The Jewish National fund has proved to be adept at adapting to the gradual advent of peace in the Middle East.
For example, its ambitious projects of water collection and storage are providing Israel with much of the water resources it has pledged to give to Jordan each year as part of the two countries’ peace treaty.
This new aspect of JNF’s work gives its long-serving chairman, Moshe Rivlin, great satisfaction. In a recent interview, he said both Jordan and Egypt had applied Participate in this year’s annual JNF-sponsored arid-land seminar.
For the past several years, the JNF has held the seminar here in conjunction with the U.S. Forestry Service and several leading American universities.
New water conservation and land reclamation projects in the Arava are now being planned by the JNF in close coordination with the Jordanians, Rivlin said.
Some 39.3 million cubic yards of water will be saved annually in the Beit She’ an Valley due to a system of dams and reservoirs built in the area in recent years to help facilitate the supply of water to Jordan, said Rivlin.
Until now, this water went to waste.
Israel is required by the recent treaty to transfer 65 cubic yards of water to Jordan each year.
“By building more dams and reservoirs, we can add millions more” to our resources, Rivlin said. “JNF’s main efforts will now be focused on the Negev. We are presently building four reservoirs in the Besor Region, and four more have been approved by the planning authorities”.
The result, he said, is that “orchards and greenhouses will be added to the arable land capacity of this area”.
Rivlin noted with evident pleasure that the tracts in the Arava ceded by Israel to Jordan under the treaty, and then leased back so that kibbutz and moshav farming on them continues undisturbed, were all areas reclaimed for farming by the JNF.
The fund has plans to reclaim more land in the area, enabling the settlements there to grow and absorb new families.
The JNF budget for 1995 is its largest ever: $226.2 million. About one-fifth goes to afforestation. This area should see a major advance this year with the formal approval by the national planning authorities of a countrywide afforestation map designating 425,000 acres as forest.
Currently, some 300,000 million acres of Israel are forest, two-thirds of which have been planted by people.
In 1995, 7,500 new acres are to be planted, with half of that acreage in the Negev as part of the JNF arid-land program that has received scientific recognition worldwide.
“We get the worst land”, said the JNF’s head of forestry, Menachem Sachs, “land that’s not fit for farming or even for grazing”.
By skillful planting of a variety of local and imported trees, carefully selected for their suitability to the different climatic and soil conditions across the country, JNF has been “practicing ecology from before the word itself entered common usage”, Sachs said.
Apart from the ecological goals of improving the landscape and preventing degradation of the environment, the forests provide recreation area, enhance tourism facilities and already supply some 15 percent of Israel’s domestic timber needs.
The locally grown wood is not, as a rule, up to standard for decorative veneers or solid timber. But it is used by the growing chipboard industry.
Homegrown trees encouraged or reintroduced on a wide scale include oak, pistachio, cedar and acacia. Among the more popular imports are eucalyptus, carob and tamarisk.
The JNF was created in 1901 at the urging of Theodor Herzl. Its original purpose was to acquire land in Palestine to hold in perpetuity for the Jewish people.