From Desert to Bloom

World Environment Day on June 5th is often overshadowed by negative headlines. This year was no different, yet the day’s theme of “Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience” poignantly reminds us of our collective aspirations for a sustainable and equitable world.

Jeffrey Levine

6/11/20245 min read

World Environment Day on June 5th is often overshadowed by negative headlines. This year was no different, yet the day’s theme of “Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience” poignantly reminds us of our collective aspirations for a sustainable and equitable world.

World Environment Day 2024 Theme and Israel’s Contribution

On June 5th, 2024, the global focus was on addressing land degradation, a pressing issue affecting 40% of the planet's land and half the world's population. Despite its arid climate, Israel has emerged as a global leader in combating desertification and promoting sustainable land management through innovative technologies and practices.

Israel’s Pioneering Role

  1. Agricultural Innovations: Israel’s advanced agricultural technologies, such as drip irrigation and water-efficient crops, maximize productivity while conserving water and minimizing land degradation.

  2. Afforestation and Reforestation: The Jewish National Fund (JNF) has planted millions of trees, transforming barren lands into forests, preventing soil erosion, and enhancing biodiversity.

  3. Water Management: Israel excels in water management with expertise in desalination, wastewater recycling, and efficient irrigation systems, crucial for maintaining agricultural productivity and reducing drought impacts.

  4. Research and Development: Israeli institutions lead in developing sustainable agricultural practices and land restoration techniques, collaborating internationally to amplify these innovations.

  5. International Collaboration: Through initiatives like MASHAV, Israel shares its expertise in agriculture and water management with developing countries, promoting global environmental sustainability.

Aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Israel’s efforts align with several SDGs:

  • SDG 2 (Zero Hunger): Promoting sustainable agriculture and food security.

  • SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation): Advancing water management technologies.

  • SDG 13 (Climate Action): Developing resilience to climate change.

  • SDG 15 (Life on Land): Restoring degraded lands and promoting biodiversity.

A Real Example of How Israel Makes a Desert Bloom

A few months ago, my wife and I attended a wedding at Kibbutz Ketura, home to the Arava Institute. This extraordinary centre brings Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians together to work on practical sustainability projects. Driving through the Arava desert, the stark contrast between the arid landscape and the vibrant life cultivated by the kibbutz pioneers is striking.

The Resilience of Kibbutz Ketura

As you approach Kibbutz Ketura, the transformation is astounding. Amidst the relentless heat and dryness of the desert, the kibbutz stands out like an oasis, green and full of life. This transformation is a testament to agricultural innovation and the spirit of peace and cooperation that defines the community. Everyone at the kibbutz is geared towards sustainability and mutual recognition, fostering an environment where peace and practical collaboration flourish.

This is manifested in the Arava Institute

A Personal Connection

My wife works with a lady named Madeline, who revealed that her brother, Don Tocker, was one of the main founders of Kibbutz Ketura. Don was a proud Jewish man from Waco, Texas, who dedicated his life to blooming the desert and fostering peace. Tragically, he was killed in a traffic accident at age 24, but his legacy lives on in the kibbutz, with the library named in his honour. This small-world connection deepened our appreciation for the kibbutz and the incredible work being done there.

The Spirit of Don Tocker

Don Tocker's story is a powerful example of how individual dedication can lead to transformative change. His journey from Waco, Texas, to Israel and his role in establishing Kibbutz Ketura reflect the broader themes of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the harsh environment, Don and his fellow pioneers created a thriving community that stands as a beacon of sustainability and peace in the Middle East.

Reviving Ancient Olive Seeds at Kibbutz Ketura

The replanting of ancient olive seeds at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel blends archaeology, agriculture, and environmental restoration. Archaeological excavations have unearthed olive seeds dating back thousands of years, evidencing the historical significance of olives in the region. This project aims to revive these ancient varieties by germinating preserved seeds and transplanting them to the arid fields of Kibbutz Ketura. The initiative enhances genetic diversity, connects modern inhabitants with their heritage, and promotes sustainable agriculture in desert regions. Despite challenges like climate adaptation and pest management, the project offers a model for integrating ancient practices with modern farming techniques.

World Environment Day: A Call to Action

World Environment Day on June 5th, 2024, emphasised "Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience." This critical issue received little media attention, overshadowed by the relentless tide of negative news.

Tragedies and Ironies of October 7th

One of the tragedies and ironies of October 7th is the terrorist attack on the very farming communities dedicated to peace and sustainability. These peace-loving farmers and their families faced unimaginable violence, yet despite the horrors, Israelis have strived to provide support even to their enemies. Hamas aimed to disrupt the normalisation of ties between Israel and its neighbours, and we all have personally struggled with the world's response. It often feels as though Israel is judged harshly, with an incomplete narrative that overlooks our history and efforts for peace.

A Commitment to Peace

Despite continuous attacks and terrorism from neighbouring countries since 1948, Israelis have repeatedly reached out for peace. We acknowledge the suffering on all sides and strive to heal wounds. We did not come to colonise but to return to our historical homeland. It is our responsibility to acknowledge the pain of others and work towards a better future.

Kibbutz Ketura's solar energy, agriculture and cooperation projects exemplify this commitment to peace and sustainability, showing that our actions go beyond words.

Conclusion: The Journey Towards a Better World

The story of Kibbutz Ketura and Don Tocker is a poignant reminder of what can be achieved through perseverance, innovation, and a commitment to peace. As we reflect on the importance of World Environment Day, Kibbutz Ketura serves as a real-world example of how these ideals can be implemented. In a world often overshadowed by conflict and negativity, the kibbutz is a testament to the possibility of a better, more sustainable, and peaceful future. By embracing the spirit of pioneers like Don Tocker, we can continue our journey towards a world where deserts bloom and peace prevails.

A Final Word

Before October 7, I published my first book, “Upgrading ESG.” For me, ESG embodies:

  • E: Healing the Planet.

  • S: Empowering People.

  • G: Elevating God (Goodness).

In the book, I have a chapter titled “ Make the Desert Bloom.

I wrote”

“The idea of making the desert bloom through tree planting, especially fruit trees, has the potential to bring about a multitude of positive impacts, including inter-faith peace, economic prosperity, and improved living conditions in the Middle East and beyond.”

While my country is at war against evil, we must not let this destroy our dreams of a better world. Embracing ESG principles, we can pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable future, transforming our world from exploitation to compassion and sustainability. This challenging journey holds the promise of a better world for all.

Readers are invited to learn more about ESG on my website: Upgrading ESG.

[Photos taken at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava. Other images sourced on social media.]