A Forest in Memory of Italian Judges who Died Fighting for Justice

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

“This delegation represents our profound connection with Israel”

A delegation of fifteen Italian judges on a visit to Israel set out, on September 6th, for a tour of KKL-JNF projects in the Negev. They visited Gaza Periphery communities, explored the Southern Agricultural Research and Development Station and inaugurated a forest in memory of judges who were murdered by the mafia in Italy because of their struggle for justice.

“For the sake of the future, we have to look back to the past,” declared Piercamillo Davigo, President of Italy’s Constitutional Court and leader of the judges’ delegation. “The Jewish Nation is the oldest in the world, and Israel is a symbol of the survival of a people that faced extermination. It is an example of a nation that has consecrated life in the face of death.”

Stefano Amore, one of the organizers of the delegation and a member of the Israel-Italy Joint Innovation Program for Industrial, Scientific and Technological Cooperation in R&D, enumerated the main objectives of the visit:
“This delegation represents our profound connection with Israel,” he said. “We want very much to strengthen the relationship between our countries where law and justice are concerned and boost our collaboration with KKL-JNF on environmental issues, water, agriculture and nutritional security. I believe that these things are all up to us, as Binyamin Zeev Herzl said: ‘If you will it, it is no dream’.”

The delegation was accompanied by Aldo Anav, a member of KKL Italy’s Board of Directors.
“It is important that the judges become acquainted with the situation in Israel – but not as it is reflected in the media,” he said. “Israel is a state that aspires to live in peace and at the same time has a great love for its country and its land. These judges have a great deal of influence in Italy, and they can communicate this message to others.”

Presidents-Tzora Forest: In the name of justice

The day began with a ceremony dedicated to the memory of the twenty-seven judges who were murdered by the Italian Mafia over the years, who sacrificed their lives for the sake of justice and their homeland. Twenty-seven trees were planted in their memory to symbolize the fact that although their lives were cut short, their legacy lives on.

“Those who fear die every day; those who do not, die but once.”  These are the words inscribed upon the memorial plaque that was unveiled in the course of the ceremony.
“The trees we plant here today perpetuate the memory of those judges who were murdered while defending justice,” said Acting Executive Director of KKL-JNF’s Resource Development and Public Relations Department Moshe Pearl. “Judaism attaches great importance to tree-planting as a way of connecting to the soil and the land, and as a symbol of life.”

KKL-JNF cultivates a years-long friendship with Italy and the Italian embassy. Italy’s new ambassador to Israel Gianluigi Benedetti, who took part in the planting ceremony, told those present:
“Thanks to KKL-JNF I’m planting a tree in Israel today for the first time, and I have no doubt that I shall be coming back here with my family to plant more trees. Today we are paying our respects to both personal and national memory, as we honor those who paid with their lives for their struggle to uphold justice.”

After the speeches had been delivered, the delegates set out for KKL-JNF’s planting center, where visitors from all over the world can experience planting a tree in Israel. The site’s director Eran Zabadi presented the guests with young oak and mastic trees, provided them with tools and led them to the planting ground. The respected judges removed their jackets, rolled up their sleeves and planted the saplings with their own hands.

KKL-JNF began to plant the President’s Forest (also known as Tzora Forest), which extends over an area of around 11,000 dunam (approx 2,750 acres) in the Judean Foothills in the 1950s, and ever since then it has continued to enhance the site. Native varieties of tree have been added to the woodland, and recreation areas, scenic lookouts and footpaths have been provided. And now, twenty-seven new trees have joined the forest, courtesy of the judges’ delegation.

Camel Hill: A view of the Gaza border

The delegates continued on their way southwards towards the Gaza Border region. On Camel Hill (Giv‘at HaGamal) they looked over towards the Gaza Strip and saw for themselves how very close to Israeli communities the border lies. On one side, the hill overlooks the Gaza Strip just a few kilometers away, and on the other, the eastern border of the State of Israel is visible on the horizon.

“This is the state’s narrow waist,” explained Danny Gigi, Director of KKL-JNF’s Northern Negev Region, who told the guests how Sderot had sustained thousands of hits from rockets over the years. “Today the entire city is fortified with reinforced rooms and bomb shelters in both private homes and public areas,” he said.

“In the Israeli army, when there is no choice but to go to war, the commanders lead their soldiers into action calling ‘Follow me!’”, added Aharon Enrico Mairov, an Israeli who lives in Milan and had helped to organize the delegation. “We can say the same of our judges who fell in the line of duty.”

On top of the hill, KKL-JNF has established an appreciation center devoted to its Friends in Italy. Plaques at the site testify to the profound involvement of the Jewish community and friends of Israel in Italy in a variety of areas of Israeli life. The wide range of their projects encompasses, among other things, security tree-planting along the border with the Gaza Strip; the security road to the school at Kibbutz Saad; and the establishment of the Halutza communities for Gush Katif evacuees. The involvement of KKL Italy on a variety of projects for the benefit of humankind and the environment is greatly in evidence not only in the Negev, but all over Israel.

Aldo Anav related to the delegates his childhood memories of KKL-JNF’s Blue Box: “Every family had lost relatives in the Holocaust, and the Blue Box was not just our link to the Land of Israel, it was our way of restoring our dreams of a better future,” he explained. With shining eyes he recalled how his father used to tell him: “‘Come on, son, let’s help our brothers in the Land of Israel.’ Those donations are what made the establishment, the building and the development of Israel possible,” he said.

The Southern Agricultural R & D Station: Farming in the middle of the desert

The development of agriculture in the Negev is one of the most important challenges in which KKL-JNF has taken the lead. At the southern research and development station in the Besor region the delegates met plant-protection researcher Itai Opatovsky, who told them about experiments underway at the facility that are designed to help farmers cope with local climate and soil conditions, save water, safely combat pests and improve the profitability of the various different crops.

“Because of worldwide desertification, research in an area of this kind is especially important, because it can help us learn how to develop agriculture in arid regions,” explained Opatovsky.

As well as finding solutions to problems farmers face at present, researchers at the station are also engaged in long-term production-technology development and the introduction of new products. Experiments conducted at the station focus, among other things, on biological pest control, organic farming, orchard and vineyard cultivation, greenhouse cultivation of flowers, vegetables and spices, and the development of knowledge that will enable optimally efficient water use. Thanks to innovative growing methods and the introduction of unusual species developed by scientists at the station, local agriculture is flourishing, despite the hot, arid desert climate and its limited water resources.

The delegates toured the tomato greenhouse, which is an important focus for much of the research at the station, as 70% of all Israel’s tomatoes come from this part of the country. In another greenhouse, the delegates saw another crop that is being introduced to the area: pineapples.

The Besor Reservoirs: Using every single drop of water
The day concluded with a bird’s eye view of the Besor Reservoirs, under the guidance of KKL-JNF Western Negev Region Director Danny Ben David, who showed his guests the three-reservoir complex that stores purified effluent and flash flood waters that flow along the Besor Gully (Nahal HaBsor), and allows winter rainwater to be conserved for irrigation use in summer.

The southern Besor Reservoir has a capacity of four million cubic meters, and its northern neighbor, at slightly over half that size, can hold 2.2 million cubic meters. The third reservoir, which is situated close to the Besor Stream, collects floodwaters that are then pumped to the two upper reservoirs. The reservoir complex was built with the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends in the USA, England, Italy, Belgium and Germany.

From the vantage point that overlooks the reservoirs, we can also get an impression of the beautiful landscapes of the Besor Stream, which, at eighty kilometers long, is one of the largest waterways in the Negev. The Besor floods on an average two or three times a year, as around eight million cubic meters of water pour into it during flash floods in the winter.

“The things we’ve experienced today could well change the delegates’ views, and the area of influence could extend into additional communities,” said KKL-JNF emissary to Italy Shariel Gun at the end of the day. “There is no better way to get to know Israel properly. People need to come here, see the places, meet the people, learn about the culture and experience nature.”

“I was greatly impressed by the Israelis’ determination and by their capacity to cope with difficulties. This visit has increased my appreciation of Israel,” concluded Judge Davigo.