center for excellent quality of life,” he said.
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said at the ceremony: “It’s a great privilege to plant a tree in Beersheba Park. Our Patriarch Abraham, who swore an oath here and gave the town its name, planted a tree here before us. The deeds of the fathers are an example for the sons, and we, too, have sworn an oath today: to develop the Negev.”
Stenzler added that David Ben Gurion had described the Negev as a test for the People of Israel, while he himself added cautiously that if we were to fail to make the Negev bloom, the entire Zionist enterprise would fail. He thanked the Prime Minister and all KKL-JNF’s Friends throughout the world, whose support have helped to build Beersheba River Park. Stenzler described how KKL-JNF had removed a thousand truckloads of rubbish from the river and cleaned it up entirely. The next stage was planting, in order to create a pleasant green environment that would provide an attractive quality of life for young people moving to the Negev.
“We at KKL-JNF will continue to promote affirmative action in the Negev; we’re continuing to acquire lands in the Negev, and we shall acquire more in the future,” said Stenzler. “We are in the process of preparing residential and industrial infrastructures in the towns, and we shall prepare more in the future; KKL-JNF is preparing land for agricultural and residential use by the new communities that are springing up now in the Negev, and we shall prepare more land in the future. We fund most of the agricultural research in the Negev and we build water reservoirs that increase the area of land that can be cultivated. We are creating parks that are painting the Negev green. We shall also work for the benefit of the minority communities in the Negev, so that they, too, can feel themselves to be a part of Israeli society and find their place within it. This is the Zionism of today,” added the KKL-JNF World Chairman.
Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan described Tu BiShvat as a holiday that symbolizes Nature’s ability to revive and renew itself. “Beersheba River Park is a symbol of the “green” initiative for the rehabilitation and cleaning of Israel’s rivers. This will include the rehabilitation of the Kishon River in the Haifa region, the transformation of the Hiriya refuse site into a place people will want to visit, and, above all, the Beersheba River Park, which, when complete, will be larger than New York’s Central Park.”
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greeted his audience with the words “Tu BiShvat is here, it’s a celebration for the trees (Tu BiShvat higia – chag la'ilanot),” and added, “But it’s a celebration for the rivers, too, and for the lawns and the parks. It’s a celebration for clear waters, for clean air and the air that’s getting cleaner; it’s a celebration for the green revolution led by the government and the Minister for the Environment, Gilad Erdan.”
The Prime Minister told his listeners how, as a young soldier, he had had to make his way through the river’s environs, and he described how difficult and unpleasant this experience had been, as the whole area was cluttered with refuse and running with sewage and effluent from the local factories. Now, he said, he looks at the clean river and the clear water and is delighted to see the tremendous development that has taken place and the beneficial effect this will have on the Negev as a whole. “Today we’ve come to Beersheba to continue the tradition of our Patriarch Abraham, and, as we plant a tree in our Land, we strengthen our roots in its soil and ensure our continued existence in the Land of Israel,” he said.
After the speeches the Ben Gurion School choir sang Tu BiShvat songs, then everyone rose to sing HaTikva. The ceremony concluded after the Prime Minister and his entourage, together with Efi Stenzler had planted a carob tree in the park. A carob tree takes around seventy years to bear fruit, and thus symbolizes generational continuity from father to son.