Israel is the only country that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees.
Tree-planting is an ancient Jewish tradition. Indeed, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai of the Talmudic era taught: “If you have a sapling in your hand and someone tells you the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go out to welcome the Messiah.
Israeli forests are the product of a major afforestation campaign by the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
“Israel was not blessed with natural forests; its forests are all hand-planted. When the pioneers of the State arrived, they were greeted by barren land,” the JNF website explains.
“Today, JNF and its partners must grapple with the challenge of balancing the phenomenal growth and development Israel has experienced in the last decade with the maintenance of an ecologically sound environment.”
The largest planted forest in the country is Yatir, located on the southern slope of Mount Hebron on the edge of the Negev Desert, covering an area of 30 square kilometers.
Approximately 1,000 small forest fires are registered yearly – half of them caused by arson, often in Arab terror attacks – and 10,000 acres of hand-planted forests were destroyed by Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War. After the war, JNF launched a reforestation effort known as Operation Northern Renewal.
Since 2009, the JNF has provided the Palestinian Authority with 3,000 tree seedlings for a forested area being developed on the edge of the new city of Rawabi, north of Ramallah.