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Special Interview JNF is Moving Mountains

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The Jewish National Fund moved more earth during the fiscal year just ended than during any other single year ever. This earthy, prosaic statistic is pronounced with love by the JNF’s chairman, Moshe Rivlin, to illustrate JNF’s key role in changing the face of the country.

The earth, millions upon millions of cubic meters, was shifted mainly in the “Pithat Shalom” area in the southwest, where 10 new settlements are being prepared as the “fallback position” for the soon-to-be-ceded Pithat Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip.

For thousands of years, wind and weather have piled up massive send dunes in the area, which would make cultivation impossible. The massive earth-movers and bulldozers plough through the dunes and literally shift them physically, to restructure the topography and facilitate forming.

To judge by the Pithat Rafah experience (the kibbutzim and moshavim there are also prepared by the JNF), the farming can quickly become lucrative and satisfying.

In view of the light political schedule, the work of Pithat Shalom is proceeding says Rivlin, literally around the clock–in three shifts. In scope, time and volume, therefore, he says, it is an impressive performance “even by international criteria.” To share up the newly-exposed farm-lands and prevent a reencroachment by the sand, the earth-moving is followed by the planting of miles of windbreakers.

ACTIVITY IN THE GALILEE

While the Pithat Shalom project is certainly the focus of JNF’s efforts at this time, it does not exhaust the JNF’s capacities. During the same 12-month period under review, April 1979 to April 1980, JNF opened up some 100 kilometers of roads in the Galilee, most of them access roads to the new “mitzpim” (lookout settlements) that the government and the World Zionist Organization are setting up on strategic high land in the area.

The basic aim is to attract young Jewish settlers and thereby bolster the Jewish presence in the Galilee, which, over recent years, had been becoming more and more homogeneously Arab.

There were “no incidents,” Rivlin notes, “no scandals.” Not one inch of privately owned Arab land was touched against the owner’s will And, equally important, the new roads and new settlements–whose basic infrastructure is another JNF responsibility–are not a visual blight upon the delicate scenery of the Galilee. We are changing the scene without harming the scenery,” the JNF chairman observes. The mitzpim are beginning to be settled now, he continues, “though not at the pace that we would like to see.”

Taken together, these two major projects–carried out simultaneously with the JNF’s ongoing work at dozens of local sites–represent, says Rivlin, “a supreme challenge to our operating capacity, a challenge that we are successfully meeting.”

Most of the heavy equipment and its operators are sub-contracted, but JNF has maintained its policy of owning at least 25 percent of the machinery itself. This has meant massive purchases of expensive “iron monsters” abroad. The supervisory staff, moreover, and the planners and landscapers, are all JNF personnel.

ENTHUSED WITH THE ZIONIST IDEAL

“They are genuinely enthused with the Zionist ideal,” says the chairman of this team of dedicated professionals. He notes that their pay is invariably less than that of the men working for the private contractors. The JNF’s forestry department–perhaps better known, than the earth-movers–is not resting on its laurels either. This year’s planning calls for 6000 acres of wasteland to be planted with saplings.

During recent years, Rivlin notes, the JNF forests have begun changing the ecology of the country and the life-style, especially the recreational life-style, of the people. On last independence Day, for instance, an estimated one million Israelis spent the holiday picnicking in the woods, where the JNF has installed scores of landscaped “active recreation” centers, with rustic-design exercise apparatus that adults can use and enjoy while the children play in the mock forts, bridges and streams.

COORDINATION WITH LOCAL AUTHORITIES

Rivlin stresses that the JNF’s policy now is to develop these recreation areas in close coordination with the local authorities. In the old days, the groves were planted by out-of-work immigrants whom the JNF employed more out of charity than out of long-term planning and design.

Today, however, every park and forest is calculated to serve a specific hinterland, and the nearby towns and villages are asked to share in the planning and the maintenance. One result has been a marked decline in the incidence of vandalism against the JNF facilities. Local people are beginning to take pride in their parks, says Rivlin, and look after them.

Looking ahead, the JNF chairman points to two major recreational projects: a “desert park” already being created at Timna, north of Eilot, in an area of 70 square kilometers; and a rural tourism development around Mount Meron in the Galilee.

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