JNF Board Members Demand End to Controversial Tree-planting in Negev Until Questions Answered

The tree-planting, which sparked scenes of violence and a crisis in Israel’s governing coalition last week, will now be discussed at the next JNF executive board meeting on Sunday

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Demonstrators protesting against forestation in the Bedouin village of Sawa, southern Israel, last week.
Demonstrators protesting against forestation in the Bedouin village of Sawa, southern Israel, last week.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA - AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Members of the executive board of the Jewish National Fund are demanding that all forestry work in the Negev be halted until they receive a comprehensive briefing about how their organization came to be involved in controversial tree-planting activities last week that sparked violent protests among local Bedouin as well as a serious government coalition crisis.

In a letter sent to JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani on Monday, six members of the committee asked that he provide them with a copy of the contract between their organization and the Israel Land Authority authorizing the work, a copy of the rabbinical verdict that was supposed to have provided special permission for this work during shmita (the sabbatical year in the seven-year agricultural cycle when planting is prohibited), and detailed information about all the tree plantings already completed and those in the pipeline in southern Israel.

The six members, who account for approximately half the executive board, represent the center-left and non-Orthodox movements.

They asked that all the material be produced by Wednesday so there would be sufficient time to review it before the executive board meeting scheduled for this coming Sunday.

Last Thursday, they sent Duvdevani a letter demanding an urgent meeting to find out why they had not been consulted about the forestation work, which began on January 10 and ended last Wednesday.

Hoping to calm tensions, government representatives have said that all future work in the Negev would be negotiated with the various coalition partners. The United Arab List, which is a member of the coalition and receives a large share of its votes from Bedouin in the Negev, had announced that it would boycott votes in the Knesset over the issue.

But in a radio interview last week, Duvdevani suggested that the work had only just begun, thereby contradicting the government.

The executive board members demanded in their letter Thursday that an urgent meeting on the matter be held “no later than Sunday.” But Sunday passed without them receiving any response from Duvdevani. Instead, he included a briefing on tree-planting in the Negev on the agenda of next Sunday’s regular meeting.

“Even though this is the last item on a very busy agenda, and despite the discontent felt by those signed below, given the chairman’s decision to ignore our request to hold a special urgent meaning to address these plantings, we welcome the intention to hold a discussion about this important issue,” they wrote.

A demonstrator being restrained by law enforcement officials during a protest against forestation in the Bedouin village of Sawa.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA - AFP

Duvdevani, a representative of the Orthodox World Mizrahi movement, is the first blatantly right-wing functionary to serve as head of JNF, an organization founded in 1901 to acquire and develop land in pre-state Israel for use by Jews. He was appointed to the position in October 2020, after the most recent gathering of the World Zionist Congress.

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