December 24, 2006 / 3 Tevet 5767
Birds Know No Borders is the name of a groundbreaking environmental coexistence program for youth that is being launched by the Jewish Agency in cooperation with the Society for the Protection of Nature at the Hula Valley Nature Reserve.
The fabric of relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs, fragile in peacetime, barely withstood the difficult period of the second Lebanon war. Although northern residents shared the same fate under fire, the different positions taken by Jews and Arabs have strained the existing partnerships of coexistence.
"Birds Know No Borders gives Jewish and Arab children a platform to connect through learning about and working with nature, specifically birds," says Devorah Velinitz, program manager. "The territorial conflicts that the participants observe in nature, and the resolution of these conflicts, serve as a lesson for their lives as well."
Dan Alon, director of the Israel Ornithology Center (IOC) of the Society for the Protection of Nature and recipient of Time Magazine's Hero of the Planet award for his conservation achievements, agrees. "This is the first program of its kind. We want to show that just as birds know no borders as they fly from Jordan to Israel to Egypt, Jewish and Arab youth can take down the borders between themselves."
"At the same time," continues Dan, "we want these youth to connect to the environment and see how it is possible to bring about co-existence between nature and man, and between man and man."
The program, to begin at the end of December, is comprised of 1,500 Jewish and Arab children (750 each) from the northern communities of Ma'alot, Mrar, the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Akko and Ilaboon. It is an enrichment program that takes place after school, and students are chosen by their school principal.
Consisting of eight sessions total, the first two sessions take place in participating schools to present the overall project to the students and teach them about the fascinating world of birds, including flight migration. After this, the students meet in the field to begin the hands-on work.
"The Hula Valley Nature Reserve is an ideal place for this project," says Dan. "It is world renowned for its rich bird life, including one of the largest migration flyways in the world, where over 500 million birds pass over twice a year."
The participants will work together to plan and build a bird reservation. This will include creating nesting locations, building observation and bird-watching positions, preparing signs and educational information and building a bird ringing station. Educational equipment will include binoculars, telescopes and bird guide books.
"A wonderful example of coexistence between nature and man is the story of the cranes in the Hula Valley," explains Dan. "These cranes used to destroy the farmers' crops, causing irreversible damage. Through intensive research, a management system was developed that gave the cranes alternative food sources and a place where they could thrive, away from the farmland. Today, these beautiful birds bring thousands of tourists to the area and man and nature coexist."
"We can show the participants that it is possible to find alternatives to conflict and coexist in a mutually beneficial way," says Dan.
The Jewish Agency is raising funds from its partners around the world to support this program that will bring about change for Israel's next generation. Because together, anything is possible.