Yehuda Harel, considered the father of Israeli communities in the Golan Heights, will receive the Israel Prize for Agriculture this coming Independence Day, Education Minister Naftali Bennett revealed to the laureate Monday morning.
Harel, a former MK, supported settling the territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War throughout his life.
Bennett, leader of the Bayit Yehudi party, also announced that Prof. Nava Ben-Zvi—one of the founders of the Open University and former president of Hadassah Academic College and current Chairperson of the Israel Center for Excellence through Education—will receive the Israel Prize for Education.
"Ben-Zvi is a woman whose entire being is dedicated to education. She's a pioneer of online studies who has worked for female leadership and integrating Haredi women into academia," Bennett said.
"I have now informed Yehuda Harel of his Israel Prize win on the country's 70th anniversary," the education minister added. "Yehuda is the father of Israeli communities in the Golan. He is a man of vision who has turned the Golan Heights from a battlefield of basalt and conflict into a lively region. I consider Yehuda to be the epitome of beautiful Israel."
Responding to the honor, the newly minted laureate told Ynet, "I was in a trip in the kibbutz when I received the call from Education Minister Bennett. I told him I received an even bigger prize: when we added a million and a half dunam to the State of Israel in the form of the Golan Heights."
After learning of her own win, Prof. Ben-Zvi told Ynet, "Were my husband still alive, my joy would be complete. I sometimes speak with the minister on work-related matters, and so I didn't really understand why he called today. It was a complete surprise. I'm proud of having a people and a country, and may make this place even better.
"As is the situation elsewhere in the world, the state of education in Israel is under immense uncertainty, but we're still headed the right way. We have amazing youths, and need to realize what we can and can't do—and where to go."
The academic then went on to say the thing she was most proud of was that "as a chemist who loves chemistry, I chosen to go into education. Many good people do the same. I'm proud of of making the right choices as well: founding the Open University, building the digital study project, heading the Hadassah Academic College and focusing on excellence."
Harel also spoke about his own life's mission: settling the Golan Heights. On the current situation there, he said, "I think it's exaggerated. There's peace and quiet here. It's been quiet since 1974. It's the quietest region in Israel. There's some static in the media from time to time, but we live in peace on the ground here.
"We don't know what the future holds, but I'd like for the Golan Heights to remain the best possible place to live in. There are no internal conflicts here, no tribes, no politics. Just nature, open land, good weather, and good water and agriculture—it's a success story."
Harel, 84, was born in Berlin in 1934 to Rachel and Ze'ev Orbach. His parents were on a mission from HaKibbutz HaMeuchad but when his father passed away, he made Aliyah with his mother a year later. Rachel then married Aryeh Harel in Israel.
During his army service, Harel was a member of the HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed youth movement's Nahal group, as part of which he came to the Manara kibbutz and even served as its secretary.
In 1967, during and after the Six Day War, he was a member of the first HaKibbutz HaMeuchad group to settle Aleika and Quneitra in the Golan Heights. They later founded the Marom Golan kibbutz, where he resides today.
Harel served as an MK in the 14th Knesset, from 1996 to 1999, and was placed second on the Third Way party's Knesset list—a party he helped found. In 2016, he received the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism. He holds a master's degree in history from Tel Aviv University.
Head of the Golan Regional Council Eli Malka welcomed the win, saying, "I'd like to congratulate Yehuda Harel on his winning the Israel Prize. Yehuda was one of the first settlers who went up to the fallow, thorny lands after the Six Day War and who dreamt of creating a renewed, thriving Jewish presence in the Golan.
"Over the years, Yehuda has served as a significant figure in developing the Golan and is known for his great love for this charming region. Choosing Yehuda for the prize is moving and fills all residents of the Golan with pride."