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Special to the JTA Tree-planting Projects Taking Root

As rain and hail pelted Jerusalem from leaden skies yesterday, Moshe Rivlin, world chairman of the Jewish National Fund, looked through his office window on King George Street with unconcealed delight. At last, some really heavy rain.

With only a week to go to Tu B’Shvat, the traditional 15th of Shvat “New Year for Trees,” JNF foresters around the country had been seriously concerned over the dearth of rainfall during this remarkably mild winter. It had not reached drought proportions yet, but there was cause for alarm for foresters and farmers.

Rivlin’s men plan to plant some 3.5 million new trees around the country. They must be snugly in the ground and growing by February 28 at the latest. “Winter came late this year,” said a gnarled woodsman waiting to see the JNF chairman. “But thank God it’s come at last.”

The JNF men pray for rain on every day save Tu B’Shvat itself, when they hold ceremonies at old and new sites around the country. This year, the central event will be in south Jerusalem, just off the road that leads from the southern suburb of Talpiot towards Bethlehem.

TREE PLANTING IN IDF COMMEMORATIVE FOREST

Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy and the members of the Israel Defense Force General Staff will be the first to plant trees in an IDF commemorative forest, situated in the area of some of the heaviest fighting of the 1948 War of Independence.

The area was the scene, too, of a brief but dramatic battle in the 1967 war. Anxious Jerusalemites watched in anguish as an Israel Air Force plane was downed just outside the Mar Elias convent, midway between the capital and Bethlehem.

Within hours of that setback, the Old City fell into Israel’s hands, and within two days all of Judaea was controlled by the IDF.

OTHER CEREMONIES MARKING TU B’SHVAT

In other ceremonies marking Tu B’Shavat, 100,000 school children and 50,000 soldiers, immigrants, pensioners and other organized groups will help the JNF professionals reach this year’s tree-planting goal.

Because of the unseasonal weather through November and December, Rivlin has had to lower his sights. But he still hopes to achieve three million plantings before the end-of-February cutoff date.

The focal areas are:

Galilee: Here the JNF forestry department is moving ahead impressively on several fronts. Seven hundred dunams of the Toukan Hills, near Kibbutz Lavie in southern Galilee, have been earmarked for afforestation this year and a new settlement, Avtalyon, is to be completely surrounded by greenery.

But most significantly, JNF is contributing its land-preparation and afforestation skills to the major national goal of turning the entire Kinneret shoreline into Israel’s main inland tourism resource.

The hills rising above Tiberias are to be afforested–partly with the aid of the Swiss JNF. One section will be named the Rambam Park, commemorating Maimonides who, according to tradition, is buried in Tiberias.

To the northeast of Lake Kinneret the JNF is aiding a group of seven kibbutzim which jointly are implementing a major holiday resort project of hotels, water-sports, and scenic trekking to be available to visitors from Israel and abroad.

Conditions are very difficult, Rivlin noted in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The rocks are basalt. The ground slopes. We have to build terracing, and plan each tree spot individually,” he said.

In the Negev, JNF this year is planting at Pithat Shalom, the border region just south of the coast. At Yatir, in the Hebron Hills, “we are literally pushing the desert back — and this will be a boon to the fledgling settlements in the area,” Rivlin said.

OTHER AMBITIOUS PROJECTS

Another Negev project now underway is a Golda Meir Park near Kibbutz Revivim, where the late Premier’s daughter lives with her family and where Golda herself was a frequent visitor. The site is close to one of the roads leading to Eilat. Southbound holiday-makers will be able to pause there for a unique experience of verdant relaxation in the heart of the arid desert.

Given the aridity, JNF is experimenting with over 30 strains of trees and bushes to select those best suited for the rigors of the southern climate.

Around Jerusalem, “our green belt is gradually nearing completion to the north of the capital, and now we have turned eastwards,” Rivlin said. Here, too, the trees steal from the desert. He is planning a ten-dunam-wide strip of green bordering the city to the east of the Mt. Scopus-Mount of Olives line.

There are similar though less ambitious projects afoot to surround Ashdod and Beit Shemesh, two less glamorous cities, with their own green belts, too.

Abroad, JNF’s Education Department predicts it will reach more than half-a-million Jewish children through various Tu B’Shvat-related activities in schools, youth groups and community centers.

A REMARKABLE INNOVATION

Looking beyond Tu B’Shvat, which is traditionally the JNF’s red-letter day, perhaps the most remarkable innovation in JNF forestry at this time is going ahead quietly in a 400-dunam experimental site in the north of the country. It is an attempt, the first in Israel, to grow trees specifically for timber.

To date, JNF supplies one half of the of the Israeli timber industry’s requirements in chipboard, all from thinning out existing forests. Chipboard comprises wood shavings and small pieces compressed together. It is extensively used in furniture manufacture here and abroad.

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