The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet LeIsrael) said Sunday it will move ahead with plans to plant trees near Nahal Yatir in the Negev, which last year was temporarily stopped due to protests among Arab-Bedouin residents and planting resumed two days later.
Sa’wah demonstrations against tree planting by the JNF, January 13, 2022 (Photo: Waleed Aloubra / Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality)
In her first decision as JNF-KKL chairwoman since entering office earlier this month, Ifat Ovadia-Luski, a member of the Likud party, said the Zionist organization will carry out tree planting and other agricultural work in the area “without any delays.” She did not provide a specific date for such activity, which often occurs around the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat, which begins this year on February 5. According the press, planting is expected to begin next Sunday, January 29.
Noting the purpose of the practice, Ovadia-Luski said planting would take place “on state-owned lands that protect against incursions, environmental harm, illegal construction and trespassing — all common phenomena in the desert region.” According to far-right Yitzhak Wasserlauf of racist Otzma Yehudit party who serves as Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee Minister, JNF-KKL’s decision to plant trees this year was reached thanks to pressure exerted by him in recent weeks.
The Hadash-Ta’al parliamentary faction denounced the decision to move forward with this year’s tree-planting. “This is a despicable and outrageous decision disguised in the form of planting trees. What residents of the Negev need is full recognition of the unrecognized Arab-Bedouin villages and towns, infrastructure and rights — not another display of ‘governance,'” Hadash-Ta’al said in a statement. Other critics of JNF-KKL’s signature program include environmentalists who consider the practice harmful, as it has allowed a single species of trees to spread unchecked, diminishing biodiversity and increasing the risk of forest fires.
“The Jewish National Fund’s afforestation projects in the Negev are threatening the Bedouins’ particular lifestyle and creating fear and insecurity among residents, mainly women and children. The State’s mechanisms regarding the residents’ protests have been highly repressive and violent. The Bedouin indigenous citizens deserve to live in security, with basic infrastructure, schools, and clinics, without home demolitions or State’s operations that threaten their lives and wellbeing,” said Hanan Alsanah and Haia Noach, Executive Directors
Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. “We are highly concerned regarding the State’s criminalization of the Bedouin citizens, while they attempt to claim their land rights and human rights, and the unacceptable treatment the authorities are taking against this minority, mainly towards women and children.”
Last year MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash) claimed the planting was being carried out on private land owned. “Under a cover of planting trees, what is happening is land theft and violence toward the Arab-Bedouin community,” she said. “The Bedouin are in favor of a clean, green environment,” said Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Initiatives NGO. “The state and its agencies, including the JNF, control over 97% of the Negev’s geographical area. Why must forestation take place on the remaining 3% of disputed land claimed by Bedouin, who comprise 34% of the total population of the Negev?” he asked.