Raphael Morav was born in France in 1958. After completing in 1981 his military service in the Israel Defense Force (IDF), he obtained his B.A. degree with honors in International Relations and Economics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Raphael Morav said that Violence starts with words and then it becomes acts of violence that may end in genocides and other horrible acts, while talking about the liberation of the Auschwitz camp. He also talked to Capital about Israeli investments in Ethiopia, high quality varieties of avocado, and relations between Ethiopia and Israel. Excerpts;
Capital: The Embassy of Israel along with the German Embassy and the United Nations recently commemorated 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz camp. Can you comment on the event and the importance it carried?
Raphael Morav: It was the International Day for the commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. Although it is 75 years since the Auschwitz extermination camp was liberated, the issue of Holocaust is still very relevant today. Because there are lessons that we can draw from this horrific event in order to prevent it repeating, we say “never again”. But it’s not enough to say it, we also have to act. The most important lesson of the holocaust is that violence starts with words; therefore, when we hear discourses of racist attitudes and heinous speeches of hatred and anti-Semitism, bigotry and such negative things, we have to be vigilant.
Violence starts with words and then it becomes acts of violence that may end in genocides and other horrible acts. That’s the important lesson of the Holocaust. The world stood still 75 years ago when the Holocaust took place, and we thought it would never happen again, yet we regretfully saw several genocides in the world in Cambodia in the 70s and in Rwanda 25 years ago, so it means that it can still happen. Therefore, we need to be vigilant and act beforehand.
Today, we still hear anti-Semitic speeches, we see in some eastern European countries glorification of anti-Semites and people who actually cooperated with Nazi Germany in the Holocaust, so all these are alarming signs that really call for all civilized people to act.
I am a strong believer in education, because we are talking about a generation that was born long after the war; at least my generation had parents and family relatives of survivors of the Holocaust. But for the new generation it’s different because it’s a much more distant event, maybe they still have grandparents who are survivors but this generation of survivors unfortunately is diminishing. So I think education is the key to prevent future acts of this kind. At the same time, politically speaking, when we hear discourse of hatred and anti-Semitism, bigotry we need to take action, to say this will not continue, we will not allow such expression to be tolerated.
Capital: There has been word that trips to Ethiopia for students in Israel have been suspended due to security concerns. Can you clarify this issue?
Raphael Morav: It’s rather wrong information that I saw on the press. It was suggesting that the Ministry of Education of Israel is suspending trips of students from Israel to Ethiopia and this is incorrect. What is true is that there is a travel advisory to Ethiopia that calls for Israeli citizens to refrain from unnecessary trips to the Somali region and the Somali region only.
That is due to a potential threat of Al-Shabaab terrorist activities against Israeli nationals. It’s my government’s responsibility to its citizens to warn when there is a potential threat. It was maybe wrongly interpreted as a ban on trips to Ethiopia and this is definitely not the case. On the contrary, we encourage Israelis to visit Ethiopia, invest in the country and make business with Ethiopians partners. As I mentioned, even for the Somali region it is only an advisory to refrain from unnecessary travel, so it is not a ban. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of each traveler to make its own decisions on a stay or travel in a country, we do not decide for the travelers.
Next Monday, I am receiving 35 youths who are coming to Ethiopia from Israel. We call it a ‘Roots Trip’ because they will be in the footsteps of the Beta Israel heritage. Of course, they are also coming of course to see the historical heritage of Ethiopia and its beautiful landscape. Normally they are at the end of high school; ages 16-17 but this particular group that is coming next week are Jewish university students from the diaspora.
Capital: What does Israeli investment in Ethiopia currently look like?
Raphael Morav: Israeli investments in Ethiopia are mainly in the agricultural sector; normally many of them are private farms that have developed new varieties in Ethiopia. For example, one farm has introduced strawberries in Ethiopia, something that did not exist before. Twelve years ago an Israeli entrepreneur arrived in Ethiopia and to his surprise he discovered that this fruit is unknown. He saw a business opportunity, acquired land and set up strawberry as well as raspberry culture. Today it’s a huge exporter of strawberries from Ethiopia to all over the world.
We have another Israeli farm, which is growing chives, it is one of the biggest producer of chives in the world and again 98% of the production is for worldwide export.
This is the type of investment we are encouraging because they contribute not only to the economy of Ethiopia in terms of employment and transformation of agriculture but as well as they are all important exporters who are also bringing hard currency to Ethiopia which is very important for the economy. Other farms are producing fruit tree seedlings, mainly avocado. We also have an Israeli in the mine sector, extraction and elaboration of white marble for export.
Beyond investment, it’s worth mentioning that the biggest drip irrigation project in the world is in Ethiopia conducted by an Israeli company Netafim, which is actually the one that invented the drip irrigation technology. The project is about irrigation of 7000 hectares in the Wolkaite area for sugar cane. The project started about three years ago, it’s not only to install the infrastructure for the drip irrigation system but also the infrastructure to bring the water from a dam 60km from there by canal and then to pump it to the pipes of the drip irrigation. It’s a big operation worth over $200 million.
Capital: Could you provide details on the hybrid seeds being brought into Ethiopia?
Raphael Morav: We have a very important project of cooperation in development with the Ministry of Agriculture and USAID that has been running for 13 years, for the introduction of high quality varieties of avocado. Today, thanks to this project, Ethiopia is an exporter of avocado fruits to Europe and there is now a pretty good know how of how to grow avocado of these varieties from the nursery to the whole value chain of production up to export.
We have set up six nurseries for avocado seedlings in Ethiopia that are producing over half a million seedlings per year and in addition to that, thanks to our encouragement, the private sector is now entering this activity and already produces about half a million more seedlings. This is very important because in the future it is the private sector, which should lead this activity. It means that every year you have about one million avocado trees being planted and it is mainly by smallholder farmers so we accompany them with training and transfer of know how. It is really making a transformation in the agricultural sector of Ethiopia because it became the most profitable crop in Ethiopia, more than coffee or sesame or any other traditional crop. Avocado is definitely, by far the most profitable crop and therefore more and more farmers are adopting this crop. Fortunately, Ethiopia has excellent conditions for growing this crop in terms of climate conditions, soil and water accessibility.
Capital: Could you speak on the details of the restoration of a Jewish cemetery in the north of Ethiopia as a tourist attraction?
Raphael Morav: There has been a Jewish presence in Ethiopia for about 2000 years and the Jews lived very closely with their Christian and Muslim neighbors, mostly in good relations, but they always kept the promise of God to one day bring them back to the promised land, Jerusalem. They left Ethiopia 30-40 years ago, however Ethiopia has not left them and remains in their heart. They are coming back to Ethiopia to visit the places and the people that they left.
An Israeli organization “Matasabia” (remembrance) decided to restore all the places of the Beta Israel heritage in Ethiopia. Since there is already tourism of youth and other Israelis on the footsteps of the Beta Israel villages and sites in Ethiopia, their initiative is to create a “Beta Israel trail” that will present and preserve the heritage sites of Beta Israel. These can be old synagogues, cemeteries, places of sacrifice and rituals and so on.
The first thing that they decided to do is to restore an old and important Jewish cemetery in Dabat area in the Amhara region. This cemetery, that I have visited, was serving 24 Beta Israel villages in the area and I found that it in a rather good condition. In order to preserve it you have to maintain the wall around and make sure that it is cleaned from time to time. The good surprise was that the authorities that were there, the governor of the region, the mayor and other authorities all say that this is also part of Ethiopia’s heritage; it’s not just Beta Israel. Therefore, they will make sure it is well preserved and of course there is a common interest to develop tourism. It’s a very beautiful activity because it is using the past but looking forward to the future building community development through this heritage.
Capital: How would you sum up the bilateral relations between Ethiopia and Israel?
Raphael Morav: As a conclusion of what we have said, I would say the relations are very good, maybe even excellent. We are aiming higher and there is space to deepen and reinforce the relations. Politically speaking we had the exchange of visits at the highest level. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Israel in September, the President of the State of Israel visited in May 2018, the Prime Minister of Israel visited in 2016 and of course we have ministers and state ministers visiting Israel and vice versa, so politically speaking we have very open and close relations.
These political relations are translated into good economic relations; we are encouraging and working to bring more investment from Israel to Ethiopia. We believe that there is big potential and we are not very distant from each other, it’s easy for business people to come and go. We have two daily flights between the two countries. In terms of the corporation development, we are very much engaged, mainly in the agricultural sector which is what 80% of the population is living off, and where Israel has a rich proven experience, so this is where we cooperate in order to strengthen the capabilities in Ethiopia. Consequently, we have many training programmes in this sector. Last but not least, we are excited that Ethiopia will have, for the first time, free and fair democratic elections. We are supportive of this process of political reforms as well as the economic and social ones. I am convinced the future is even more promising.