Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planting a tree during yesterday’s Tu Bishvat ceremony at the former Hiriya garbage dump. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part in a Tu Bishvat (Jewish Arbor Day ) tree-planting ceremony yesterday at the former Hiriya garbage dump, which will soon open to the public as part of a massive recycling project.

The park, extending across some 8,000 dunams, will be one of the largest ecological parks in the world, Netanyahu said.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Jewish National Fund Chairman Efi Stenzler and several mayors also attended the ceremony.

Netanyahu and Erdan visited the recycling site as well. Erdan said some 12,000 tons of domestic waste and 5,000 tons of building waste - about a quarter of Israel's entire daily garbage output - are buried every day in the Hiriya landfill.

The prime minister suggested examining the possibility of using the waste to form artificial islands. "It's still just an idea, but it could be a huge thing," he said.

The former waste dump may be an unlikely place to celebrate Tu Bishvat, a holiday that symbolizes the rebirth of nature. But the Jewish holiday is slowing changing from a tree-planting occasion into one with wider environmental and social significance.

Tu Bishvat events will spread over three days this year.

While many in the Arab community had previously seen Tu Bishvat as a holiday symbolized by forest expansions intended to strengthen the Jewish hold on the land, several organizations are now using the occasion to promote joint Jewish and Arab environmental activity.

Environment activists from both communities plan to hold a "Coexistence Tu Bishvat" ceremony tomorrow in the Arab village of Umm al-Kutuf in Wadi Ara. The activists will plant olive trees on a site owned by a family in the village and farmed by the villagers for the past 100 years. The Housing and Construction Ministry reportedly intends to confiscate the site for the planned ultra-Orthodox town of Harish.

Environmentalists object to building the town for fear of damage to the regions' landscape and forests.

The Jewish National Fund is also diversifying the traditional Tu Bishvat planting ceremonies and will hold a ceremony near the Gaza border, along with police officers and soldiers serving nearby. The trees will be planted in a forest called "Qassam Forest," where the number of trees corresponds to the number of Qassam rockets that landed in the area.

Tomorrow the JNF plans to install a device in the Ben Shemen Forest that will allow visitors to calculate how many new trees would compensate for greenhouse gases created during typical family household activities.

The JNF is also collaborating with the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem municipalities, holding events on Rothschild Boulevard and in community parks, respectively. The group will also hold its routine Tu Bishvat tree-planting events in the country's large forests.

Erdan said yesterday that the Environmental Protection Ministry plans to close all of Israel's landfills, except for one, over the course of the next decade. The remaining landfill, Efeh, located near the Dead Sea, will continue operating.