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Behind the Headlines the JNF is at a Crossroad

The Jewish National Fund “is at a crossroad, ” according to its chairman, Moshe Rivlin.

Citing the government’s budgetary exigencies on the one hand, and JNF’s ambitious and ongoing projects on the other, Rivlin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency it was “very important,” especially at this time, for JNF to raise as much of its own budget as it could from its own sources of support here and particularly in the diaspora.

JNF’s afforestation work now covers an area of 1.1 million dunams, Rivlin said, out of a total area (of pre-67-Israel) of 26 million dunams.

The long-term goal, set by David Ben Gurion himself in the early years of the State, was 5 million dunams. But, considering that in 1948, when the State was created, only 48,000 dunams were tree covered, the 1.1 million figure of today represents a massive effort — and major success.

It also represents, Rivlin said, 160 million trees, most of them planted by the JNF, all of them cared for by the JNF.

A professional staff of 400 forestry experts is aided by a further 400 less skilled workers and another 1,500 day-laborers — all employed in forestry work. Plans till the end of the century — if they can be realized — call for the addition of 25,000 dunams of forest each year.

AN IMPORTANT PART OF ISRAEL’S HERITAGE

As important as the statistics is the fact, stressed by Rivlin, that the forests have finally, in recent years, become an important part of the popular national heritage. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Israelis spend festivals and holidays picnicking, hiking, camping or just sitting “amidst nature” in the recreational areas that JNF has developed in many of its woodlands.

Rivlin again reeled off a stream of facts and figures: 33 large-scale national parks, 23 smaller parks, 50 “active recreation” sites (with specially built facilities for sports and exercises for holiday-makers of all ages), 10 camp sites (used by hundreds of groups of youngsters — from Israel and abroad) during the spring-through autumn period, and 600 picnic sites.

JNF’s work in this area involves not merely forestry proper — but providing roads, kiosks, lavatories and other facilities for the public. “Most of our budget goes for maintenance,” Rivlin said, such as pruning the trees, cleaning up after holiday-makers and guarding against brushfires. “If we didn’t keep the standards up, there would quickly be a degeneration, ” he said.

PROUD OF THE ‘FOREST FAMILY’

Rivlin spoke with pride of “the forest family” — longtime JNF employes some of whom started in forestry as a form of state-provided labor when they first immigrated to Israel in the early 1950’s and found it impossible to get gainful employment.

He pointed to one of these, Mordechai Ruach, who began as a immigrant from Egypt hoeing and digging for JNF and today is head of the JNF’s entire central region.

“The forest family” of the 1980’s, Rivlin noted, has expanded to include scientists — specialists in areas unheard of as recently as 10 or 15 years ago. Their job is to study tree-sicknesses, to stop them spreading, to experiment with new strains.

The JNF chairman cited a number of JNF prestige projects. One of them, Uvda Park in the Negev, near the new Uvda Air Force Base, already boasts 65,000 trees. Apart from providing enhanced quality-of-life for the base’s permanent personnel, the park provides another key Air Force-related function: it helps keep the base’s runway sand-free.

Rivlin said there was such intense appreciation on the base for the JNF’s efforts in the arid area that the commander has named the central avenue of the base JNF Boulevard.

The parks around Jerusalem are another prestige project whose purpose, Rivlin said, is to surround the capital with a verdant belt. In the north “the planting is almost completed — in a belt from Ramot to Neve Yaacov. The next stage, on which we are now embarking, is to stretch from Neve Yaacov to Government House,” he explained.

To the south of the city, meanwhile, the model park of Gilo is already in constant and enormously successful use by people of all ages from Gilo itself and from a broad catchment area.

Rivlin and Mayor Teddy Kollek have recently agreed on detailed plans for four more such parks: at Kiryat Menachem, government House, Sanhedria, and south of Ramot. (At Ramot itself, a second model park is already in active use.)

“We intend to help Tel Aviv too, ” Rivlin said. Together with City Hall,JNF has developed an ambitious project to clean up and landscape the entire length of both banks of the Yarkon River which flows through the northern suburbs of the city.

Another project, Timna Park, north of Eilat, landscaped around ancient ruins, is a great success with tourists to the southern resort. JNF plans to enhance its tourist attractiveness by digging a large artificial lake in the park.

ALL CAN SHARE IN THE PROJECTS

There are just a few of JNF’s ongoing forest-related activities. Rivlin stressed that virtually all the funding for this part of JNF’s work comes from JNF’s own fund-raising abroad — unlike its land-work, where it puts itself and its machinery and expertise at the disposal of the government and the World Zionist Organization settlement department, and relies in major part on government funding.

The parks projects, integrated into the ambitious aforestation scheme, means, Rivlin said, that Israelis from all over the country can find in relatively short distances from their homes enjoyable and healthy outdoor recreational facilities, and that tourists from abroad can share them too.

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