The afternoon was hot and humid when I set out for an interview. The Embassy of Israel overlooks both the Japanese School’s and the British School’s refreshingly green and well-kept campuses in Global City, Taguig.
In predominantly concrete surroundings, the view was a respite for my eyes smarting from the scorching heat. The embassy is newly renovated with contemporary office furniture. It is spacious and Zen-like, very welcoming.
His Excellency Menashe Bar-On, the ambassador of Israel to the Philippines, greeted me warmly, and was joined later by his lovely wife Eti. We are neighbors and friends.
Both have endeared themselves to everyone they meet. They are very warm and devoid of affectation. The couple comes across as humble, extremely down-to-earth and very caring.
The ambassador met his wife when he had just finished his military service in Israel. She was the date of a classmate in military training.
Immediately he was smitten by her beauty, vivacity, laughter and the freshness of youth that Eti still emanates. He told his friend, “She came with you, but she leaves with me.”
They have since remained inseparable.
Eti has accompanied Menashe through his training in diplomatic school, and throughout his career. She has sacrificed her own career as a professional nurse to be wife to Menashe in his 44 years of diplomatic life.
Eti comes from a family of chefs and cooks marvelously well. Dinners in their home is a delightful culinary feast of fresh fish and vegetable cuisine prepared lovingly by Eti herself.
Together they have served in Israeli embassies in Cyprus, Argentina, Brazil and Panama, and now the Philippines. The couple has two daughters and dotes on five grandchildren.
Reaching out and being with people come very naturally to Menashe and Eti. They have developed such a love for our country as evidenced by the many activities that have benefited our countrymen.
The ambassador stressed to us, “You know Conchitina, something I repeat over and over whenever I make a speech here, is how Israel recognizes that on Nov. 29, 1947, a young fledgling democracy that was then the Philippines, stood next to bigger, more powerful countries in the United Nations, and bravely cast the deciding vote recognizing Israel’s statehood. This is why we will always have an open door policy in Israel for all Filipinos.”
The embassy has a number of amazing projects, reaching out to farmers, agronomists, agriculturists, medical people, even trauma agents in fields of battle. It also has a project for women empowerment.
The Philippine-Israel Center for Agriculture Training (Picat) is a project between Israel, through the Mashav (Agency for International Development in Israel), and the Philippines, represented by the Department of Agrarian Reform.
This project provides extension training to farmers growing high value-added crop, as it sharpens the skills of the farmer through courses, seminars and demonstrations. Picat helps the farmers improve technologies and agro technologies.
An agreement of technical cooperation specifically for agriculture and related fields between the two countries is now evident in an Agricultural and Training Center in the Philippines launched at the Central Luzon State University in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.
It has now given rise to similar projects in Tarlac, Bulacan and Zambales.
The third phase, the vegetable production, is being implemented in the provinces of Bohol, Mt. Province, Cebu and Laguna.
Israeli-type greenhouses have been set up in the municipalities of Licab and Llanera in Nueva Ecija. The resident farmers learn how to prepare seedlings and to protect crops from the ravages of the ever-so-unpredictable weather changes.
This project is beginning to impact the lives of farmers in Central Luzon.
An interesting note is the fact that Mashav sponsors the farmers, our neglected and often exploited sector of society, to actually go to Israel and view how they raise vegetables hydroponically and cultivate crops in an otherwise hostile and infertile land that is the desert.
Of Israel’s total land area, only 20 percent is arable yet Israel is able to produce 95 percent of its food requirements. This is due to farming based on cooperative principles that are:
The Kibbutz—a community where produce is communally owned and where each member works to benefit all.
The Moshav—a farming village where each family maintains its own household and works its own land, while purchasing and marketing are conducted cooperatively.
There is much to be learned here. Specifically, that working together is better than working alone. This is demonstrated by the success of the Kibbutz. In cooperatives there is joined responsibility and synergized positive effects.
When the farmers in Israel see how they produce big, apple-sized red tomatoes at 300 tons per hectare, they are amazed. Israel also produces 150,000 tons of vegetables a year.
Farmers begin to appreciate how innovative technologies can be adopted to conform to the region—for instance, drip irrigation which was conceptualized in Israel due to scarce water resource.
After training, the Filipino farmers are challenged to bring back the techniques learned. They are made to study ways to develop a brand of farming that will yield optimum results. This is called empowerment and works so much better than dole outs.
The ambassador says that in Israel, they believe that knowledge must be shared and this is best shown in this successful program, done quietly, but effectively.
This is their way of “giving back.”