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Protecting and preserving nature in the Holy Land

I have a 14-year-old son. He’s very mature; people like to call him an “old soul.” In Israel, there’s a 14-year old tree that literally has an old soul. The tree, nicknamed “Methuselah,” is a Judean date palm sprouted from a 2000-year-old seed that was found at the ancient desert palace and fortress known as Masada. This species of date palm went extinct at around 500 C.E., but scientists in Israel were able to plant and grow Methuselah, literally bringing an extinct species back to life.

Israel’s location has made it a favorite of those seeking to rule empires for millennia. The Assyrians marched in during their conquest of the Levant, the Greeks and the Romans went through it to get to Europe and Africa, the Arabs, the Crusaders and then the Arabs (again) took turns ruling it and the Mongols raided it in their quest to take over, well, the entire world. As anyone who opens a newspaper knows, political control over the Holy Land is desirable.

But that location, bridging the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, also makes it a perfect location for the promotion of rich and diverse flora and fauna. Monty Python’s proverbial African Swallow and European Swallow met in Israel and new species arose. This small country, the size of New Jersey, contains within it five distinct climate zones, ranging from Alpine in the north to Saharan in the south. This makes Israel the northern limit for papyrus and the southern limit for coral peonies. Over a half-billion (yes, with a “b”) birds fly over Israel every year in their migration patterns. There are almost as many distinct land animal species in Israel as can be found in all of Europe — 300 times larger!

The history and cultural heritage of Israel is intertwined with nature; it is the Persian fallow deer which is referred to in Deuteronomy 14:5. It is the griffon vulture described 28 times in the Bible. Yet both the Persian fallow deer and the griffon vulture were previously hunted almost to extinction. Recognizing this, the state of Israel took responsibility for restoring and preserving the natural resources of the land and created the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. An unusual agency, the INPA is responsible for all of Israel’s national parks and heritage sites, including Masada, Caesarea and Capernaum, but also for all of its nature preserves and its wild animal and plant life — all told, about 25 percent of the land area of Israel is under the jurisdiction of the INPA.

The INPA has instituted incredible programs to protect the indigenous flora and fauna of Israel. In conjunction with the Israel Defense Forces, they utilize the surveillance skills of the soldiers watching for terrorist infiltration to spot and identify rare animals and at the same time, capture poachers trapping and harming wildlife. They have reintroduced and reestablished endangered species (including the Persian fallow deer and griffon vulture I mentioned earlier) back to their native home. They have created an extensive facility for the treatment, conservation and rehabilitation of the Mediterranean sea turtle. During the past few months, they have been instrumental in fighting the fires caused by incendiary balloons and kites that have been sent into the south of Israel over the Gaza border and will be working to restore the extensive damage caused by the fires to the animals and plants of Israel.

Their expertise is also often called on to reduce the impact to natural resources that may be a concern in a growing economy like Israel has. For example, as roads in Israel have been expanded, animals such as wolves can find themselves unable to cross from one area of the country to another, an essential requirement in maintaining the biodiversity of the species. The INPA responded by constructing wildlife bridges over the roads, allowing the development necessary for the modern state of Israel while still preserving wildlife safety.

I have the honor of serving as the co-chair of the Israel Nature and Heritage Foundation of America, a 501(c)3 charity based here in the United States which exists to help support the great work of the INPA as they preserve and protect both the historical heritage sites which are part of the cradle of Western Civilization and the unique animals and plant life that call Israel home and in some cases exist nowhere else on the planet.

I encourage everyone to join us in helping to, quite literally, support the land of Israel. Please join our Facebook page, which can be found at and feel free to contact me at any time at with any questions, or if we can help in any way in connection with visiting or supporting this amazing land, country, people and life.

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