Trip to Israel

I was invited to speak in Israel, which happened a couple of weeks ago.

It is noticeable how it is nowadays rare to go somewhere and encounter an “isolated” community. It has become very easy to link into a global network of discussion and exchange of information via the internet or the various social media platforms. Yet at the same time, every region presents its own specific problems and challenges which people are confronted with – the same is true of the Israeli arborist community.

The workshop days took place in Hazore’a, south of Haifa, which is a secular kibbutz founded in the mid thirties. Today it is a thriving community of 450 people living and working together, swarming with kids and surrounded by beautiful park-like grounds. I was intrigued by the mixture of southern European and  north African vegetation, familiar yet at the same time very different. Oh, and of course the ubiquitous Eucalyptus, originally planted to drain swampy areas. I was humbled by the kind and generous hospitality offered by Dror, a very central person in the Israeli arborist community and Ran of Hazore’a. The group I was working with was obviously very switched on and brought a lot of experience to the table.

There was the usual mix of techniques and approaches to working in and on trees… there were some specific challenges though. Working in full chainsaw protection during a Middle Eastern summer in 50°C certainly sounds challenging in the extreme. The industry is very weakly regulated, allowing for all sorts of cowboy operators to put financial pressure on people trying to do the right thing by investing in training and professionalism by doing work at absurdly low prices (ok, this is sadly not a Israel-specific issue). Tree structures are problematic. Canary palms are suffering from an infestation of a beetle which came in from Lebanon and has moved all the way to the south of the country, internally hollowing out the palms causing damage you cannot see from the outside, causing potential failure when someone climbs on the tree – and of course killing the trees.

Be that as it may, the two workshop days were interesting and fun, flying by in a blur, including a social evening between with families and all.

Dror then took the time to show us around the country, which was amazing. I have never been to a place which I have found challenging on so many levels. Israel feels like a country made up of fragments: you look at one and think you have understood something, to then turn around, look at the next and realise you have understood nothing at all. It is breathtakingly beautiful, moving and interesting, but also crass, upsetting and wrong – all at the same time. Very intense.

Travelling down to the Dead Sea through the desert of Juda was spectacular as you are travelling through an area seeped in history, sunset in the desert over the Dead Sea must be one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Jerusalem on the other hand I found puzzling and slightly bizarre.

It seemed to me that many, many people there are on a voyage of personal spiritual fulfilment, regardless of their creed, and that you might think that this would have a unifying effect – which of course it does not. What you choose to believe in is something deeply personal and is not something I would want to lumber others with – let alone impose on them. This is not what seems to be going on in Jerusalem.

Travelling this country makes you very aware of the depth of complexity to the issues this region is battling with. They have affected many generations and have caused a lot of grief and hatred over the years. Call me naive, but I found it encouraging to hear people from both sides of the – literal – fence say that most people just want to get on with life, and that the only parties interested in perpetuating this momentary situation of conflict are the extremists on both sides. Hopefully in the years to come, voices of reason will be the ones increasingly heard.

Thank you to all who made this trip possible, especially Dror who went above and beyond what I would ever expect of a host. It is certainly one that I will be taking lasting memories away from…