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The pace and magnitude of the postwar tree-planting blitz did not go un-noticed by the small, but vocal, environmental community in the nascent State. Without exception, Israeli environmentalists liked forests and the biodiversity they could support. Yet sterile rows of scrawny JNF pines, sep-arated by fire lines into symmetrical matrices, left them with a cold sense of alienation rather than any renewed feeling of closeness to nature.[127] As the JNF brought mass-production forestry to greater and greater tracts of Israel's land, the results produced indignation.

In fact, the first organized environmental campaign in the State of Israel was directed against a JNF plan to establish a settlement on the site of a native oak forest. A coalition of activist zoologists and members of Kibbutz Alonim wrote Yosef Weitz: “We sacrificed strength and blood so that these ancient oaks wouldn't be destroyed by our Arab neighbors. There is no justification for these trees to be uprooted by the State of Israel.” Weitz assented and ordered the plan revised to preserve the trees.[128] This case of accommodation was an exception that proved the rule. To begin with there was an ideological divide that was difficult to bridge. “A forest is not just trees but other plants, as well as a place for an-imals to live,” railed conservation leader Azariah Alon. “The foresters re-fused to accept this: ‘We're foresters—not zookeepers,’ they said.”[129]

Little enraged environmentalists more than JNF methods of planting. As the JNF acquired heavy equipment, tree plantings took on the sort of envi-ronmental insensitivity usually associated with Green caricaturizations of agribusiness. The attack was multipronged. First, fires were lit to erase any remnant of indigenous bushes, trees, and brush. Next, bulldozers were brought on to sweep away the debris; then plows prepared the soil for plant-ing. Finally, pesticides ensured that the new pine seedlings would not be troubled by other undesirable biological activity. Environmentalists charged that the underlying soil inevitably suffered from the relentless onslaught, while the surrounding ecosystem was irreversibly knocked off balance.


Once the trees grew, their needles formed a highly acidic ground cover that decomposed very slowly. The result was a sterile forest bed inhos-pitable to additional undergrowth and to most animal populations. Environmentalists coined the term “the pine deserts” to describe them, seeing even humans as aliens among the crowded rows of skinny trees. Although Israelis make their way in droves to these forests during holi-days, they tend to stay in the crowded picnic/playground chanyonim and rarely wander the forests themselves. Professor Mendelssohn rejects the term “forests” altogether for these sites: “The JNF planted pine orchards. A forest is an ecosystem that develops over thousands of years.”[130]

In addition to the ecological critique, there was an aesthetic one. As Knesset Member Rachel Zabari complained in parliament, despite their os-tensible contribution to security, the walls of JNF trees blocked scenic vis-tas.[131] JNF foresters generally lacked a sense of landscape. For instance, the same fire prevention lines that cut the woods into perpendicular farming cubes could have been designed to flow with the contours of the land.[132]

Another complaint that became more angry with time involved the use of chemicals. During the 1960s, the JNF foresters' reliance on pesticides grew. Environmentalists could not forgive the JNF for pressing on with Jerusalem pine monoculture, even after JNF's own scientific research sug-gested that the Matsucoccus aphids undermined its sustainability. The results could only be decimation or chemical dependence. Chemicals were used in the fight against each of the three primary adversaries of trees: weeds, fires, and pests. Until the trees' second year, when saplings are strong enough to withstand competitive flora, they need weeding twice in the springtime (weeds are less problematic during the dry summer months). The JNF's first forests were weeded by hoeing around the base of the trees, which subdued annual plants and reduced water loss to evaporation.[133] When the costs of labor increased, however, chemicals became the primary means of control. Foresters claim that their practices are fundamentally dif-ferent from agricultural chemical dependence. Crop farmers spray on an ongoing basis, whereas foresters apply herbicides only once or twice at the start of a forest's life cycle, which can last sixty years or more.[134] Yet this argument does not cover the growing role of herbicides in forest fire prevention, where spraying is continuous (the ten-meter fire prevention lines separating stands of trees are useless if they fill up with opportunistic brush). The argument also fails to address the change in the composition and diversity of natural species caused by the chemical applications.

The JNF herbicide of choice for many years has been simazine. Selected because of its marginal impact on perennials, the chemical successfully

prevents germination of annual plants. It is especially effective when ap-plied at the start of winter, after the first rains. Unfortunately simazine is also a hazardous poison and is classified as a possible carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved to revoke the tolerance level for simazine in 1996 after studies indicated that the chemical caused cancer in female rats. Sheep and cattle are especially sensitive to it.[135] Seven European countries, including Germany, Holland, and Sweden, have im-posed stringent restrictions on comparable chemicals. The chemical is highly stable, making it a potential groundwater contaminant in addition to a potential health threat to people and animals that frequent the forest. The chemical was first identified in Israel's rural aquifers during the 1970s. Subsequent studies identified residue levels in groundwater two to three days after spraying that were orders of magnitude higher than the 0.004-milligram-per-liter standard set in the United States.[136]

Spraying has also been directed at a variety of insects that are enemies of Israel's pines. For example, the pine processionary caterpillar is prima-rily controlled through the aerial spraying of endosulfan and difluben-zuron.[137] Here again, the ecological impacts of decades of spraying have not been studied but may be extremely severe. Endosulfan is a chlorinated hydrocarbon (and therefore highly persistent), designed to damage in-sects' central nervous systems. Human exposure to endosulfan can lead quickly to lack of coordination, gagging, vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, con-vulsions, and loss of consciousness. The chemical causes cell mutations, al-though there is as yet insufficient data to classify endosulfan as a carcino-gen. Nonetheless, sheep, cows, and pigs that grazed in fields where the chemical was sprayed have gone blind, and there is much evidence indi-cating that birds and fish are particularly sensitive.[138]

In all fairness, it must be said that the JNF tries not to spray excessively. The quantities applied have been reduced, and foresters are at least di-rected to be more selective and spray only in critical situations.[139] For in-stance, although the Mediterranean pine shoot moth, a common Middle Eastern pest, attacks all species of pines, especially when they are young, it generally destroys only shoots and does not kill the trees. Hence the JNF does not spray against it.[140] And the damage that rats do to carob trees has no chemical panacea, so no spraying is attempted. And as for the pesky Matsucoccus josephi and the Jerusalem pines, years of research concluded that continuous, good-old-fashioned pruning probably offers the best de-fense.[141] Behold, the saw is mightier than the spray.

It is possible that Rachel Carson's 1961 polemic against pesticides, Silent Spring, influenced the Forestry Department. Since the 1960s, official

JNF publications have bemoaned the side effects of spraying, and Israeli forest managers have called for biological alternatives, including the development of natural predator populations so as “not to upset the bio-logical equilibrium in woodlands.”[142] However, when one considers the ample budget of the JNF and its broad research agenda, these calls seem to be nothing more than lip service. Integrated pest management as part of an ecological forestry strategy was never an organizational priority, and calls for alternatives to simazine made today may carry no more force than those made thirty years earlier.[143]

Conflicts between the JNF and environmentalists sometimes spilled over into the personal realm and could grow ugly. Although many JNF foresters and environmental advocates were actually friends, some were not. Azariah Alon remembers almost coming to blows with Sharon Weitz when the second-generation Weitz was in charge of the Northern Region Forestry Department. The Gilboa Mountain, famed for its iris flowers, lies across the valley from Alon's kibbutz, Beit ha-Shita. When he saw JNF planters coming to burn the lands and all the local flowers with them, it was too much and he brought kibbutz members with him to stop the JNF work. Eventually they agreed to submit the matter to Sharon's father, Yosef.[144] The compromise, a stark border between the open nature reserve and the shaded pine forest, is symbolic of the clashing aesthetic and eco-logical perceptions of the period.

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