Delegations from England, France and Australia are currently in Israel for the thrice-a-year “walkathon,” a walking marathon. After enlisting sponsors in their home countries to donate to Israeli environmental organization KKL-JNF, the participants come to tour Israel and get to know the country better.
A delegation is visiting Israel and spending a week hiking in the Negev and the Arava desert areas. Under the banner “Walk for Water” its members have adopted two major KKL-JNF projects: the establishment of water reservoirs at Negba and Masuot Yitzhak, which together will place an additional 600,000 cubic meters at the disposal of farmers in Israel’s Kibbutz Negba and the surrounding area. These reservoirs collect both rainwater and reclaimed water from sewage purification plants and recycle it for the irrigation of thousands of dunams of crops in the Negev, such as avocados and persimmons.
[According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, lack of water in Israel in recent years has “developed into a crisis so severe that it is feared that by the next summer it may be difficult to adequately supply municipal and household water requirements. The current cumulative deficit in Israel’s renewable water resources amounts to approximately 2 billion cubic meters, an amount equal to the annual consumption of the State,” the ministry wrote]
Masuot Yitzhak reservoir was among the sites on the delegation members’ itinerary. Rami Harel, KKL-JNF England’s Projects Director, explained that it is important for the participants to see for themselves just how vital their contribution is.
The magnificent desert landscapes left a profound impression on the visitors.
“These are the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world,” said 80-year-old Leon Collins, from Leeds, who is participating in the delegation for the twelfth time. “Last year my previous record was broken when a 79-year-old man took part, so I decided I’d better come back this year to reclaim my title,” he explained with a broad smile. His companions told us that his age does not hold him back and that he is the first to rise to every challenge, be it scrambling up a steep hill, climbing a ladder, sliding down a rope or traveling a bumpy road by jeep.
Seventy-three-year-old Peter Barnett of London holds another record: this is the 16th Walkathon delegation he has taken part in, out of a total of 17 that have been held since the idea first came up in 1994. “My family and friends think I’m nuts,” said Barnett, “but I just love Israel. As soon as one trip’s over I start looking forward to the next one.”
As he makes his way up a steep hill overlooking the Dead Sea, holding on to outcrops of rock as he ascends, Barnett tells us that he’s actually afraid of heights. “At home I don’t even climb a ladder,” he says. “But it’s a challenge, and if you can’t rise to a challenge you’ll never achieve anything.”
Most of those taking part have already visited Israel many times, but the delegation has given them a special opportunity to meet people and visit places they would not otherwise have been able to see. Tracy Lee of London says, “It’s very different from spending a holiday in a hotel in Herzliya. This way we see the real Israel and learn a great deal about it.”