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Western Australian Parliament Members Visit the Negev

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Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, twelve members of the Parliament of Western Australia arrived in Israel for a ten-day visit, including the Minister for Water, Dr. Graham Jacobs, on the initiative of AIJAC, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

For all the representatives, this was their first visit to Israel. They toured all over the country, from the Golan to the Negev, and met key figures in government, academia and the media. They saw, at close range, people and places one usually encounters only on the news, in order to better understand the challenges the State of Israel faces.

One of their days of touring was dedicated to becoming acquainted with KKL-JNF projects in the Negev, many of which are being developed with the support of Friends of KKL-JNF in Australia, and are ecologically oriented. Shalom Norman, adviser to JNF Australia, led the tour and provided fascinating explanations about KKL-JNF activities and the challenges of living in the Israeli desert.

“The connection of KKL-JNF and Australia,” said Norman, “is founded on the Jewish community living there, but the excellent relationship between the two countries goes beyond this. KKL-JNF has great experience and expertise in the relevant issues of water and agriculture.”

Minister Jacobs was especially interested in the work KKL-JNF has been doing with water. “There are many points of similarity between Australia and Israel,” said the Minister. “We are also coping with complex problems in our water economy. The difference is that in Australia we use water once and then flush it into the ocean, whereas you have found ways to recycle it. In Israel, grey water is separated from sewage, while we mix them together and then invest a lot of energy in separating them. In Israel, water of different qualities is used for different purposes, unlike in Australia, where people believe all water has to be on a perfect level, which creates scarcity. Water is much cheaper in Australia, which leads to extra usage. I have learned a lot on this tour, and I hope I will be able to apply these lessons for the benefit of my country.”

The participants heard about some of the major projects in the Negev that were carried out thanks to contributions from KKL-JNF Australia, such as the construction of six reservoirs and sewage purification plants; environmental development at the Cochin Jewish Heritage Centre in Nevatim and at the Visitors Centre in the Dudaim Waste Disposal Site; the construction of a playground in Shomriya, and more.

At the present time, KKL-JNF is completing plans for the ANZAC Route – a series of historical sites along the “Major Military Outflanking” route, a maneuver that was executed by soldiers from Australia and New Zealand during World War I. These sites tell the heroic story of the conquest of Beersheba from the Turks by the Australian Mounted Division.

The MPs visited the new village of Givot Bar, which was established in 2004 near the Bedouin city of Rahat with the assistance of Friends of KKL-JNF in Australia. This is a country town, with around 300 residents at present. Many more families are waiting to join the young community.

The group proceeded from there to the Aryeh Reservoir, which was constructed northwest of Beersheba and harvests the city’s effluents along with sewage from Jewish and Bedouin towns and villages in the vicinity. The reservoir contains 1.1 million cubic meters of water, and three purification pools were constructed adjacent to it. Upgrading the reservoir will allow purification of high quality water, suitable for all kinds of agriculture and for urban landscaping.

The mission also visited the Tifrah reservoir, which is to contain 2 million cubic meters of water upon its completion within less than a year. The farmers in the vicinity of Tifrah have been limited to producing cotton and cattle fodder until now, but thanks to the reservoir, the purification level of their water supply will be higher, and they will be able to diversify their agricultural produce. Norman explained to the participants that the Negev reservoirs are a great contribution to the water economy in these times of severe crisis. The reservoirs collect the effluents of the Negev communities and sewage from the Hebron region of the Palestinian Authority, which is then reused for agriculture.

Using recycled water has a number of advantages, first and foremost the increase in water supply and the reduction in use of potable water for irrigation. Recycled water is cheaper than fresh water by around 50%, which assists farmers economically. The reservoirs will allow for the cultivation of fields that have been abandoned in recent years due to cutbacks in water allocations.

Adele Farina, MP: “This visit to Israel has been fascinating and has helped all of us understand the complexity of the problems you are dealing with. We had the privilege of meeting interesting people who presented various points of view regarding Israeli society. Today I have a much better understanding of the special connection of the Jewish community in Australia with the State of Israel.”

Tony Krsticevic, MP: “We hear about Israel all the time, and I wanted to see with my own eyes what is really going on here. I was a little hesitant before the trip, but I have been pleased to discover that Israel is a lot quieter and friendlier than I thought. It is amazing to see how people manage to live normal lives in the shadow of an impossible security reality.”

Steve Lieblich, from AIJAC, one of the initiators of the tour, concluded: “The best way to conduct public relations is to bring people here. One can literally see the change effected in people with regard to Israel over the course of the trip. The connection with KKL-JNF helps a lot, as it is a professional organization that deals with water and ecology, issues that are very important to Australians.”