Special Interview the JNF in Full Swing

Five months after taking over as chairman of the Jewish National Fund, Moshe Rivlin is as familiar with every aspect of JNF’s activities as its most veteran stalwarts. He reels off figures–acreages, kilometers of roadway, cubic meters of water storage, thousands of trees, millions of pounds–without blinking an eyelid, and without hesitating to glance at a note or a document.

Those close to him say he has totally immersed himself in the work of the Fund–and finds great satisfaction in it. He himself indicates no thought or desire whatever to look towards other tasks. His 11 years as Jewish Agency director general were probably more hectic, but the JNF work, especially during the present period of rapid expansion of all the JNF’s activities, is thoroughly absorbing, too. “At this moment,” says Rivlin, “we are engaged in preparing the infrastructure for 30 new settlements.”

The basic aim of the JNF, Rivlin says, is to be ready and able at any time to undertake any objective decided on by the authorities regarding settlement. Since the Six-Day War, JNF has laid the ground work for 104 new settlements on both sides of the Green Line.

CURRENT OPERATIONS OUTLINED

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Rivlin listed some of the areas of JNF’s current operations:

Existing settlements in the Galilee: in the 34 existing settlements, most of them moshavim, the JNF is presently preparing the ground for the addition of 1200 “agricultural units.” The present settlements total 1700 units, and the addition will mean, says Rivlin, more land and water for new settlers. Thus the project is a linchpin in the government’s aim to increase the Jewish population of this vital area.

“Agricultural units” are the units which the JNF, Jewish Agency Settlement Department and Ministry of Agriculture determine as capable of sustaining one family. The criteria vary, of course, according to area, climate, rainfall, and type of agriculture prevalent in the particular region. In many cases, says Rivlin, the new areas for cultivation are earmarked for the second generation of moshavniks–the sons returning from army service–to settle on the land.

Also in the Galilee: the Tefen Industrial Park, near Maalot on the Lebanon border. This project is in part financed by Hadassah, which provides JNF with $700,000 annually. Several factories are already being built on land cleared and infrastructure prepared by the JNF. When completed the project will include three villages and a regional center as well as the factory area itself.

In lower Galilee: Segev project, financed by the British JNF. This is also to be based on industry–and will include villages inhabited by Western immigrants, such as “Man of,” a South African settlement.

In the Arava: JNF is engaged in ongoing work in the 13 existing settlements there, under contracts which require the JNF to provide “shade, green relief, and swimming pool” in each settlement. The JNF bulldozers and earth-movers do the initial ground-clearing and digging for the pools before the builders come in.

In the Arava, again: a major “active recreation” park is being completed near Yotveta on the road to Eilat. In the southern port town itself, the JNF has been planting trees–some of them two-ton palms trucked down from EI Arish–along the road and airport approaches to the town and along the seafront promenades.

North to the Yamit area (Pithat Rafiah): here aided by Canadian Jewish contributions, the JNF has literally “moved mountains” of sand to prepare cultivable land for the rapidly increasing number of new Jewish settlements. At present, there are 10 settlements–all economically viable, many growing exotic fruits and winter vegetables for the export market. In addition, the JNF is laying out groves and gardens in Yamit itself.

“And of course there is our work in the Jordan Valley, on the Golan…The water reservoirs there, and so much else,” says Rivlin. “I have listed only a part of our undertakings.”

OPENING UP THE FORESTS

Turning now to the better-known area of the JNF’s activities, forestry, Rivlin says that the concept of forests has in recent years taken on a new meaning for Israel. “The JNF has literally opened up the forests for the people to enjoy,” says Rivlin. Through its “active recreation” parks blended into the woods, maintaining the rustic setting while providing services and equipment for all the family, the JNF has created new and highly popular forms of outdoor recreation. “For town dwellers,” says Rivlin, “it represents a real change in their lifestyles.”

Indeed, on weekends and holidays hundreds of thousands of Israelis make use of the woodland facilities. Rivlin says 16 more are planned for the near future.

Jerusalem and its environs have been a particular priority for the JNF in this regard, he notes. Thus the traveller from the capital to Tel Aviv has the choice–if he seeks to pause for a commutation with nature–of the huge (by Israeli standards) “Canada Park” on the right of the main highway, and the “200th Anniversary Park” still being landscaped on the left. These two projects embrace thousands of acres, blending naturally rugged hill country with the slopes leading to the coastal plains.

During this last summer, some 106,000 Israeli youngsters camped out in JNF parks around the country, averaging between eight and ten nights in them. Rivlin expects this impressive figure to grow significantly in the years ahead, as the newer parks develop.

The JNF seeks to involve each individual diaspora community in one or another of its projects. Thus, in addition to Segev, Canada Park and the 200th Anniversary Park, there is to be a “Mexico Park” (close to Canada Park, at Modiin, near the former border) and Rivlin hopes for many more such ventures.

To mark the State’s 30th anniversary, the JNF has planned a “Jewish Child’s Forest” in upper Galilee, in which pairs of Israeli and diaspora children will each plant three trees–one for each child and one for a Jewish child who perished in the Holocaust and might otherwise have been alive today.

In addition, each school in Israel and Jewish school abroad involved in the project will plant a tree at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. The underlying motif of the project, says Rivlin, is to stress the JNF’s role as the agent for the Jewish people everywhere, and in all generations in holding the land of this country.

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