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Tova and Larry Vickar at the Alexander River in Israel during the Second Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium in January 2010.

Alexander River flowing into the Meditteranean Sea in Emek Hefer Israel. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Minister of Water Stewardship Christine Melnick (wearing green) and Efi Stenzler, JNF World Chairman with delegates to the Manitoba-Israel Water Exper


By Rhonda Spivak

Revitalizing the Alexander River from Nablus to the Mediterranean

Larry and Tova Vickar, who are this year’s honourees for the Jewish National Fund’ s Negev Gala in Winnipeg on June 1 have chosen to allocate money raised from the Gala to a unique co-operative project between Israelis and Palestinians: the ongoing revitalization of the Alexander River (‘Nachal” Alexander).

The Alexander River straddles both sides of the 1967 “green line “between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The river begins in the Palestinian city of Nablus in the Samarian Hills and it flows under the Israeli “security fence’ and ends at an estuary at the Mediterranean sea north of Netanya in Central Israel.

For years, raw untreated sewage from the Palestinian city of Nablus in the West Bank was discharged into the river causing severe malodorous pollution.  The river was also polluted from different sources on the Israeli side. The Jewish National Fund along with the Emek Hefer Regional Council   have  played  a leading role in  restoring the river with the support of  their Palestinian  neighbors from  the district and town of Tul-Karem in the West Bank.

The first agreement relating to this project, signed in 1996 by the Palestinian Governor of the District of Tul Karem and the Israeli head of the Emek Hefer Regional Council, was the first of its kind between neighbors on either side of the 1967 green line. It has been followed by a second agreement.
As  Larry Vickar told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, “Some 15 years ago, Israelis and Palestinians began  co-operating on  the Alexander River Restoration Project to clean up the river.  This unique co-operation has withstood the test the Palestinian intifada, and the building of the Israeli security fence , and ongoing conflict in the region.  It represents a hope for a better future. The creation for a constructed wetland along the banks of the river is the next stage in this co-operative environmental project, one which knows no political borders this is where funds from the project will go.”

Vickar, who was born and  raised in Melfort Saskatchewan and is the President  of Vickar  Community Chevrolet and  Vickar Automotive.

Vickar noted that the area where the Alexander River crosses is   near “the most narrow part” of pre-67 Israel. “This is where Israel is only about 14 kilometres wide, and the Israeli security fence was first built there as a result of the number of   suicide- bombers who crossed into Israel,” he said.

Tova Vickar, who spent her childhood living on kibbutz Ramat Hashofet in Israel, added, “Both Larry and I really liked the idea of choosing a project that has become a symbol of co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians.  The Alexander river helps bridge the divide between people in the region.  This concept was very important to us.”

This unique river project, which was awarded the Thiess International River prize in Australia in 2003, also involves the good will of the German government. Germany has undertaken to finance the planning and construction of a joint Israeli-Palestinian wastewater treatment plant costing approximately 25 million US dollars to address the pollution of the river from Nablus.  In the meantime,  in 2002,  emergency measures were taken   which involved the building of a sewage plant right on the  1967 green line, to stop the discharge of sewage from the Palestinian Authority (via the Nablus side of the river) and  pollution of the river from the Israeli towns of Netanya and Kfar Yona. Left untreated, the sewage from Nablus could have polluted the Mountain Aquifer in the Palestinian territories which provides drinking water to Israelis and Palestinians both.

These emergency measures and the construction of public parks and recreational facilities along restored stretches of the river have already led to a significant improvement in water quality of the Alexander River. 

“This is something that benefits Jews, Moslems and Christians—everybody in the region,” noted Tova Vickar.

Larry Vickar said he believes the Alexander River project is a way of Israelis and Palestinians going through the ‘ back door’ to  foster  peaceful co-existence.  ‘Unfortunately right now, the front door [direct peace negotiations between the parties] appears to have been closed,” he said.

The Vickars also told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that another aspect of why they chose this project is because it involves the construction of a wetland,  and revitalization of a water source  and “water technology” has been an area of partnership between the Province of Manitoba and Israel for the last several years.  

“When we were in Israel in January of this year during at the Second Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium, we  went to see the  Alexander River project, along with  Christine Melnick, the Manitoba Minister of Water Stewardship, and  ten  leading  Manitoba scientists.  Israel and Manitoba have had a partnership in the areas of agriculture and water-technology which the JNF has brokered, and this is a very important relationship.  We in Manitoba are very fortunate to have a Minister of Water Stewardship who has been so devoted to this partnership. We want this strategic partnership to grow,” said Larry Vickar.

During the Water Symposium, KKL [Karen Kayemet LeIsrael]-JNF World chairman Efi Stenzler praised Minister Melnick for the close scientific ties between the province and Israel, many “as a result of her personal initiative.” Last year, Minister Melnick deepened these ties by announcing scholarships available to Manitobans who want to study water technology at an institution of higher learning in Israel.

As Larry Vickar said, “ Manitoba’s scientists have looked to the JNF for expertise in water technology and water management techniques which have been applied to the Sea of Galilee. These techniques may help Manitoba in its efforts to preserve the health of Lake Winnipeg.  Similarly, Israeli scientists have been eager to learn from their Manitoban counterparts.  We are very fortunate to have such a thriving relationship. I anticipate that Israel and Manitoba may have further co-operation   in   the area of water technology in relation to constructed wetlands. These wetlands exist in the Hulla Valley [in Israel] and at Oak Hammock Marsh outside of Winnipeg.” 

When they were in Israel this past January, the participants of the Water Symposium met the architect of the Alexander River Restoration Project, Amos Brandeis.

“He was very impressive. He has basically devoted the last fifteen years of his life to this project,” Larry Vickar said.

Another reason why the Vickars were attracted to the Alexander River project is that the Alexander River runs through Emek Hefer, and Winnipeg has an historic connection to Emek Hefer.  In 1927, the chairman of the JNF Menachem Ushishkin set out on a fundraising trip to Western Canada and returned with $300,000 and undertakings to bring the sum up to one million dollars, the amount required to purchase Emek Hefer over a period of seven years.

JNF Director/KKL Emissary Erez Rotem notes that “the JNF office is researching the 1927 donations and would love to hear from families who were involved in the original Emek Hefer purchase. It would be great to reconnect with the families of our earliest supporters and we encourage them to contact the office.”

“Given that in 1927 many Jews in Winnipeg and Western Canada put up money to purchase the land in Emek Hefer  through the JNF, it seems fitting that now over 80 years later we  are  supporting a  project that helps rejuvenate the water source in Emek Hefer.  Thousands of families in Israel picnic in  the Alexander River area, and enjoy the  walking and bicycle paths, said Vickar.

Tovah Vickar said she and her husband anticipate that this year’s Negev Gala will be attended by Manitobans of a variety of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. The Vickars, who have led two Jewish Federation Leadership Missions to Israel, were honoured in 2009 by the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba in recognition of their support of the Philippine community. The entertainment for the evening will be the Israeli group Groovatron.

Founded in 1901, the Jewish National Fund is a global environmental leader, added Rotem. “JNF has planted over 240 million trees, constructed more than 200 reservoirs and dams and developed over 250,000 acres of land in Israel as well as providing infrastructure for over 1000 Israeli communities.”

The Vickars also added that that they are very pleased that their close friends Howard and Hope Morry, both prominent leaders in the Jewish community here are the Co-Chairs of the evening.   Howard and Hope Morry are also this year’s co -chairs of the Combined Jewish Appeal campaign.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.