Zone of Peace
Israeli Agricultural Expertise Aids Tibetan Refugees
By Stephanie Freid
Israel 21C, CA
May 24, 2007
Tsering Dolma is excited. This is the Tibetan's first time in Tel Aviv and
she has only a few hours to capture the city's essence. At the evening's end
she'll board a chartered bus and return to the Arava Desert farming
settlement (moshav) where she has been living for the past six months.
"We've been working in the fields a lot, from the early morning until
evening. It's good to have a break here in Tel Aviv!" Dolma said between
bites of sambousak, a cheese-filled pocket pastry purchased from the popular
Jaffa Aboulafia Bakery.
Dolma is part of a group of 50 Tibetans who have come to Israel for a year
to learn agricultural techniques from Israeli farmers. At the end of their
tenure, they'll return to their homes-in-exile in India and pass along the
information to fellow Tibetan community members.
The group came to Israel under the tutelage of Israel's Forum for
International Humanitarian Aid (IsraAid), an umbrella organization of The
Israeli Friends of the Tibetan People (TIFTP). Established in 1989 by a
group of Israelis seeking to provide support and aid to Tibetan refugees,
the TIFTP oversees several Tibetan assistance programs including medical
aid, child sponsorship and agricultural training.
"Israel is a known leader in agriculture and agriculture technology. Even
countries that don't have diplomatic ties with Israel send envoys to learn
from our farmers. So this group is a natural extension of what Israel does
well," TIFTP spokesperson Ran Natanzon told ISRAEL21c.
The agricultural program or Arava Project is a training program offered in
cooperation with the moshavim (agricultural settlements) of the northern
Arava. Over the course of a year students from developing countries learn
advanced agricultural technique in a formal classroom setting and in
hands-on field work.
300 Tibetans, all of whom are living in India, have been through the program
in the three years since its inception and according to program directors,
the knowledge and experience obtained is invaluable for the agricultural
economies of the Tibetan communities in exile. The Tibetans believe that
advanced agriculture will be a critical element in the future economy of a
"I'm a farmer in India but there we don't have these types of special
learning facilities. I'm learning so much," said Dolma, citing special
capsicum (chili peppers) cultivation and techniques about growing alfalfa.
Project participants report learning in-depth about drip irrigation and
about crop cultivation - alfalfa and the peppers Dolma mentions. It's all
about practical cultivation for applied use back home. With their newfound
knowledge, they serve as agricultural mentors and instructors upon returning
to their communities in India.
The group visited Tel Aviv as part of a celebratory evening intended to
promote world peace and rouse awareness regarding their lives in exile. The
group stopped at Rabin Square to hand out literature and chant a peace
prayer at the Yitzhak Rabin memorial site and then ventured to the city's
Cinemateque for a Tibetan support benefit.
According to Tibetan history, during the 1950's China occupied and
'colonized' Tibet by force. When the Tibetan people attempted to rise up
against the Chinese in 1959, thousands were killed, jailed and exiled.
Others fled, including the Tibetan spiritual leader The Dalai Lama. Since,
Tibetans have lived in exile in neighboring countries - mostly India - and
attempt to spread word of their plight via information dissemination and
garnering political backing.
IFTIP initiated the agricultural program when founding members decided to
adopt practical means of channeling their empathy into action. Founders say
they based the plan on Jewish cultural survival and aspirations through
centuries-long exile and the establishment of modern day Israel from
"This puts Israel in a unique position to assist the Tibetan community,"
IFTIP Executive Director Or Rachlevsky explained. "A strong and viable
community in exile is, we believe, a critical factor in sustaining the wider
struggle for Tibet's future, the exact nature of which is to be decided by
the Tibetans themselves."
During their stay in Israel Tibetans are also paid wages for hands-on tasks
performed in greenhouses and fields, providing incentive and a markedly
higher income than they might earn in India for comparable work.
"It's quite tough here; we usually have leisure time in India but we don't
have it here. I'm always working against time which is a big difference from
home. Time equals earnings here," explains Bhondup Tashi of Ladaque, India.
An alfalfa farmer, Tashi plans to share the knowledge gained in Israel with
his father - also a farmer - upon his return.
Key differences Tashi notices also include irrigation methods - drip versus
a channel in India and greenhouses. "The place I live in doesn't have a
greenhouse. Just an open field," he shares. But most important, he says, has
been learning about export techniques and marketing goods for export.
"I am eager to teach my father all of this," Tashi smiles. "It has been
difficult, yes, but good."
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