It's green and the people doing it consider themselves green, so tree-planting should really be a genuinely ecological act - and this is how it is indeed presented with regularity by the Jewish National Fund each year at Tu Bishvat, Jewish Arbor Day. But there is nothing environmental or ecological about enlisting tree-planting to promote the protracted occupation of the West Bank.
This year's events were kicked off by the JNF with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planting trees at Ma'aleh Adumim. He took advantage of the occasion to state his political opinion that this large settlement would remain part of the State of Israel forever. With the aid of the JNF, it would even be surrounded by a green envelope of trees.
The JNF is a historical arm of the Jewish settlement of the Land of Israel. But it derived all its powers and authority as a tree-planter from its activities within sovereign Israel. Ma'aleh Adumim and other settlements, for those who have not yet forgotten, are outside the bounds of that sovereignty. The enlistment of tree-planting on behalf of the settlement enterprise, which entails the separation of a large population from its land and its rights, is clearly anti-environmental. This tree-planting ceremony should therefore arouse profound soul-searching concerning the JNF and its ecological pretensions. If it wants to be an environmental body in the full sense of the word, it should not operate in areas that are not part of the State of Israel or restrict itself to essential activities, like rescuing or preserving existing forests.
If it does not do so, environmental bodies in Israel and abroad that cooperate with the JNF should see it as part of the occupation and apply pressure on it to cease this involvement. Environmental activists who have joined it and play a central role in it should protest, and ask what moral justification there is for planting trees in settlements. Scholars and scientists from around the world who come as guests of the JNF to learn how to stop the desert from expanding should know that this organization also specializes in helping the occupation expand, and tries to beautify it with forests and groves.
It is important to distinguish between organizations like the JNF and the governmental Nature and Parks Authority, which also functions across the Green Line but does so as part of the obligation that an occupying power has to care for the territory it has conquered, including protecting the area's natural assets.
The JNF does not fulfill such a role, but rather works with all its heart on behalf of the settlement enterprise. True, this enterprise has been approved by the government of Israel, but the JNF is not a governmental agency. Even certain actions that it has taken to assist the Palestinians with forestation do not justify the support it is providing for the occupation.
JNF personnel commonly say that it serves the needs of the Jewish people. But how can one reconcile tree plantings in occupied territory with the key environmentalist principle of public involvement and consideration for its needs? After all, the very essence of Ma'aleh Adumim is one long whistle of derision at the right of Palestinians to share in determining the fate of their homeland, in areas that are not part of Israel.
It is therefore possible to say that the JNF has definitely fulfilled its role as a Zionist body - only in the regrettable form Zionism has taken nowadays. But it is certainly impossible to view the JNF in the way it wants to be viewed, as an ecological organization whose goal is to improve the landscape and to plant trees to combat global climate change.
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