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January 16, 2022 8:57 am
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Grounding Our Roots in the Land of Israel

avatar by Yoel Zilberman

Opinion

Negev Iris. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The State of Israel is among the few countries in the world that has more trees today than a century ago. From the days of the first Aliyah (migration to Israel) in 1882 until today, more than 245 million trees have been planted in the Land of Israel — a huge number that changed the face of Israel’s landscape. Planting trees is an important act of Zionism since the days of the redemption of the lands by Yehoshua Henkin and their afforestation by the KKL.

For example, in the 1960s, the Yatir forest was planted, which is now considered the largest forest in the country, with more than four million trees. Beyond the enormous importance of the impact of the trees on our quality of life, the afforestation action is significant in the security and existential aspect of the State of Israel — the preservation of state lands. In the years following the establishment of the State of Israel, the task of afforestation was a symbol of our hold on the land, protecting the open areas from illegal and criminal takeover.

The recent riots in the Negev following the planting events of KKL make us wonder: how did we get to the point where such a basic national action, one woven into our story here on this land, has become the focus of a violent flare-up and controversy? We seem to be cutting ourselves off from the branch on which we sit.

This extreme event is part of a growing trend of undermining sovereignty. Like a tree rotting from within after being placed in poor conditions, here too, we are watching with great pain the loss of our governance as a Jewish and democratic state.

Our connection to the land is not self-evident. Everyone may have a home on this land, whether in an apartment building or a house, but this reality was only a distant dream for Jews in exile for 2,000 years. Today, we are closer than ever to the land of our ancestors, but it seems that the closer we got, the more we forgot the historical longing and desire to be connected to the land.

In the book of Joshua 1:3, God says to Joshua: “Every place where your lay a footstep, I have given to you.” A combination of what we are required to actively do, alongside what we were given and what we deserve.

If we lack the ability to step forward, if we miss the opportunity to preserve and plant a tree in our land, we will not be worthy of it.

If illegal cannabis greenhouses are planted every day in the Negev, neglected by the official authorities that have been turning a blind eye, while riots break out over planting trees — who knows how far this will go?

As we watch the deterioration of the Negev, we understand that we are the ones required to generate growth instead. To flower the wilderness, we need to keep planting. The trees create for us a healthier environment and we all get to enjoy their effect. Through them, we can create land reinforcement, and connect and deepen our roots in the land in order to be worthy of it.

Yoel Zilberman is the founder and CEO of Hashomer HaChadash.

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