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Pravasi Samman for Indian-origin agriculturist in Israel
Harinder Mishra in Jerusalem | January 06, 2006 09:34 IST
Indian-origin entrepreneur Eliyahu Bezalel, who started as a shepherd in Israel and went on to become an award-winning agriculturist, has been selected to receive the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman for 2006.
Bezalel, who in 1955 left his village of Chendamangalam in Kerala for Israel at the age of 25, maintains strong sentimental links with his motherland, which he says "taught him the spirit of co-existence."
"I am proud to be an Indian. My children and grandchildren call themselves Cochinis and Indians with pride saying they come from a culture which is tolerant to all faiths and where their forefathers did not feel any kind of anti-Semitism," Bezalel told PTI.
The highest civilian honour bestowed by India on non-resident Indians took him by surprise.
Bezalel, who made the Negev desert in Israel bloom and won the best exporter award from former Prime Minister Levi Eshkhol in 1964, has also taken pains to share his expertise in the area of horticulture with Indian farmers who have tried to replicate it in recent years.
The Israeli parliament (Knesset) rewarded him with the Kaplan prize in 1994 for his contribution.
Bezalel's farm is a major attraction among Indian agriculturists and politicians with former Prime Minister H D Devegowda, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and agriculturist M S Swaminathan being some of the key figures who visited it during their trips to Israel.
He has also been to several places in India to give lectures and to teach techniques in horticulture since 1971.
The enterprising Indian Jew decided to move to the Negev region a few years after immigration, at a time when few were willing to live there. He started agriculture at a very small scale when the first pipeline came to the area in 1958.
In 1959, Bezalel started to grow and export gladioli flower bulbs to Holland.
"The soil in the Negev was virgin and good for growing the bulbs. The Dutch took a special fancy for it and it turned out to be a big success," he said.
The Indian entrepreneur never looked back and prizes soon started to flow in appreciation of his initiative in the desert.
The Israel agriculture ministry sent him to England to learn about horticulture in 1969 and on his return he set up the first modern greenhouse in Israel with two partners, which has come to be identified as an area of Israeli expertise worldwide.
He soon started exporting roses to Holland with Israel emerging as the second largest exporter to that country.
Complete Coverage: Pravesi Bharatiya Divas 2006