Strengthening the state of Israel

Questions and answers with KKL-JNF chairman Danny Atar.

June 13, 2019 16:24
Strengthening the state of Israel

DANNY ATAR: The Negev and Galilee will become growing centers of innovation with an empowering impact within the span of only 20 years.. (photo credit: GUY ASSIAG)

What are the challenges and goals that Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund will face in the coming year?
Several months ago, we reached a strategic decision to lead a national program to make the Negev and Galilee regions into advanced technology and hi-tech centers on an international scale. The program we’re currently working on, under the title ‘Moving to the Land of Tomorrow,’ will strengthen these regions through a real national-innovative transformation, with the understanding that in order to change the current equation, wherein the periphery does not sufficiently participate in the national technological productivity, we must transform the Negev and Galilee into true generators of change.

Within the framework of this program we had set a goal to bring about social change by bringing one-and-a-half million new residents to the Negev and Galilee by the year 2040, breathing new life into the peripheral regions and turning them into advanced technology and hi-tech centers that will draw new residents from all over Israel and around the world. The investment in the Galilee region will lead to the development of an “Israeli Silicon Valley” that will attract leading hi-tech, industry and research personnel.

In the Negev, selected professionals will be integrated in the development of cyber-compounds. Through this program, the new labor market will offer special terms for employees, and lucrative opportunities for companies and employers. Diverse and innovative residential solutions will strengthen existing cities and communities. The program will invest in and develop the future generation through an array of high-level educational institutions and the distribution of scholarships to students. The establishment of advanced infrastructure and transportation systems will connect the various peripheral regions to Israel’s center and make them more accessible for the international business community as well as the Jewish Diaspora.

Thus, the Negev and Galilee will become growing centers of innovation with an empowering impact within the span of only 20 years. KKL-JNF will serve as the engine that drives all of the relevant organizations in the country to fulfill this plan, including the various government ministries, campuses and universities, employers and settlers, and will transform the face of the country as we have done since the start of Zionism, when we made the desert bloom. We will not only set the target but also execute it, and serve as an operative integrator for the program’s realization, just as our fathers had prepared the ground and established new settlements. We are already hard at work and have even begun implementing many programs to advance education and academia, progressive employment and innovative concepts of settlement.

This year, we have set a number of central milestones we wish to reach. First, we will continue to strengthen and support communities and municipalities in the Negev and Galilee in all areas of life, from education through investment in infrastructure, and up to environmental protection. Also this year, we will officially open the visitors’ center for the Hula Nature Reserve in the Galilee. The new visitors’ center, established with the assistance of our partners from JNF Canada, will offer unique and exciting attractions and experiential activities to the thousands of visitors who come to the region from Israel and abroad.

How does KKL-JNF cope with and assist the Gaza border region in light of recent events in the Gaza Strip?

One of the greatest challenges we faced in the last year, and which we’re still facing, is the incendiary terrorism from the Gaza Strip, a cruel terrorist weapon which has destroyed thousands of acres of forests and natural woodlands. In addition to the incredible work by KKL-JNF’s firefighters who battle these blazes in the field 24/7, these damages have also led us to the conclusion that we must work in creative ways to cope with them on the international stage as well. Therefore, we have joined up with leading legal scholars and decided to sue the Hamas terrorist organization for the tremendous environmental damage they have caused to the residents of the south.

I am hopeful that justice will be obtained for the southern residents who suffer and struggle with the trauma that this terrorism has brought upon them. Alongside this legal activity, KKL-JNF provides extensive support to southern communities. KKL-JNF’s board of directors has made a decision to define the Gaza border region a central target for KKL-JNF’s assistance, and approved a comprehensive multi-year aid program in a variety of fields. We have approved support totaling approximately NIS 110 million while focusing on KKL-JNF’s core activity.

Among the projects KKL-JNF is promoting in the region are housing preparations; constructing bike trails and connecting them to municipalities; constructing playgrounds; developing existing forests, including the development of parking lots and scenic routes; and rehabilitating forests, educational, rest and leisure activities; establishing a local KKL-JNF house for excellence in Sderot, among other projects.

Though the Gaza border region is defined as the seven kilometers surrounding the Gaza Strip, KKL-JNF has decided to include in its definition of the Gaza border region all of the surrounding municipalities that have suffered from this terrorism in the recent months. Therefore, assistance will be granted to Sderot, Netivot, the Eshkol Regional Council, the Sdot Negev Regional Council, the Merhavim Regional Council, the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, and the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council.

Is it possible to rehabilitate all of the land burned in the Gaza border region? And if so, how?

KKL-JNF has developed an advanced policy for the rehabilitation of forests based on dozens of years of cumulative experience in the field of forestation. In order to ensure that the natural ecological environment remains safe and healthy, full rehabilitation is expected to take several years. While KKL-JNF’s professionals remove dangerous hazards from the forests, as well as materials damaged by the fires, our role for at least the coming year is to give the land the time it needs to heal naturally.
A good example of this is Beeri Forest, which was seriously damaged following fires caused by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip. Our method had proved itself in this case, since these days, flowers and vegetation have begun sprouting again in places where until recently there had only been ashes. We are certain that through dedicated and precise work, we will be able to aid the forests in the northern and western Negev to rehabilitate and even bloom and prosper.

 FIGHTING A fire in a blazing field (Credit: YEHUDA PERETZ/KKL-JNF PHOTO ARCHIVE)

You see the rising wave of antisemitism around the world. Can KKL-JNF assist and support Jewish communities worldwide? And if so, how?

The shocking acts of antisemitism that have occurred in the last year throughout the world are part of a growing trend of threats and attacks on Jewish people everywhere. The attack on Jewish citizens in the United States – a country which had only a few decades prior played a central role in bringing about the end of World War II and the horrors that accompanied it – are particularly appalling. There are many ways of fighting antisemitism. This is not a Divine decree. The State of Israel and many Jewish organizations take many steps to combat this phenomenon. But there is another way, a more basic way, which is actually the origin of existence here and the continued existence of the Jewish nation as a free nation in its land, which is the ultimate answer to any expression of antisemitism anywhere in the world: unity and solidarity.

KKL-JNF is committed to stand by our brothers and sisters throughout the world, even in times of peace, and especially in times of turmoil. Since its founding, KKL-JNF has worked tirelessly for the citizens of Israel and the Jewish nation as a whole. We will continue to be the thread that binds the Jewish Diaspora with the State of Israel, through broad support for activity within youth movements and schools, cultural events in the Jewish community, and of course through our delegations and branches across the world, as well as our ongoing efforts to assist Jewish communities in strengthening their ties to the Jewish homeland, empowering Jewish identity and affiliation to the land of Israel. KKL-JNF will continue to support and stand by Jewish communities throughout the world, and together we can prove, again and again, that the strength of Jewish unity can overcome any act of hate.

Can you tell us about the KKL-JNF house in Nazareth Illit? What’s being done there?

The KKL-JNF house for excellence in Nazareth Illit [Upper Nazareth] is a resounding success story. This house is the first of 10 centers for academic empowerment and excellence which are due to open in the North and South of Israel. The new center has not only shown us that it is possible to significantly reduce the gaps in achievement that exist between the country’s periphery and center, but also that it is possible to reduce them right now.

Thanks to the unique and comprehensive approach to innovation and advanced academic tools offered by the KKL-JNF Center for Excellence, as well as due to the assistance provided by gifted instructors from the fields of science and technology, and a successful collaboration with Unit 8200’s Alumni Association, high school students and youths in the region have already exhibited significant improvements in their educational achievements.

Students in the social periphery face many difficulties, and the KKL-JNF House for Excellence provides them with the tools for success, and shatters the periphery’s glass ceiling. The students enjoy classes in the fields of physics, mathematics, computers and English, taught by the best teachers and lecturers in a friendly and technologically advanced learning environment.

We are continuing with the KKL-JNF Houses for Excellence project with full force, a unique project whose first instance established in Nazareth Illit has become an educational gem in the region. The next center will be opened in the city of Kiryat Malachi, and just like its older brother in the North, in this new educational center, KKL-JNF will provide an equal opportunity to high school students in the region to improve their achievements in the fields of science and technology.

Education and building bridges of opportunities for residents of Israel’s periphery constitutes one of the most significant goals that I promote as chairman of the international KKL-JNF. For me, it is a source of joy and pride to see the tremendous positive impact that the organization and its generous donors have on these communities. These achievements only empower me to continue the hard work we do to benefit Israel’s youth and the future generations of entrepreneurs, scientists and technicians.

What is KKL-JNF’s vision for the coming years?

Continued strengthening of the State of Israel and turning it into a country where the North, the South and the center exist in balance and harmony, while allowing the residents of every region, no matter if they live in Kiryat Shmona, Beersheba or Tel Aviv, to realize their potential and receive all of the services that they deserve from the state.

KKL-JNF works toward this goal on several platforms, from land development and environmental activities to its being an influential factor in promoting informal education through youth organizations and pre-military schools. Building Israel’s next generation of leaders through unique and enriching programs on Zionism, legacy, love of the land, empowerment and social leadership, which takes responsibility and is involved in the community with a national sense of purpose. This is my vision and this is the role that we are already playing in the field.

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