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December 02, 1977 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-12-02

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72 Friday, December 2, 1977 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Avraham Yoffe: Protector of Promised Land



ing from the camp at Nuei-
beh-e-Mzeineh in a jeep
(Editor's note: Terrence
Smith is the New York driven by one of Yoffe's Na-
ture Reserve rangers.
'Irtmes' chief correspondent
in Jerusalem. This article
Heading south. we left
is from a reprint by the the main highway after a
Holy Land Conservation
few kilometers and turned
Fund, which first appeared
into a rocky wadi. or dry
in International Wildlife
riverbed. Forged by the vio-
lent flash floods that follow
The open jeep lurched for
the winter rains in the
miles across the unmarked Sinai. these wadis have de-
sand dunes and dry riv-
veloped over the millennia
_erbeds of the eastern Sinai
into dramatic canyons that
and then jerked to a sudden
twist and turn through the
stop. Just ahead lay the rus-
jagged, purple and red
ted skeleton of an old army mountains.
truck half buried in the
As much as a mile wide
in some areas and only a_
.-"That's one of the relics few yards in others, most
from 1956." the big man in are passable in a four-
the front seat explained to wheel-drive vehicle. They
his passengers.
constitute an intricate natu-
Everywhere Avraham ral road network in the inte-
Yoffe goes in this country. rior of the otherwise in-
from Sharm el Sheikh to accessible Sinai.
Mount Hermon. he comes
We had been - bumping
across momentos from his along. admiring the awe-
past. Little wonder, since in some scenery for less than
his 62 years he has been an hour. when suddenly. in
farmer, soldier, politician a small and protected wadi.
and now the driving force we came across a grbup of
behind Israel's growing Na- perhaps 70 Bedouin tribes-
ture Reserves Authority.
men. They had come from
In the decade since he all over the Sinai by cam-
left the army, Yoffe has elback and the 20th-century
done more than any other Bedouin status symbol —
Israeli to generate an envi-
the pickup truck — to cele-
ronmental awakening in a brate the engagement of a
nation -devoted almost young man and -woman
single-mindedly to devel- from the Mezeineh tribe.
opment at any price. The — It was a two-sheep cere-
former general deScribes it
mony but, when the host.
as the most important
Sheikh Salim Abu-Sabka,
battle of his life.
saw Yoffe. he promptly
This particular journey to
gave orders for a third to
the Sinai was a busman's
be slaughtered and roasted
holiday for Yoffe. With four
on the open fire. In desert
days off from his regular
terms that's a three-star
routine, he had done what
meal, well worthy of a men-
he likes best: packed his
tion in the Bedouin equiva-
family into the car and
lent of the "Guide Mich-
.headed for the outdoors.
The Nature Fieserv
- es sys- - As the honored though un-
expected guest, Yoffe took
tem Yoffe has built appears
his seat on the Bedouin car-
to have made real progress
pets spread out on the sand.
in stopping the pell-mell de-
struction of Israel's limited
The sheikh, bridegroom
and perhaps a dozen Bed-
wildlife and natural re-
ouin men sat cross-legged
sources. Still a modest oper-
ation by North American or
in a circle' sipping cup after
cup of bitter coffee and
European standards, his
sweet tea.
agency could well serve as
After hors d'oeuvres of.
a model for other new and
houmous — mashed chick
developing countries faced
peas — the piece de resist-
with similar problems and
ance arrived: the innards,
similarly limited resources.
eyeballs and testicles of the
Under Israeli law. Yoffe's
first sheep. Yoffe ate it all
Nature Reserves Authority
with the aplomb of a man
has three main jobs:
completely at home with
• To protect all wildlife
the fine points of desert eti-
in Israel. from the threat-
quette. From the -look on
ened anerafe — such as
the exotic Sinai leopard — his face. he appeared to
enjoy every bite. But at one
to the over-plentiful and de-
point he turned to me and
structive. such as the -com-
muttered under his breath:
mon gazelle of the Galilee.
"Don't put it into ,Nrour
• To protect anything
else of natural value. be it
Although the wedding
plant. flower, tree. animal
was a social occasion of the
or bird that is unusual and
first order. Yoffe had some
worthy of special pro-
business to conduct. "I un-
tection. In some cases.
derstand your people have
Yorfe has hung a Nature
been pulling lobsters out, of
Reserve Authority symbol
the gulf again." he said in
around a single tree.
Arabic, fixing the sheikh
We set out the first morn-




with a steady gaze.
"Not the Mezeineh
tribe," t_he sheikh replied,
his face aghast with out-
raged innocence.
"Good thing," Yoffe
grunted. as he took another
handful of roast sheep and
rice. "Because if I catch
any Bedouin selling lobsters
on the market, I'll kill
The sheikh looked appro-
priately shocked at Yoffe's
threat — for about a half
second. Then. his deeply-
wrinkled face split in a big
grin. Yoffe accepted anoth-
er plate of freshly-roasted
mutton and the tension
But the point had been
made — and understood.
Yoffe. who knew that the
sheikh, was himself one of
the worst offenders. had is-
sued his warning. and the
sheikh, who is no one's
fool. had saved face. With-
out having said so explicit-
ly, both men understood
that henceforth the Bedotin
lobster poaching would con-
tinue — but at a reduced
The Red Sea lobster in
the Gulf of Eilat falls
under Yoffe's jurisdiction
because of the unusually
broad mandate given - his-
Nature Reserves Authority
when it was established in
the 1960s. In effect. the Au-
thority fulfills the functions
of both the .U.S. National
Park Service and the Fish
and Wildlife Service. In ad-
dition to its other responsi-
bilities. the Authority regu-
lates sport fishing and hunt-
ing, issues licenses and pe-
nalizes offenders through
the courts.

Unrestricted hunting was
the target of one of Yoffe's
first campaigns when he
took over in 1965. As a re-
sult, the game herds that
were diminishing 'a decade
ago now are increasing.
The gazelle herd that had

dwindled to fewer than 800
around the country is now
estimated at over 5,000 and
the total of Nubian ibex
today is around 2,000, the
largest natural herd of that
endangered species in the
After an hour of non-stop
eating and the traditional
parting cup of bitter coffee.
we extricated ourselves
from the Bedouin wedding
and set out again in the
jeep. We labored through a.
blinding maze of untracked
wadis, each more beautiful
than the last.
The rest of that day was
spent drinking in the spec-
tacular beauty of the east-
em Sinai. Yoffe has re-
turned to this region many
times since his first visit in
1956 and has come to know
the place like his own back-
What he realizes better
than most is just how fast -
its wild aspects are dis-
appearing. When the Is-
raelis captured 'the Sinai in
1967. they immediately
opened the area to general
tourism. Tens of thousands
of visitors have poured
through it since, leaving be-
hind the usual trail of litter
that comes with "civ-
In the late afternoon we
visited one spot that is par-
ticularly susceptible to spo-
liation from the outside. _
Ein Fortega, the largest
and lushest oasis in the east-
ern Sinai, can now be
reached by a 45-minute
jeep ride up the Wadi Watir
from the main Eilat-Sharm
el Sheikh highway.
At the head of Ein For-
tega. a bountiful fresh-
water spring bubbles up
from underground and
flows freely through a twist-
ing canyon for over three
miles. For - someone who
has traveled all day in the
otherwise waterless Sinai.
coming upon Ein Fortega is
likeia mirage come true.
Not surprisingly. the wadi
is also a natural haven for.
wildlife. Herds of antelope
and ibex graze on its steep
slopes. while packs of
wolves and, hyenas forage
for prey along the floor. As
we drove the length of the .

wadi. our jeep tires splash- just as a woman tourist
ing in _ the shallow water.
was helping herself to a
:locks of black-winged.
nice armload of dried mo-
white-bellied Sinai thrushes
ringa reeds. "Give me
darted overhead.
those." the general
growled. snatching the
To protect priceless sites
reeds from the woman's
like this, Yoffe has enlisted
arms. "Don't you realize
a small army of Bedouin
that if everyone did that
watchmen throughout the
Sinai. With green Nature this place would be stripped
Reserves Authority badges of all its vegetation in a
pinned to their- traditional
At the end of the day.
robes, they patrol the wadis
Yoffe relaxed over a cup of
on foot or camelba& and
coffee and talked about his
report any violations or
goals and achievements. In
damage they see to the re-
gional wardens.
the decade side the Nature
Reserves Authority was
If the situation is serious
founded, he said, the
enough, a warden will race
ernment had set a
up in his radio-equipped
roughly four percent of
jeep and enforce the law on
rael's land as protected
the spot. It is an impro-
areas. The ideal figure, in
vised system, but not an in-
Yoffe's view, would -be
effective one.
about double that. but he
On our second day. we
concedes that he is running
left the Sinai and drove
into increasingly stiff resist-
north from Eilat through
ance from developers and
the rocky, barren wasts of
government agencies.
the Negev. It is a flat and
Beyond wildlife consid-
graceless desert by com-
erations, Yoffe has been
parison with the Sinai. The
only visual relief is provid-
deeply involved in a num-
ber of other environmental
ed by the green, artificially
irrigated fields of the occa- _ issues. He was among the
sional kibutz. _
leaders. for example. in a
Rolling north again, we campaign that prevented
passed Hai Bar ,South. the the government from build-
famed 10.000 acre biblical ing an electric power plant
game preserve. Another of on a beautiful _stretch of
Yoffe's organizational off- Mediterranean beach north
spring, Hai Bar ("wildlife" of Caesarea.
in Hebrew) is an ,independ-
Currently, water pollution
ent, non-profit corporation. is one of his chief worries.
Yoffe is its chairman.
It is so widespread now
The last stop of Yoffe's that he fears virtually all of
busman's holiday was Ein Israel's fresh water sources
Gedi. the lovely. 1.100-acre will soon be despoiled by ef-
nature reserve tucked into fluents from factories, in-
the famous wadi over- stitutions and municipal-
looking the Dead Sea.
The springs, waterfalls
Yoffe has confronted
and pools of .Ein Gedi.
these problems on two
which were flowing during levels: In his public role as
the time of King David, are Authority chairman. he
visited today by more than travels the country lectur-
200.000 persons a year. Sev- ing and organizing citizens'
eral thousand hikers and na-. groups. '
ture buffs were there as we
At a private level. Yoffe
pulled in at mid-afternoon.
can usually get what he
When Yoffe saw the trash
wants through the Israeli
and debris they had scat- "old boy" network of re-
tered around the entrance,
tired army officers who
a dark scowl descended today run many of the gov-
over his face. "Why did you ernment agencies and pri-
permit this?" he demanded vate corporations. -
of the first Nature Reserves
Yoffe knows them all. in-
warden he could find.
cluding one former chief-of-
Incensed, Yoffe hiked up staff who happens to be his
to the main waterfall at the brother-in-law: Yitzhak
head of the wadi, arriving Rabin.


The nearly extinct Nubian ibex have multiplied at Hai Bar and other reserves oper-
ated by Israel's Nature Reserves Authority to the point where there are now sufficient
numbers to restock depleted areas and for export.

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