Glimpses of Israel - Reafforestation

by Joseph Hunting

It is a paradox that countries blessed with large natural forests are destroying vast areas of them, whilst Israel, with a miniscule land area, and much of this desert, is engaged in a programme of national re-afforestation. To date two hundred million trees have been planted, and magnificent forests clothe once barren and eroded hills.

During past centuries wilful destruction of trees reduced much of Palestine to barren, rocky and eroded land. The Huleh and Jezreel valleys were covered by disease-ridden swamps, whilst the Negev remained a desert wilderness. Visitors from far-away Australia express surprise when they see mile upon mile of eucalyptus trees that were planted more than a generation ago to help drain the swamps; eucalypts, too, lining the roadways for miles.

The tamarisk has been planted in the harsh environment of the Negev. Indeed, Israel is gradually pushing back the desert sands with trees, irrigation and crops suited to the environment.

The ecological value of forests of trees cannot be over-emphasized, particularly in the areas of water harvesting, soil conservation and air purification.

During Israel's hot dry summer last year PLO arsonists lit hundreds of forest fires and destroyed more than a million trees and nearly forty thousand acres of forest. To offset this loss the JNF (Jewish National Fund) will plant some three million trees this year.

Since the early settlers struggled against a barren and hostile environment much of Israel has been transformed. The handiwork of the JNF is very evident. Visitors to Israel may share in this transformation by planting their very own sapling in a newly-planned forest; they may also finance their own grove of trees.