‘We are always ready for a challenge’

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund uses modern tools to maintain the spirit of the founding fathers of Zionism

Interview with Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman‏
Ahead of Thursday's third annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, we present some highlights from the exclusive conference magazine available only to participants. The conference which will be held at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on Thursday morning will be streamed live on JPost.com.
Since its establishment at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has played a central role in developing the Land of Israel and later the Jewish state. It is responsible for many environmental and community development programs, and works to strengthen ties between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.
Efi Stenzler has served as the world chairman of the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund since 2006.
He was mayor of Givatayim from 1993 to 2006, following years of extensive public activities and army service as a company commander in the Paratroop Brigade.
Stenzler identifies KKL-JNF as a flexible, agile and innovative organization that uses modern scientific tools while maintaining the spirit of the founding fathers of Zionism, who entrusted the organization with taking care of future generations of the residents of Israel. He was awarded the Friend of the Quality of the Environment Award by Life and Environment, the umbrella body of green organizations in Israel.
I am sorry to start with a difficult topic, but we are all still under the impression of Operation Protective Edge. How did KKL-JNF act during the operation?
I have to divide the question into two.
There are things we did in advance, in our routine day-to-day work. For example, we built a protected park in Sderot, where the city’s children can stay safe in times of trouble, operating a computer or staying together in social activities.
We paved security roads used by IDF forces and farmers in the area. We planted security forests – rows of trees that hide the residents of the communities near the border from direct fire.
And of course, our forests. Our forests provided shade and shelter to waiting forces and made their life easier. By the way, we had to invest NIS 30 million in the rehabilitation of the forests, and we do this with love and a sense of mission.
The second issue is our enlisting on behalf of the residents during the fighting. Some things were part of our daily routine, such as putting out forest fires that broke out following the firing of missiles.
But we did a lot more. We added, with the aid of our friends abroad, 280 local shelters in towns in the South, which gave a great boost to the sense of security. Forty guides from KKL-JNF went down South and occupied the children in experiential activity. We hosted hundreds of families and children in our field centers, out of range of the firing, to give them a few days of relaxation and other various activities.
How would you characterize the activity of KKL-JNF?
There is a straight line that guides KKL-JNF since the Fifth Zionist Congress decided in 1901 on its establishment. This line says a simple thing: Do something. Do something for the country and for its inhabitants.
The establishment of KKL-JNF was the moment when Zionism moved from talking to doing. This moment has lasted nearly 114 years in agricultture, forestry, water supply, and in any field related to the environment.
Could you point out some examples of innovation in KKL-JNF
? Let us take the field of forestry. The first forests planted by KKL-JNF were pioneer forests, from every point of view. We were pioneers in planting trees and the plantings were carried out according to a gut feeling, which was often correct, but still just a hunch.
Those days are over. First, pioneer forests are giving way to a new generation of forests, shaped by the natural process of renewal and by the knowledge and experience we have accumulated.
KKL-JNF is currently constructing 240 plots for long-term monitoring across the country that combine land surveys and remote-sensing measures. For the first time, we will monitor accurate information on changes in forest structure, composition, and their functioning as an ecosystem.
Another example, please.
I can give you an example on any topic that KKL-JNF is engaged in. Let us take, for example, the issue of water.
Since the 1980s, we have built more than 230 reservoirs to collect floodwater and effluents and divert them to agriculture.
These reservoirs provide about 70 percent of the water for agriculture.
But we did not just do that. We are dealing now with implementing an innovative method to purify rainwater that flows in city streets.
This method is called the Biofilter. It is a biological purification system that blends into the municipal landscape.
The system can purify rainwater, introduce it into the aquifers, and make it possible to use treated water instead of it flowing into the sea.
The method was invented by Monash University in Australia, and it demonstrates the cooperation that KKL-JNF maintains with international organizations. We are happy to contribute our knowledge and to learn from the knowledge and experience of others.
What knowledge does KKL-JNF contribute to others?
KKL-JNF is a world-renowned expert in at least two areas. One area is combating desertification. Desertification means a decline in land fertility. This happens mainly because of wrong management of land and because of climate change. This is a very difficult phenomenon, threatening the lives of a billion people around the world.
KKL-JNF has developed advanced methods for conservation and better land fertility. This knowledge is passed on by us to representatives of many developing countries, including countries that do not have diplomatic relations with us, such as Indonesia.
Another area is desert afforestation.
Thanks to technologies of runoff harvesting that KKL-JNF has developed, we are able to plant forests in arid climates, where it hasn’t been customary to plant forests, around the world.
We could have been satisfied with this achievement, but we have achieved much more than that. In the monitoring station we established in the Yatir Forest, Weizmann Institute scientists discovered that desert afforestation fixes 230 kg. of carbon dioxide per dunam [quarter acre] per year, just like any other forest in Europe.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the main culprit in global warming.
This means that if the world would adopt the methods of KKL-JNF for growing desert forests, those forests around the world could reduce the amount of greenhouse gases and contribute to the fight against global warming.
Is this knowledge leading to collaborations with organizations abroad?
Certainly. We have created collaborations with leading professional bodies worldwide such as the US Forest Service, the European Forest Institute, and the Ministry of Water in the Manitoba province in Canada. KKL-JNF is a member of the Blue Gold Task Force within the framework of the European Policy Center. It is collaborating with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and we are the official representative of Israel to the organization in all aspects of forestry.
In January, we signed the first treaty of its kind for cooperation with the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
This is a historic agreement whereby KKL-JNF will cooperate with its counterpart bodies in China in a wide range of fields, from sustainable development to environmental education, THE PARK OF the Senses in Zichron Ya’acov. (KKL-JNF Archive) 21 DIPLOMATIC CONFERENCE KKL-JNF areas that are KKL-JNF core operations.
KKL-JNF makes an outstanding contribution that touches the heart in Rwanda, where the friends of the KKLJNF in the USA established a village for orphans. We set up beehives, greenhouses and fruit orchards for the village, so that these children can make a living and transmit this knowledge to others.
We also provide trainees with knowledge for the restoration of natural vegetation and the rehabilitation of the environment damaged in their country. KKL-JNF experts also help to increase tomato crops in Ethiopia.
KKL-JNF’s environmental activities are often used as a tool for a breakthrough in the political arena. KKLJNF professionals work in collaboration with their colleagues in Indonesia and other countries. Even when relations between Turkey and Israel broke down, foresters from KKL-JNF Turkey put aside their political differences and carried out joint operations.
You won the Friend of the Quality of the Environment Award by Life and Environment, the umbrella body of green organizations in Israel. What was this for?
For the environmental activities of the KKL-JNF. I did all I could to make KKL-JNF the largest green body in Israel.
Our environmental activities bring a blessing to the country.
We are active in the rehabilitation of riverbanks. The Alexander River, the Na’aman River, and even the Kishon River have become green parks.
The Lake Hula – KKL-JNF [reserve] is perhaps one of the greatest environmental achievements in the past two decades. Lake Hula blocks the flow of pollutants and organic materials into Lake Kinneret [the Sea of Galilee] and contributes to the water quality in the lake. At the same time, we have made it the No. 1 bird watching and nature site in Israel. Not long ago, we laid the cornerstone for a visitor center to be built in the area that is designed to receive a million visitors a year.
I would not be doing my duty if I don’t mention the wetlands we made in the Yarkon River with help from our friends in Australia. The wetlands improve the quality of the treated wastewater of Kfar Saba and Hod Hasharon, and the water flows into the Yarkon, returning the river to life.
Why do we hear from time to time about demonstrations abroad against KKL-JNF?
The reason is very simple. KKL-JNF is at the forefront of the struggle for Israel’s legitimacy. We suffer criticism and violence in all of our conferences in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
At the last conference we held in February in Paris, the French police had to create three security rings, including snipers protecting the event from the rooftops.
All of those who slander us day and night do not want to know about what we do for minorities.
The first farm of its kind in Israel that will operate according to the principles of sustainable development is already taking its first steps near the Beduin town of Hura. I do not know of any other project in Israel that relates to such a complete range of communal, environmental, technological, and economic aspects.
This will be a farm growing organic Beduin crops and producing cheese from sheep’s milk. The farm will conduct research to increase soil fertility, and will be based on the recycling of water. The farm will operate a desert tourism venture and has a social message in field of employment of women.
This is simply an exciting project that we are carrying out with the aid of KKL-JNF USA.
We are building parks in Beduin communities. We have built 50 classrooms for young leadership in Arab schools, just as we do in the Jewish sector. A health walking trail forms a bridge between the communities of Jish and the towns of Ramat Dalton.
But whoever slanders us because he has an anti-Israeli agenda is not letting the facts confuse him. This will not deter us.
How will KKL-JNF operate in the future?
The strength of KKL-JNF is its skill in identifying the national challenges facing Israel and harnessing the ability to fulfill them. This was the case in the past and so it will be in the future. We are ready to meet the next national challenge, whether it’s clean power generation by utilizing the surfaces of our reservoirs, or in digging the Mediterranean-Dead Sea Canal. We are always ready for a challenge.