On the first day of spring (20.3) in Israel, the annual KKL France Walk for Water walkathon took place, with 100 people participating this year. This is the 20th annual walk, where Israel supporters from all over France come to Israel for a week of trips around the country. This year the walk takes place in two area – the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.
Moshe Cohen, who served as KKL-JNF’s emissary to France in the 1990’s, initiated the first Walk for Water. This year, he joined as a full member of the delegation, proud to see how the project has played an integral part of the movement for two decades.
"The idea was to combine knowledge and experience of the beautiful land of Israel, and the support of KKL-JNF activities. These causes are still relevant today", said Cohen.
“People come to get to know the beautiful country of Israel, to connect to the land and to identify with the State of Israel and KKL-JNF. When they return home they become dedicated ambassadors for Israel and KKL-JNF".
"In addition to celebrating 20 years of the walk, we are also marking 50 years of the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem", said Fino Edri, KKL-JNF Emissary to France. "Over the week we will embark on a journey following in the footsteps of the fighters and learning about their legacy and heroism”.
At the start their journey at Jilabun River and the Devorah Waterfall, the guests were greeted by dozens of storks, who are taking a rest-stop in Israel on their migratory path from Africa to Europe. The hikers said goodbye to the large and impressive birds and took off.
Annie Lachkar from Auberville (suburb of Paris) has participated in the Walk for Water fifteen times, and has not missed one since 2003. "I return again and again thanks to Israel, the nature and the people I meet here. I love meeting new people, love to hike, and love the State of Israel, which to me, is the perfect combination.
The hikers walked the steep downhill slope to Jilabun River, enjoying the green surroundings and the spectacular blooming flowers. On their way they encountered some groups of Israeli teenagers, who also came to hike in the nature reserves. When they arrived at the impressive waterfall, they watched the water streaming down from the cliff, and didn't forget to pull out their cameras to preserve this moment.
For Sabrina Potugais, it is her first time participating in the Walk for Water. "I wanted to get to know the area better and do a little something for Israel", she explained. "I have been to Israel before, but the feeling is completely different when you arrive with a delegation like this".
Along the trail, the hikers received explanations about the nature and history of the surrounding area from KKL-JNF guides. They tasted the wild mustard and wild asparagus shrubs, and took in the colorful spring flowers covering the mountain slopes. They were told about the strategic importance of the Golan Heights, and the effects of the water sources on the relationships between Israel and its neighbors.
The first day on the Golan Heights took place during the news coverage of tension on the Syrian border, following security incidents. The situation didn't affect the peaceful atmosphere or the excellent mood, and certainly not the marvelous view and the pleasant weather.
The record holder for the delegation is Marie Grindel from Paris, who is walking the Walk for Water for the 17th time. "I love learning about the land through my feet", she said. "Israel is a small but great country, and you always discover new things about it. The trips are well organized and the guiding is excellent. I'm glad to see how every time Israel has more trees and more interesting sites developed by KKL-JNF".
The next stop was Mitzpe Gadot, a memorial site and lookout. Up until the Six Day War, the place was used as an outpost by the Syrian army, and it controlled the road going up to the Golan. The Mitzpe Gadot site commemorates the fallen soldiers of the Golan Brigade from since the Six Day War until the Peace for Galilee War.
As they were looking from the highest point over to Kibbutz Gadot, the delegation members realized how difficult life was on the Kibbutz during the Syrian bombings. At the site, the words of the brigade commander during the Six Day War, Emanuel Shaked, are set in basalt stone. At the end of the battle for the outpost, he broadcasted to the people of Gadot sitting in shelters: "From up here you look twice as great". That was his way of showing his appreciation for the fortitude of the Kibbutz members.
As they sat in the shade of a large eucalyptus standing above the old Syrian bunker, they heard from guide Michael Gamersani that it was the Israeli spy Eli Cohen who recommended to the Syrian military commanders to plant eucalyptus trees in bunkers to give shade to their soldiers. That's how the Israel Air Force managed to identify the location of those bunkers.
"These heroic stories are inspiring and they fill me with admiration", said Joelle Manchion from Marseille. She said that she only found out she was Jewish at age 50: "My parents wanted to protect me from antisemitism and didn't tell me about the Jewish origins of our family. Today I am learning the meaning of being Jewish, and my visits to Israel help me connect to my roots".
From the top of Mount Bental, which is 1,165 meters high, they observed the border with Syria. The IDF outpost on the mountain was one of the main stands during the Yom Kippur War. Today it's a battle legacy site.
The hikers came down from the mountain to the Valley of Tears, where one of the most well- known defensive battles of the Yom Kippur War took place. Yigal Moyal of Kibbutz Merom Golan met with the delegation and told them about the place where the Syrian Armored and Infantry Corps, that were larger in numbers, tried to break through to the Golan Heights, but were blocked by the Israeli forces. The battle of the Valley of Tears became a symbol for the Israeli fighters' stubborn resistance against the large forces, who attacked them by surprise during the Yom Kippur War.
Moyal also reviewed the current situation in Syria and its impact on Israel. "Overall, Israel doesn't interfere with the events in Syria, except for keeping its security interests, and is trying to bring stability to the area", he said. "On several occasions there were alarms and the people of the area had to get to shelters, but overall we lead a routine life".
The day ended with dinner at the Dubrovin Farm, a preserved farm founded in 1884 in the heart of the orchards of Yesod Hama'ala, the first Jewish village founded in the Hula Valley. The group members toured the museum and heard about the settlement in the area.
With that, the first day of the trek was concluded, but the fascinating trip through Israel has only begun; a journey connecting its hikers to the Israeli landscapes, people, nature, legacy and history.
Read this article in French