Tarja Halonen, the president of Finland, found a physical way to express her desire for peace and her support for ecological development -- by planting an olive tree in the Jerusalem Forest.
Hosted by the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet L’Israel (JNF-KKL) and the Embassy of Finland in Israel, Halonen planted her tree Wednesday in the organization’s special Grove of Nations. She is the second female head of state to do so, following German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“For us Finns it would be hard to find anything more fitting than planting a tree,” she said as she gently planted the olive sapling after first carefully pouring water into the waiting earth.
Halonen, who recently served as chairperson on a United Nations committee dealing with economic growth, social justice and sustainable development, was also voted one of the world’s most influential women. “Confidence building is very important and we have to create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian women to meet and have a bigger role in bringing peace to the region through having a mutual and better understanding,” Halonen told the Jordan Times in an interview last week.
She added that Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the European Union, the United States and countries across the region must share in taking responsibility for working to “make the [new generations] optimistic and committed to peace.”
During this, her first visit to Israel, Halonen met with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other officials. Her four-day schedule was packed with tours that included trips to the Mount Herzl military cemetery, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Jerusalem Forest.
Halonen even brought her own gardening gloves for the visit to the Jerusalem Forest. “I’m very supportive of the ecological sector,” she said, “and have praised JNF’s efforts in Finland on behalf of Israel.”