Czech Republic Firefighters Donate Fire Truck to KKL-JNF and Plant Trees in Yatir Forest

Monday, April 03, 2017

“This is not only the highpoint of my day, it is the highest point of my firefighter career.”

Following the devastating fires in Israel last November, Czech Republic firefighters wanted to contribute in some way to Israeli efforts to combat wild fires in the future.  The firefighters donated an all-terrain fire truck to KKL-JNF.

This week, the specifications were finalized and agreed upon in meetings at the KKL-JNF headquarters in Jerusalem between Maj. Gen. Drahaslav Ryba, Director General of the Fire &  Rescue Corps of the Czech Republic; Col. Radek Stransky, Liaison officer of the Director General for the Office of the President of the Czech Republic; Lt. Col. Pavel Petrasek, Military and Air Attache to Israel; officials of the Czech Republic Embassy, and and KKL-JNF officials  Moshe Pearl, Acting Executive Director of the Resource Development and PR Division, Dr. David Brand, Chief Forester and Forestry Division head; Rami Saretski, Head of the Department of the Protection of Forests from Fires in Routine and Emergency; Karine Bolton, Head of International Cooperation and Conferences, Ilan Gino, Officer of Safety and Traffic; Judith Perl- Strasser of KKL-JNF’s Germany, Austria, Switzerland Desk, and Rimma Kushnir, European Desk Assistant.

 “We carefully monitored the situation of the fires and were prepared to help, but at that time Israel was only asking for firefighting planes, which we don’t have. A week after the fires, we began thinking about what kind of help we could give to Israel and we decided to donate a fire truck,” said Stransky. “The company is now starting to prepare it and we hope that that it will soon be ready.”

Accompanied the next day by Perl-Strasser, the guests visited Yatir Forest in the Negev, where KKL-JNF forester Abed Abu Al-Kean greeted them and gave them a briefing about the site.

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.

“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.