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Firefighters participating in a joint Middle East Forest Fires drill in Israel, October 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Israel Firefighting and Rescue Authority

Firefighters participating in a joint Middle East Forest Fires drill in Israel, October 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Israel Firefighting and Rescue Authority

Firefighting and search-and-rescue teams from Jordan, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Italy, France and Spain had a joint disaster exercise in Israel.

By Abigail Klein Leichman

As forest fires and other major catastrophes engulf many parts of the world with greater frequency, the European Commission and the Israeli government organized an international exercise in Israel this week for firefighters from Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Italy, France and Spain.

The Middle East Forest Fires drill on October 24 and 25 had more than 400 participants from the various countries — including 250 firefighters, pilots, ground crews and logistics personnel — learning to improve skills and share knowledge in large-scale cooperative firefighting management, evacuation of residents, humanitarian assistance and preservation of nature.

Firefighters from Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Italy, France and Spain participating in a joint drill in Israel, October 24, 2017. Photo by Omer Shapira  

Firefighters from Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Italy, France and Spain participating in a joint drill in Israel, October 24, 2017. Photo by Omer Shapira 

“In recent years, we have witnessed large-scale disasters take the lives of tens of thousands of victims, such as earthquakes, floods, fires and incidents involving hazardous materials. These are disasters that countries cannot always deal with on their own, and for which they need assistance,” said Israeli Fire Commissioner Lt. Gen. Dedi Simhi.

The exercise scenario — a large forest fire that spread across borders — included the controlled setting of small fires in two Negev forests, one northeast of Beersheva and the other southeast of Kiryat Gat.

Small controlled fires were set as part of the international exercise, Middle East Forest Fires, in October 2017 in Israel. Photo by Omer Shapira

Small controlled fires were set as part of the international exercise, Middle East Forest Fires, in October 2017 in Israel. Photo by Omer Shapira

The Israeli contingent included representatives of the Foreign and Public Security ministries, the Israel Police, the Firefighting and Rescue Authority, Magen David Adom, the Home Front Command, the National Security Agency and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

Firefighting vehicles from participating countries came to Israel for the joint forest fire drill. Photo by Omer Shapira

Firefighting vehicles from participating countries came to Israel for the joint forest fire drill. Photo by Omer Shapira

Months of planning sessions preceded the Middle East Forest Fires drill. There were lots of logistics to coordinate as firefighting planes from Jordan, France, Italy and Spain also were sent to Israel for the simulation.

A firefighting plane from Italy participating in the joint forest fire drill, October 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Israel Firefighting and Rescue Authority

A firefighting plane from Italy participating in the joint forest fire drill, October 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Israel Firefighting and Rescue Authority

While Israeli firefighters have worked with counterparts from the Palestinian Authority and several Mediterranean countries in the past, it was the first time all of these countries came together for a joint exercise. The content of the sessions had to be translated into several languages though English was the dominant language.

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 8.47.45 AM.jpg

As forest fires and other major catastrophes engulf many parts of the world with greater frequency, the European Commission and the Israeli government organized an international exercise in Israel this week for firefighters from Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Italy, France and Spain.

The Middle East Forest Fires drill on October 24 and 25 had more than 400 participants from the various countries — including 250 firefighters, pilots, ground crews and logistics personnel — learning to improve skills and share knowledge in large-scale cooperative firefighting management, evacuation of residents, humanitarian assistance and preservation of nature.

Firefighters from Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Italy, France and Spain participating in a joint drill in Israel, October 24, 2017. Photo by Omer Shapira 

“In recent years, we have witnessed large-scale disasters take the lives of tens of thousands of victims, such as earthquakes, floods, fires and incidents involving hazardous materials. These are disasters that countries cannot always deal with on their own, and for which they need assistance,” said Israeli Fire Commissioner Lt. Gen. Dedi Simhi.

The exercise scenario — a large forest fire that spread across borders — included the controlled setting of small fires in two Negev forests, one northeast of Beersheva and the other southeast of Kiryat Gat.

Small controlled fires were set as part of the international exercise, Middle East Forest Fires, in October 2017 in Israel. Photo by Omer Shapira

The Israeli contingent included representatives of the Foreign and Public Security ministries, the Israel Police, the Firefighting and Rescue Authority, Magen David Adom, the Home Front Command, the National Security Agency and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

Firefighting vehicles from participating countries came to Israel for the joint forest fire drill. Photo by Omer Shapira

Months of planning sessions preceded the Middle East Forest Fires drill. There were lots of logistics to coordinate as firefighting planes from Jordan, France, Italy and Spain also were sent to Israel for the simulation.

A firefighting plane from Italy participating in the joint forest fire drill, October 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of Israel Firefighting and Rescue Authority

While Israeli firefighters have worked with counterparts from the Palestinian Authority and several Mediterranean countries in the past, it was the first time all of these countries came together for a joint exercise. The content of the sessions had to be translated into several languages though English was the dominant language.

Separately, at an army base in southern Israel, search-and-rescue teams from the Israel Defense Forces, Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Spain practiced how to respond cooperatively to a simulated massive earthquake that trapped “victims” underneath the rubble of a collapsed building constructed for the exercise by soldiers on the base.

The joint exercise ended with a ceremony for all participants before they departed back to their home countries.

Israel Fire and Rescue Authority Fire Commissioner Lt. Gen. Dedi Simhi speaking at the joint Middle East Forest Fire drill. Photo: courtesy

Israel Fire and Rescue Authority Fire Commissioner Lt. Gen. Dedi Simhi speaking at the joint Middle East Forest Fire drill. Photo: courtesy

At the ceremony, Simhi said that since its inception in 1948, the state of Israel has been guided by the Talmudic axiom “One who saves a single life is as if he has saved the entire world.”

“We sent rescue forces from the Home Front Command to assist during earthquakes in Turkey, Nepal, Haiti, and most recently, Mexico. Our aerial firefighting unit provided assistance last year to Cyprus, and this year to Montenegro and Macedonia,” Simhi said.

“And we too, needed assistance in two recent events. Last November, during an unprecedented number of fires, we requested and received assistance from our Palestinian and Egyptian neighbors, from Cyprus and from many other countries. And such was the case during the Mount Carmel fire in 2010.

“Therefore, there is great operational importance to an exercise involving international cooperation, so that in the event of an emergency, we will be familiar with one another and know how to work in collaboration,” he continued.

“I also believe that a personal relationship between commanders from different countries can be of great value during a large-scale disaster.”

Israeli, Arab, European Firemen Share Cross-border Drill

A Papua Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus papuensis). Photo by Alex Slavenko

A Papua Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus papuensis). Photo by Alex Slavenko

The most comprehensive atlas of reptilian species has been created by an international research team led by an Israeli scientist.

By ISRAEL21c Staff

An international project initiated by an Israeli professor has resulted in the most comprehensive catalog and atlas of every reptile on Earth, including 10,000 species of snakes, lizards, and tortoises and nearly 32,000 land vertebrate species altogether.

An international team of 39 researchers worked on the new “Atlas of Life,” as described in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The atlas links the new reptile information with existing maps for birds, mammals and amphibians. The resulting information provides a missing piece to the puzzle of global conservation planning and prioritization.

A gecko (Cyrtodactylus bintangtinggi) from Malaysia. Photo courtesy of BGU

A gecko (Cyrtodactylus bintangtinggi) from Malaysia. Photo courtesy of BGU

“Mapping the distributions of all reptiles was considered too difficult to tackle. But thanks to a team of experts on the lizards and snakes of some of the most poorly known regions of the world, we managed to achieve this, and hopefully contribute to the conservation of these often elusive vertebrates that suffer from persecution and prejudice,” said Prof. Shai Meiri, the Tel Aviv University zoologist who first planned and has been leading the project for the past 10 years.

This snake is a Vipera ammodytes. Photo by Alex Slavenko

This snake is a Vipera ammodytes. Photo by Alex Slavenko

Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology all had representatives on the research project.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature is currently classifying the species featured in a free online map, rating them from “critically endangered” to “least concern.”

According to lead author Uri Roll, a fellow in desert ecology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, “Lizards typically tend to have weird distributions and often like hot and dry places, so many of the newly identified conservation priority areas are in drylands and deserts. This isn’t as much of a characteristic for birds or mammals, so we couldn’t have guessed that in advance.”

Atlas of all Land Vertebrates. Graph courtesy of BGU

Atlas of all Land Vertebrates. Graph courtesy of BGU

Roll also analyzed the overlap of different land-vertebrate groups with current conservation priorities and protected areas to explore the outcome of these initiatives. “It turns out that reptiles fare worse than mammals and birds, and within that lizards and turtles fare the worst.”

To address these deficiencies, the researchers constructed a new prioritization plan. “We discovered that arid and semi-arid regions in various parts of the world have been under-prioritized for conservation and we will need to reevaluate our broadest conservation initiatives,” said Roll.

Cataloging Every Snake, Lizard and Tortoise on Earth

Students in the GIMI course for Palestinian avocado growers touring the fields.

Students in the GIMI course for Palestinian avocado growers touring the fields.

Galilee International Management Institute enables Palestinian farmers to join Israeli growers in meeting high avocado demand in Europe.

By Abigail Klein Leichman

Cooperation is thriving at the Galilee International Management Institute (GIMI) in Nahalal, a city in northern Israel.

This past July, GIMI gave a training course to Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli olive-oil producers, taught farmers from Palestinian Authority territories to grow avocados for export, and began planning a tele-course for Gazan computer engineers meant to lead to remote employment at Israeli companies.

“This is nothing new for us,” says GIMI President Joseph “Yossie” Shevel. “We’ve been cooperating with the Palestinians for the last 30 years.”

Established in 1987, GIMI develops and presents advanced capacity-building courses for professional personnel from all over the world – from more than 170 countries so far — taught in a wide variety of languages. But local and regional needs are never far from GIMI’s radar.

The avocado-growing course came out of GIMI’s awareness that the healthful avocado is in great demand in Europe and that Israelis could help Palestinian farmers join them in offering a quality product for this “green gold” market.

“We thought we should encourage Palestinians to grow avocados based on the excellent Israeli experience. We know there is a problem of exporting agricultural goods from the West Bank to Europe and we hope to help find a way,” Shevel tells ISRAEL21c.

The GIMI course for Palestinian avocado growers was partially funded by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

The GIMI course for Palestinian avocado growers was partially funded by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Israel avocado exports to Europe have grown to roughly 100,000 tons in recent years, comprising about a third of the winter avocado market in EU countries.

GIMI organized a training course designed for Palestinian agricultural extension officers who will then share their newfound knowledge with farmers. Funding was provided by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Union through the agency of Economic Cooperation Foundation, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit think tank founded in 1990 to build, maintain and support Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab cooperation.

“We have many alumni in the West Bank so once we announced the program they helped us spread the word, and 28 people registered,” says Shevel. About 40 percent of the registrants were female, and some already grow avocados for export to Arab countries.

The two-week course began with online classes taught mainly by Arab-Israeli GIMI faculty members and ended with two days of in-person classes and field trips to Israeli avocado farms in the north at the end of July.

Unfortunately, politics got in the way of 20 of the participants making their way to Israel for the final two days because the Palestinian Authority had halted cooperation with the Israeli government over the issue of security on the Temple Mount.

“They had permits and everything was ready,” says Shevel. “We hope to find funding for them to come and complete the course later on. Usually we manage to overcome politics.”

The eight agronomists and agricultural engineers who did manage to make it came from Hebron, Kalkilya, Tibas and Jenin, and “were received very nicely by the Israeli farmers,” Shevel says.

The course did not end with the formal sessions, he adds. “Now we’ll follow up and help them to plant avocados and work with them, especially when the crops are ready, to export to Europe.”

Breakthrough program

Shevel also is looking forward to what he calls a “breakthrough” program intended to ease the unemployment situation in the Gaza strip, which is contiguous with Israel but ruled by Hamas and therefore few people can cross the border in either direction.

Scheduled to begin in October after the Jewish high holidays, this course will train Gazan computer engineers online to qualify for jobs in Israel via remote connection.

“With globalization you can hire an engineer anywhere, so why not in Gaza, to improve their lives?” Shevel says. “At the end of the program we’ll look for Israeli high-tech companies to employ them. Already one large company made a commitment to do so, and we have two sources ready to fund the program.”

How is GIMI publicizing the course in Gaza? “We have a graduate in Gaza who studied here about 10 years ago and is in close contact with us and wants to coordinate this program for us,” says Shevel.

Perhaps surprisingly, he reveals that his efforts to reach out also have been helped by a close personal friend who is the former president of Al Aqsa University in Gaza.

For more information, click here.

Israeli Institute Trains Palestinian Avocado Growers

Fresh greens grown in the middle of Tel Aviv. Photo by Mendi Falk

Fresh greens grown in the middle of Tel Aviv. Photo by Mendi Falk

Urban gardening is all the rage in busy Israeli urban areas including Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva and Jerusalem.

by Viva Sarah Press

The upper parking lot of the Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv is a concrete maze of cars. There is also a hothouse up here with the freshest green vegetables you’ve ever seen.

While gardening on the roof of an urban parking garage may seem absurd, Yarok Ba’ir (Green in the City) is serving city dwellers – and restaurants within a 2-kilometer radius — straight-from-the-farm veggies.

Green in the City is a joint venture between LivinGreen, a company that pioneers hydroponic and aquaponic solutions, and the Dizengoff Center, opened in the 1970s as Israel’s first shopping mall.

A gardening workshop at Green in the City. Photo by Mendi Falk

“The main goal of Green in the City is to bring agriculture to the middle of the city, to be able to grow food right in the heart of the city,” Yoav Sharon, co-manager of Green in the City, tells ISRAEL21C.

“People can come here and buy their products, so that trucks don’t have to come into the city to deliver products to restaurants. You see buildings, cars, pollution and then here’s a nice green garden in the middle.”

The first commercial farm in Tel Aviv consists of a hothouse and areas for workshops where local residents can learn how to build urban mini farms at home or school.

The urban farm grows nearly two dozen varieties of veggies and herbs (among them lettuce, basil, tomatoes, mint, kale, cucumbers and green onions), producing some 15,000 heads of leafy greens each month.

Demand is so high that Green in the City now boasts three stands in the Dizengoff Center. All three operate on an honor system.

“There’s nobody at the stands to sell the vegetables. Everything is labeled. Customers pick what they want and deposit the right amount of money into the box,” he says, noting that Green in the City sells more than 1,500 products per week.

Farm stands at the Dizengoff Center sell rooftop veggies. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

Food security

Green in the City launched in the winter of 2015 to demonstrate urban farming and to show that growing greens in a city is not only possible but viable.

Today, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That number is expected to increase to 66% by 2050.

To feed the growing numbers of city-dwellers, urban farming is crucial. That’s why the hydroponics project in downtown Tel Aviv has garnered international interest.

Yoav Sharon in the Green in the City garden. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

Yoav Sharon in the Green in the City garden. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

The UN reports that 800 million people worldwide grow vegetables or fruits or raise animals in cities, producing 15-20% of the world’s food. This trend can make an important contribution to food security, especially in times of crisis or food shortages.

LivinGreen, one of the partners in Green in the City, runs two aquaponics projects in collaboration with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, in Ghana and Ethiopia.

Taste is fresh

Growing locally also means fresher veggies.

While air pollution in the city and in the parking facility under Green in the City can’t be good for the vegetables, Sharon says the mesh netting around the hothouse keeps most of the harmful pollutants at bay. He also notes that Green in the City has sent samples of its leafy greens to be checked in a lab.

Pesticides and other chemicals usually sprayed on rural farms, he notes, are absent from these greens. The vegetables are grown in beds filled with clean water, fertilizer and minerals. A fish aquaponics system cleans the water naturally.

Veggies grown without dirt or pesticides. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

Veggies grown without dirt or pesticides. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

“There’s no need to clean these vegetables,” says Sharon. “There are no pesticides on it, there’s no dirt or soil. There are no worms on the vegetables. There are also fewer bad leaves. Compared to a soil-grown vegetable, where restaurants throw away 40-50% of the vegetable, here you only throw away 10-20%.”

Israel, known for its agriculture technologies, is strong in the hydroponics field.

Greening and growing Israel

Green in the City is one of many urban green spots blooming around Israel.

The Society of the Protection of Nature in Israel has an ongoing grassroots project that helps residents build and maintain community gardens. In the past 15 years, some 300 community gardens have been planted around the country on formerly barren patches of land.

The Onya urban environment nursery of young eco-conscious visionaries grows greenery and offers urban gardening workshops in the concrete sprawl also known as the Tel Aviv New Bus Station.

At Totzeret Gimel-Urban Farmin one of Beersheva’s more neglected neighborhoods, farmers and volunteers grow seasonal vegetables to sell to neighbors and local restaurants. Totzeret Gimel also promotes a local and sustainable model of urban agriculture.

CityTree Tel Aviv and CityTree Haifa offer a slew of ecological-based programs including composting workshops and community garden outreach.

And the Muslala Arts Collective built its Gag Eden urban farm atop the Clal Building in downtown Jerusalem. Gag Eden hosts courses and workshops on container growing, green walls, hydroponics, the sustainable kitchen and medicinal herbs.

 

 

Article courtesy of Israel21c.org

Article courtesy of Israel21c.org

Hydroponic Farm Sprouts on the Roof of a Shopping Mall

Trees planted in a depression to hold rainwater in the Negev.  Photo by and © 2016 Vision Studio 

The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research is one of several campuses of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Here, the curriculum focuses on how to live and work in this expanse of sand and in climatic extremes that range from scorching hot to bitter cold. Ben-Gurion himself put it concisely: “In the Negev will the people of Israel be tested.”

Nearly 60 percent of Israel is desert. How can food be raised in a barren wasteland? Scientists at the Blaustein Institutes have been working since the 1970s to make parts of the Negev green and hospitable.

Nearly 60 percent of Israel is desert. How can food be raised in a barren wasteland? Where does the water come from to sustain life in such arid, dusty conditions? Scientists at the Blaustein Institutes have been working since the 1970s to make parts of the Negev green and hospitable—researching everything from climatology and meteorology to water resources, desert ecology, animal husbandry, biotechnology, and much more.

The institute’s Solar and Environmental Physics center is designed for super energy efficiency. Much thought has gone into how to construct in this environment, where electricity and water are so very valuable. It’s a given that buildings here must be designed to work with the realities of the desert context, and not in confrontation with them. While the days are hot, the nights can be very chilly; a well-insulated structure, with thick, dense walls, can retain that refreshing coolness. Cold air has a tendency to stay low—so in this building, most of the offices are located on the first floor, and in the summertime a cooling tower sprinkles water into the atmosphere, serving as a form of air conditioning. Conversely, hot air rises, so the light from the blazing sun is blocked with shades, and high vents and windows allow the warm air that has accumulated to escape. In the winter, the campus—which is more than 1,300 feet above sea level—can get cold, so solar panels soak in the sun’s heat and distribute it to the building, warming workspaces and the circulating water system.

The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research >

Climate and Environment Studies at Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research