Flowers in the barrel

IDF (Zahal) marks International Earth Day by incorporating a nature reserve into an army base

Date: 22/04/2012, 6:07 PM     Author: Idan Sonsino

When future IDF (Zahal) commanders built the walls of the School for Infantry Corps’ Professions and Squad Commanders, they knew they were acting to protect the land – not from terrorists or enemy forces, but from the threat of herds of cows and other animals. The soldiers have now changed the layout of the base in order to absorb an entire nature reserve, as its responsibility was transferred to the IDF (Zahal), in the context of an unprecedented agreement signed last week with the Nature and Parks Authority.

The Yerucham Iris Reserve, home to the world’s densest concentration of rare flowers indigenous to Israel, is being annexed to the base of the training base of the Foxes of the Negev squad commanders. This arrangement was initiated by battalion commander Lt. Co. Shimon Peretz, who explained, “We have a responsibility to protect this vast and important area adjacent to the base, which enables us to instill in the squad commanders of every infantry brigade the importance of protecting nature while strengthening the relationship between the Nature and Parks Authority and the IDF (Zahal).” 

In the context of the agreement, ten stations providing information on the environment were constructed along the main path of the reserve, which is directly accessible from the base or from an outer entrance that is open to visitors. The views of the nature reserve will become an integral part of the commanders’ training.

“Those who don’t love the land, the earth, cannot protect it. When we educate our squad commanders to care for nature, the result is that they will pay attention to the environment during military operations and minimize the damage caused by these activities, and we will increase their sense of responsibility,” school commander Col. Ronen Marley – who took part in last week’s signing ceremony for the new agreement -told the IDF (Zahal) Website. “Thousands of infantry soldiers, the best kids of the State of Israel, pass through here every year. Many of them will fill the ranks of the IDF (Zahal) and, later, key roles in Israeli society. They are at a stage of learning as much as possible. Because here begins the command of tomorrow; from here we will see changes. The values that guide them here will be passed onto their subordinates throughout the IDF (Zahal). Their subordinates will in turn become commanders who will continue to pass on these values. This is a process that will not stop and is a real contribution to the State of Israel.” 

The launch event was attended by Nature and Parks Authority representatives, who transferred power to IDF (Zahal) officials.
“We are changing the perception that soldiers have of the Negev that it is a dusty, hot, and boring place,” said Raviv Shapira, head of the Nature and Park Authority’s Southern District. “A soldier that will work here will think of things very differently. Work in the reserve will expand the perspective and knowledge of future commanders, and knowledge is power. This project creates better commanders, knowledgeable commanders.”

This week, against the backdrop of International Earth Day and the blossoming of spring, the first commanders’ tour of the reserve will take place, in order to strengthen oversight of the reserve, which is located in the heart of an area undergoing development that is endangering the quality of its environment, and in order to strengthen the soldiers’ connection to nature. As a result of the project, the Foxes of the Negev are candidates for the Shield of the Minister for Environmental Protection, and its officers emphasize that this is only one element of environmentally friendly activity within the battalion – which also stresses recycling and conservation of water and electricity.

The noteworthy agreement signed with Nature and Parks Authority should be only the opening shot of ongoing and tightening cooperation between the IDF (Zahal) and the Nature and Parks Authority, officials said.

“If in the past, we would tolerate the entry of tanks into nature reserves, today this sort of thing rarely happens,” said a Nature and Parks Authority official. “Cooperation has shown high quality results.”

“Our goal is to tighten cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority,” said battalion commander and the new head of the reserve, Lieutenant Colonel Shimon Peretz.