He noted that the annual rain fall here normally reaches only 250 mm, and though last year they had surpassed that amount with 350 mm, the previous seven years had been very dry. This year, too, they barely reached 230 mm of rainfall, he said.
The Yatir forest was first conceptualized by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in the early 1960’s. By 1964, work had already begun to plant the first trees. The valleys were left for agriculture. Aleppo pines were planted on the rocky slopes and broadleaf trees in the valleys, said Abu Al-Kean.
Today, the forest consists of about 40,000 dunams of planted trees and agricultural lands for peach, nectarine, cherry, apricot and other fruit tree orchards, as well as grapevines. The forest has also become home to native animals such as deer, jackals and hyenas.
As part of their fire prevention protocol, KKL-JNF encourages local Bedouin shepherds to graze their registered and vaccinated flocks here, in order to thin out the forest undergrowth, said Abu Al-Kean, who is Bedouin himself.
A large fire tower is also manned during peak fire season from February until the beginning of the next winter. The main visitors’ complex also includes a field school and recently renovated dormitories and showers for visiting school students and youth groups.
After a brief demonstration of firefighting techniques used in the forest by fire fighter Rasem Abu Al-Kean, the guests made their way to the KKL-JNF Czech Forest to plant
“Carob trees take a long time to bear fruit so this is a very special tree and we plant it for the next generation,” said Perl-Strasser. “It is beautiful a part of you behind in the Czech Forest here in Israel. You are leaving something here for the future. I am very excited for you to be here. We have all come here as part of this miracle. It is something which connects us.”
After reciting the planter’s prayer in Czech, the delegates joined together to plant the two very large trees.
“We are very happy to be in Israel. I am very honored that we are able to plant a tree here. For us it is very symbolic,” said Ryba. In reference to Perl-Strasser, whose grandparents are Czech, he added that he was very pleased to hear his native language spoken in Israel.
“This is not only the highpoint of my day, it is the highest point of my firefighter career. There is now a red line between the Yatir Forest and firefighters,” said Stransky.
During their time in Israel, the Czech firefighters also toured Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Masada and the Old City of Jerusalem. They attended a ceremony honoring fallen fire fighters in the Israeli city of Afula, where Ryba laid a memorial wreath together with Israeli Deputy and Acting Fire Commissioner Shimon Ben-Ner, in memory of the 73 Israeli fire fighters who have fallen in the line of duty.