A new Palestinian city takes root - with JNF trees
JNF contributed 3,000 tree seedlings for what is meant to be a forested area near the new city, Ruwabi.
Hirui Amara excitedly held a bunch of pine seedlings and was quick to dip their soft roots in a bucket of water. Several seconds later he was next to an elderly man, and helped him plant one of the seedlings.
This was the end of an exciting day for Amara, who heads a Jewish National Fund greenhouse at Golani Junction.
Amara and five other JNF employees took part, 10 days ago, in an extraordinary project that involves the JNF assisting in planting trees in the area where a new Palestinian city, Ruwabi, is scheduled to be built north of Ramallah. The name means "City of Hills."
As a first step, the JNF contributed 3,000 tree seedlings for planting in what is meant to be a forested area on the edges of the new city. At the same time, the forestry experts of the JNF have been advising the city planners on the matter.
Suhil Zaydan, one of the JNF's forestry managers, is serving as liaison between the organization and the city planers.
"There have been a number of meetings, both at the location where the city will be built and also at the JNF greenhouses," he says. "We have contributed with our know-how, by advising on how to prepare the ground for the planting and how public gardens should be planned, as well as the best times for planting, and what kinds of trees it is preferable to plant. We did not talk about politics and we shall not talk about it - we deal with trees and understand forestry, botany and greenhouses."
The ambitious project of building a city from scratch has drawn an estimated investment of $800 million, mostly from Palestinian and Qatari sources.
The plan is for 6,000 housing units over a 6,300 dunam area that is supposed to provide housing for nearly 40,000 people and employ some 10,000 Palestinian workers. The project is aimed at the Palestinian middle class.
Zaydan says that a new kind of planning attitude is involved.
"There is no other city like it in our area with regards to the ecological-forestry aspects of planning. Everything will be natural, and there is great attention to preserving nature, the trees, the springs, the streams, the topography and other values, such as antiquities. During the planning stage the natural resources are taken into account," he said.
Ruwabi will be located nine kilometers northwest of Ramallah. A few days ago, at what will be one of the entrances to the city, workers were busy setting up a large sign advertising the project.
Several hours before traveling to the site of the tree planting, Amara was ready at the greenhouse for the truck to arrive so that the seedlings could be loaded.
"This is not a regular day of work," he said. "Today there is a sense that something special is happening. This is a project that grants hope to young people for a better future. I am proud that I am party to this thing."
Like a proud father who nurtured his children, he walked through the rows of seedlings.
"These are seedlings of high quality from every respect - thickness, shape, health, development of its roots," he said.
The seedlings originate from locations throughout the country where seeds were collected and were planted at the greenhouse under conditions favorable to their species.
A bumpy ride along a dirt path comes to an end at the foothills of the settlement of Ateret, at the edge of what will be Ruwabi. Dozens of people are there to plant, ranging in age from youth to people in their 60s, waiting for the truck with the seedlings.
Everyone brought tools from home. One person has a metal hoe with a serial number dating back to Ottoman times.
"This is a very old hoe which belonged to my grandfather," he tells the JNF people, who are amazed by the fact.
Michael Weinberg of the JNF acknowledges that there is a great deal of "professional pride in the project. We are helping in any way we can."
Kneeling to touch the earth, he is optimistic: "There are excellent conditions here."