by: Nathan Williams, BFP Staff Writer
“For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its tender shoots will not cease.” Job 14:7
Traveling through the lush, forested areas of the Jerusalem hills, it is difficult to imagine the dry, barren landscape that the pioneers of the State of Israel found when they began to return to the Land at the turn of the 20th century. On land purchased by rich patrons during the First Aliyah (1882–1903), these kibbutzniks began to plant trees among the rocky hillsides and sandy soils. The tradition of afforestation (establishment of a forest) has since been cemented into the modern day nation of Israel through the yearly holiday of Tu BiShvat.
Similar to Arbor Day in Western nations, Tu BiShvat is also known as the “New Year of the Trees” and is celebrated as an ecological awareness day where trees are planted in celebration. Tu BiShvat brings to mind the life-giving force of the tree and the hope that trees give to future generations. Israel entered the last millennium as one of only two countries with a net gain in their number of trees; no small achievement as Israel’s forests are all hand-planted.
Since its establishment in 1901, the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) has planted over 250 million trees across the State of Israel. Flourishing stretches of green forest now cover more than 250,000 acres, offering leisure and reprieve from the hustling cities. KKL-JNF is tasked with maintaining a healthy environment among the exceptional expansion and development of modern day Israel while also playing an instrumental role in fire prevention and safety.
Last November Israel endured six days of destructive fires that devastated many communities and forests. Fifty-eight fire incidents were reported in forests and open spaces in different regions across the country, resulting in the ruin of 10,000 acres of forest nationwide and 1,800 acres in the Jerusalem mountains.
The delay in winter rain, along with dry brush and high winds, resulted in the perfect conditions for runaway fires in the north of Israel. The port city of Haifa experienced the largest mass-scale evacuation in Israel’s history and rightfully so. In Haifa alone, 700 homes were damaged, 37 destroyed, 400 left uninhabitable with 137 people treated for fire-related injuries. At least 569 homes were burned down throughout Israel.
Branded as the “fire Intifada,” Israeli authorities have reported that more than half of the fires were caused by arsonists. Photographs released by the Israel police show the terrorists’ tactics in starting the fires. Combustible materials, like tinder and wood, were strategically placed at the base of a tree in a public picnic site. Bottles of flammable liquids were placed nearby ensuring that fire was added to the flame of this heartless terrorist plot. Other terrorists used the equally destructive Molotov cocktail. Residents from Neve Tzuf reported that Molotov cocktails were deliberately thrown around their hilltop community in order to trap the inhabitants without an escape from the fires. Providentially residents were alerted and had an opportunity to evacuate. Although 18 homes were destroyed in the fire, no lives were lost.
Walid Sa’id, a forester, who lives in a Druze community surrounded by the Carmel Forest, retells being torn between his concern for the safety of his family and the safety of his seedlings and forest. “All these forests, I planted them. I ran between different sections to protect the seedlings. I watched over this place and all of a sudden you see it burning. It really hurts deep inside.” This forester’s words were posted in a video on social media, acknowledging the 300 staff and firefighters from KKL-JNF for their efforts in battling fires across the country.
The JNF-KKL in cooperation with their counterparts in the United States (JNF-USA) have developed extensive forestation plans to recover from the loss caused by the fires. These include not only hand-planting, but also growing millions of trees by assisting the forces of nature with regeneration. This process requires thousands of man-hours to clear damaged forests in an ecologically friendly way to spark regenerative growth. Foresters are already being dispatched throughout affected areas to assess which trees can re-grow naturally or need to be rehabilitated.
Realistically, due the extent of the damage caused by the fires, tree planting cannot happen for at least one year so as to prevent the erosion of critically needed topsoil. Once the next winter season has passed, foresters will reassess which type of trees will be best suited for planting, taking into account any topsoil erosion. In cooperation with partner organizations, first-responders and firefighting battalions, KKL-JNF is working to address both the immediate needs and those that will arise tomorrow for the land and people of Israel.
Photo Credit: צילום: דרור פייטלסון/commons.wikimedia.org
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