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When Yosef Weitz was appointed head of the JNF lands and afforestation department in 1932, afforestation received a great boost. Weitz brought a forester's bias to the job, although the new position involved general re-sponsibility for land acquisition and settlement. He would remain the key player at the JNF until his death forty years later and would deserve his nickname, “the father of the forests” (Figure 6). Indeed, probably no sin-gle sector of Israel's environment was influenced by a single individual as much as Israeli forests were by Yosef Weitz. Weitz was a truly prolific writer, so we know much about him. His personal diaries stretch on for five volumes, and his definitive 1970 history, Forestry and Afforestation in Israel, is almost autobiographical.

Forestry was not Weitz's first love. He had grown up around wood, be-cause his father was in the lumber business, but when he left his small town in Russia for Palestine at the age of eighteen, he was a typical Second Aliyah farmer. Steeped in the culture and politics of Labor Zionism, he started as an agricultural worker in Rehovoth in 1908, moved on to Hadera, and eventually reached the Galilee. There, at Sejira, he was made a farm manager owing to his formidable organizational skills and work ethic. He was also very smart, and, like many of his generation who never attended university, he displayed extraordinary autodidactic talents. His collected papers in the JNF archives in Jerusalem reveal all sorts of sur-prises, including a 1919 academic journal article that he wrote in French

about sand dune reclamation techniques. A few months after this publica-tion appeared, the JNF came calling (Figure 7).

When Akiva Ettinger, then the JNF's chief agronomist, asked Weitz to join his staff, the immigrant farm manager was already 31 with no formal training in forestry. But he was a quick study. Weitz's longtime personal assistant, Shimon Ben Shemesh, believes that most of his boss's strategies, as well as his conceptual approach to afforestation, were taken directly from Ettinger. Yet Weitz gets credit for several JNF innovations—such as importing the first date palms from Egypt to the Kinneret and to Degania and bringing carob scions from Cyprus for grafting.[55]

Weitz's career was a marathon run during which he rarely slowed down. Throughout the fifty years he worked at the JNF, photographs of him show the same erect figure with wire spectacles, thinning hair, dark mustache, enormous walking stick, and very few smiles. The first foresters who worked under him during the 1930s speak of him adoringly as a father figure,[56] but Weitz's public persona was strictly authoritarian. In the early days of the new nation, Professor Heinrich Mendelssohn came to talk with Weitz about setting aside some lands in the Huleh swamp as a nature reserve before the JNF drained the land. “He started screaming at me and banging on the table. ‘You want the land for the an-imals and plants, and if it was up to you, there'd be none left for the Jews. You're an ocher Yisrael (an enemy of Israel),’ he yelled and then threw me out of his office. I remember he called me an ocher Yisrael, because my Hebrew has never been that great, and I had to look the expression up in the dictionary.”[57]

Weitz was never comfortable as an office bureaucrat. His diaries are filled with the frustration of a caged bird, and he sounds truly happy only when recounting his numerous trips across the country. Environmentalists who passionately opposed his approach to develop-ment still retained great respect for his familiarity with the specifics of local geography.[58] A field visit by Weitz would begin at 6:00 a.m., with workers joining him at his home for a full breakfast that always included an omelet.[59] Often he brought his wife or one of his three sons on visits. Ben Shemesh fondly remembers Weitz's inclination to convene depart-mental meetings under the shade of the trees.[60] Despite his reputation for stubbornness, however, Weitz eventually would make his peace with the environmentalists and show remarkable intellectual openness.

During the War of Independence, Weitz was the leading figure on the three-member “Transfer Committee,” which sought to expedite the depar-ture of local Arabs, and which operated at first with tacit and later formal

approval of the prime minister.[61] As a result, some historians have painted a one-dimensional picture of Weitz as a callous, Arab-hating official.[62] That view, however, ignores the historical circumstances as well as Weitz's tire-less efforts to offer Arabs compensation for lost lands. As an indication of his actual position on the Palestinian issue, he opposed occupation of the West Bank after 1967 and even refused to attend dedication ceremonies when old JNF settlements at Gush Etzion were resurrected.[63]

It is a much more sentimental Weitz that emerges from his diary. Recalling his first serious afforestation effort with stone pine trees (Pinus pinea L.) in the Herzl Forest at Huldah in 1922, he wrote:

One morning, I'm coming up the road from the train, filled with blissful expectations of “the forest.” I climb, skipping up the incline to see my soft, newly nurtured darlings. But then they came into view and my eyes turned black. The green saplings had turned brown, except for a few isolated ones here and there, and from the heights I could hear the ridicule of the Angel of Death. I fall to my knees and gently touch the saplings. Needles crumble and fall, leaving only a few orphaned needles behind. I dig out all the soil around the saplings to uncover the mystery of their sudden demise, and I don't find anything but a broken heart and tears in my eyes. I was ashamed of myself. My heart asked remorsefully: “What will I show Ettinger?” and total failure encompassed and followed me.[64]

Weitz not only had to overcome grief from lost trees: His youngest and dearest son, Yehiam, was killed in a 1946 Palmach demolition attack. In a posthumously published journal entry he writes: “I don't have the courage to go out on the street, to come to the office, to look at the everyday world. Only the plants in the garden look at me honestly. It is only with them that I can talk.”[65] Still, Weitz would bounce back and lead the JNF through its most ecologically controversial period.

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