Special to the JTA JNF Summer Camps in the Galilee Hills Are Becoming Increasingly Popular
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Special to the JTA JNF Summer Camps in the Galilee Hills Are Becoming Increasingly Popular

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Jewish National Fund summer camps, in natural forest sites in the Galilee hills, are becoming ever more popular with Israeli youngsters and, more recently, with youth groups from abroad. This year, though, there is an important innovation: a summer camp for Arab youngsters.

The camp is held from the second week of July, at a spot near the Mishnaic site of Zippori. JNF’s youth and education staff invested much time and effort in preparing the programs together with the Nazareth educators and youth leaders. The venture seemed set to be a great success when the Jewish Telegraphic Agency visited the camp briefly just prior to the official opening.

The camp is especially important in view of the disturbing spread of racist ideas among Israeli school-age youngsters. This phenomenon has been documented in several sociological surveys. National leaders, from President Chaim Herzog down, have spoken out publicly and repeatedly against the dangers this trend could bring to Israeli democracy and to the foundations of society in the Jewish State.

On the Arab side, too, there is a trend to extremism in some circles. Politicians and social scientists will argue about which side’s extremism triggers counter-extremism from the other side. All will agree that the vicious circle must be broken.


A JNF summer camp for Arab youth is a particularly appropriate vehicle to disseminate tolerance and understanding: the JNF itself has increasingly suffered from a surge of nationalistic vandalism in the Galilee.

In the past several weeks there have been two forest fires which the police attribute to arson. Several more are also suspected to have been caused deliberately. The motive in all cases is nationalistic.

The JNF, one of the oldest organs of the Zionist movement, is perceived as a legitimate political target — and hence its trees, its recreation areas, its commemorative plaques, these are all targetted by militant Arab youngsters out to prove their bravado and patriotism.

Gil Sapir, JNF’s head of forestry in the lower Galilee, stated: “It’s probably a tiny minority, a handful of young thugs. But they are causing us a good deal of trouble.”

In his area, Sapir said, the JNF has had to place commemorative plaques collectively on commemorative walls alongside its regional stations, which are under constant protection, instead of having each plaque displayed at the entrance to the forest or glade to which each plaque belongs.

Both the forests themselves, Sapir said, and JNF’s role in land acquisition and land reclamation “are seen as representing Zionism. There were reports that PLO documents captured by the Israel Defense Force in Lebanon specifically included the JNF and its facilities among terrorism targets.”

Sapir, 36, with a masters degree in botany, is an example of the rising generation of JNF’s scientific foresters.

He came to the JNF after working for the Nature Protection Society, where he was a researcher in forestry. At the JNF he started as a forest supervisor. Now he heads a force of 80 men who are responsible for all the forests, natural and planted, throughout the lower Galilee. Significantly, of this work force, more than half are Arabs — among them some of the most skilled foresters.

There are 13 men of Sapir’s rank, regional director, spread out across the country. Three of them — the youngest three — are university graduates. And plainly, said JNF spokesman David Angel, they are “our wave of the future.”

Sapir said he picked up “eighty percent of what I know about trees” from working with the old-timers. But he said he uses this knowledge and experience with his academic training — to evolve a more streamlined and scientific approach to forest management.


Spending Saturdays and Holidays “in the bosom of nature,” as the Hebrew phrase puts it, has grown ever more popular as the facilities provided by the JNF around the country have become more inviting and more plentiful.

While JNF summer camps take place in their hundreds, at sites all over the country — with groups of youngsters pitching tents and living rough in the woods for a week or two — the JNF runs four model camp-sites, providing facilities (stone-built dining-rooms, kitchens and washrooms; tents large and small; first-aid stations; and study-rooms) and rich programs tailored to suit the requirements of individual groups. Two of these are in the lower Galilee, at the Lavie Forest and at Zippori, one in the Jerusalem Hills and one in the northern Negev.


At the Lavie camp when JTA visited recently, senior JNF youth director Avi Saguy was unobtrusively supervising parallel programs for a Canadian Jewish group and for an Israeli scouts group.

The Israelis were living naturally, cooking in the open, putting the accent on trekking and field skills. The Canadian group took their meals in the dining-room. Their program included archaeological work — “wherever you dig around here, you find something,” Saguy said — and swimming in the Kinneret.

Each group had counsellors, supplied by the JNF, to assist its own leaders in running the programs. Details had been planned meticulously in advance: every hour of the day seemed accounted for.

And yet the atmosphere, amid the shady pine glades of the camp-site, was one of total relaxation, a veritable Shangri-la Israeli-style.

Saguy noted that organized camping holidays for adults, too, are growing in popularity in Israel — especially in light of the economic exigencies which put foreign holidays out of most peoples’ reach.

The JNF, he said, is ready to accommodate and assist any organized group (though not individual families.) It will take care of children while parents are free to enjoy a variety of interesting and relaxing pursuits. The cost will be a fraction of a hotel holiday, and the benefit, for all the family, will be richer by far.

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