The Wadi Atir Cornerstone Ceremony

Wadi Atir Project: Tradition and Progress

Monday, December 19, 2011 3:54 PM

A farm for ecological agriculture and tourism has been built in the Negev region of Wadi Atir by the Bedouin community, in cooperation with KKL-JNF and other organizations.

The farm will combine traditional Bedouin agriculture with modern technology. The farm's crops and produce will include traditional medicinal herbs, plants for health products and cosmetics, herds of sheep and cows for meat and milk, and organic vegetables that are indigenous to the area.
These agricultural practices have been an integral part of the lives of the Bedouin for hundreds of years.  Some of the crops have been neglected for some time, and the objective is to restore them to the lifestyle of the local residents.  The farm will also produce unique dairy products that are stored without refrigeration, in keeping with the traditional lifestyle of the Bedouin in the Negev. 

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives

The green farm will be based on a foundation of advanced alternative technologies, such as a solar-powered system for producing electricity, a bio-gas system for treating sewage, and the production of compost from organic waste.

This pioneering project will contribute to strengthening the Bedouin population, creating employment, and will serve as a model for sustainable desert agriculture in an arid environment.  The farm will be organized as an agricultural cooperative – the first of its kind in the Bedouin sector - and will be managed by 12 founders who are local men and women from the various Bedouin tribes in the Negev.

The cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new farm was held with representatives of the participating organizations and members of the Bedouin community. The guest of honor at the ceremony – the Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Silvan Shalom - spoke about the importance of closing the social and economic gaps between the periphery and the center of the country. "There is no doubt that we are taking a step here towards a common goal," said the minister. "If we know how to join hands in issues that are common to all of us, we will be doing a favor to all the citizens of the State of Israel."

The excitement was evident on the faces of those present at the ceremony, who are finally seeing their dream become a reality, after four years of planning and extensive efforts to promote the project. The construction of the farm is expected to begin in the near future, and will take approximately three years.  It is already possible to imagine how the arid wadi (riverbed) will be transformed into a green, productive, blooming place.  

Silvan Shalom signing the Charter. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives

During the first stage, the land will be prepared and fenced in, planted and sown.  During the next stage, a sheep pen and dairy will be built and the cultivation of medicinal herbs will begin.  The third stage will include the construction of an information center for tourism, research and education on desert agriculture, ecology, and Bedouin heritage.

The project is a joint initiative of the Hura Regional Council and the International Sustainability Laboratory from New York. Partners organizations include the Ministry for Development of the Negev and the Galilee, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Association for Economic Development in Minority Sectors, the Association for Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, the University of Ben Gurion, Netafim, KKL-JNF, the United States Jewish National Fund, and private funds and contributors.

The head of the Hura Regional Council, Dr. Mohammed Alanbari, who is leading the Bedouin community in the project, noted that cooperation between the various factors is the key to success.  "Everyone worked together with the objective of implementing change and advancing the Negev," he said.

KKL-JNF is playing a central role in the initiative.  In addition to allotting an area of 350 dunams (about 90 acres) for the establishment of the farm, KKL-JNF will also help with preparing the land, planting, and providing professional advice based on its wealth of experience in combating desertification and developing agriculture in the Negev.

Efi Stenzler, Chairman of KKL-JNF, described the enterprise as an "exciting and exceptional project.  There is none other like it in Israel."  Stenzler emphasized that the objectives of the farm are synonymous with those on the agenda of KKL-JNF – preserving the environment, recycling water, and green tourism and agriculture.

"This project establishes a connection between ecological activities and social action," added Stenzler.  "Today, we are laying the cornerstone for new relations with the Bedouin sector."  The Chairman of KKL-JNF emphasized the obligation of KKL-JNF to continue to promote projects in the Bedouin Community in the Negev, such as the construction of a promenade in Rahat and projects in Segev Shalom.
Laying the cornerstone. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives

Russell Robinson, Chairman of JNF-USA, remarked that the agricultural farm is leading the vision of change.  "We are part of the journey of transforming the Negev to part of a better future for the entire country," stated Robinson.
The issue of sustainability is a top global priority in the field of ecology, and the Bedouin farm at Wadi Atir will be based upon rigorous sustainability principles.  Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, head of the International Sustainability Laboratory, who initiated the project, explained that "the aim is to improve the fertility of the soil and develop a model for agriculture in arid zones while using advanced technology.  This project will contribute to the Bedouin community, the Negev, the country, and the entire world."

Yoav Morag, head of the southern region for the Ministry of Agriculture, expressed great optimism regarding the success of the project, due to the fact that it emerged directly from the area. 
Ibrahim Habib from the Administration for Development of Minority Groups of the Prime Minister's Office emphasized the unique integration between science, agriculture, ecology, and Bedouin tradition. 

Haim Huber from the Israel Land Authority expressed his certainty that the project would be abundant with knowledge, in keeping with its name "Atir" which means "wealth" or "abundance."

Josh Arno, who represented a family of private benefactors, read a letter that was written by his father, Robert Arno, which stated, "This is a story about hope overcoming despair, and an inspirational vision.  When we work together, we have the power to create opportunities for all residents of the country."

Maryam Abu-Rakaik, a representative of the farm's founders from the Bedouin community, said that this is a great day for herself and for every Bedouin woman.  "This project will contribute to integrating Bedouin women in employment, and in a more just and equal society," she said. 

M.K. Taleb A-Sana, who also participated in the ceremony, noted that the change taking place in Wadi Atir is an example of what can be attained when all factors work together.  "I am leaving here today feeling very optimistic about the future of the Negev," he remarked.

Following the speeches, all the dignitaries and ceremony participants went outside to sign a charter and to lay the cornerstone for the farm.  The symbolic cornerstone is the foundation for what will soon become a unique model of a viable desert community, which will combine tradition and progress and establish ties between Bedouins and Jews from the Negev, the State of Israel, and the world.