The History of the Greening of Eretz Yisrael

In ancient times, the land of Israel was covered with forest. During the years which the Jews spent in exile, the forests were cut down by the land's new inhabitants and the soil became dry and yellow desert. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the beginnings of Zionism, did Jews start returning to the land of their forefathers. The representatives of the Zionist movement considered afforestation a sacred duty, the symbol of the arrival of the era of renewal. With scant regard for the effort required, the enthusiasts cleared the hills of stones and planted forests. In the mosquito infested swamps they planted eucalyptus trees. The first tree-planting Tu B'Shvat ceremony of modern times was performed by the inhabitants of the Galilee moshav of "Yessod HaMa'alah" in 1884. On that day, hundreds of trees were planted, including 770 citrus trees.

In 1908, the Teachers' Union declared Tu B'Shvat a day of tree-planting. The city of Tel Aviv had not yet been founded, so the students from the Jewish schools of Yaffo [Jaffa] planted trees on the agricultural allotments of the college at Mikve Yisrael, not far from Yaffo. In 1913, fifteen hundred Jerusalem school students went out to the settlement of Motza, near the city entrance, where they fulfilled the precept of planting trees. During the First World War [1914-18], the Jewish population of the country lived in constant danger. The inhabitants of Tel Aviv fled the city and the tree-planting tradition stopped, only to be renewed during the British mandate period - since when it has continued uninterrupted.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, all afforestation has been transferred to the "Keren Kayemet leYisrael" [Jewish National Fund], and thousands of dunams of forest have been planted. The JNF is the largest foundation within the Zionist movement and has been responsible for purchasing land in Israel for settlement and afforestation since 1905.

On Tu B'Shvat in 1949, Jerusalem was encircled by a "Forest of Defenders" in memory of those who fell in the War of Independence. The first tree in the forest was planted by then Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. The day also marked the beginning of the Knesset's first session, which is why the Knesset celebrates its own birthday on the fifteenth of Shvat.


Tree plantations at army camps and absorbtion centers in 2006



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27 Jun 2005 / 20 Sivan 5765 0