When you are in Israel, it is very easy to see where Israeli run territory ends and territory run by the Palestinian Authority begins, just look for the end of the forest. Growing trees in Israel has been a priority since before the state of Israel was formed. It is a tradition that people living in the diaspora contribute to the JNF to plant trees in Israel, and when Jews visit Israel, they plant trees, as my family did on our visit three years ago. During our next trip we will go and visit our trees.
It is precisely that tradition of planting both by Israeli Jews and Jews in the galut that made Israel the only country in the world that is actually growing the number of trees within its borders. That’s why Israel has become the model for planting forests.
El Salvador to copy Israel’s national forestry model
There is only one nation in the world that has a net gain of trees over the past 100 years. While other countries, developing and developed, have been actively harvesting and lobbing trees down in the name of progress, Israel’s national organization the KKL-JNF (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund) has made it a national priority to plant trees in Israel, and to look after them.
Decades before tree planting became a hippy’s dream summer job, and a responsible thing to do for the environment, Israelis were already making it a national priority, calling on Jews from the Jewish Diaspora or people who wanted to support the Holy Land, to donate money to help plant trees.
That’s why today around the hills of Jerusalem, there are forests planted by nations from all around the world, such as the US, Canada and Mexico. Even America’s Kennedy Family visited Jerusalem and planted a living monument, trees in the name of past President John F. Kennedy, there. The Yad Kennedy monument, outside of Jerusalem, overlooks the very spot where the trees were planted, the John F. Kennedy Peace Forest.
Over the years, Israel’s KKL-JNF foresters have earned international acclaim for the work they do. They select drought hearty-species to cope with the arid land in Israel. And due to their expertise in forestry and fighting forest fires, Israel’s KKL-JNF has a number of cooperation projects with countries all over the world, including Australia and Spain.
Now, Israel has a new country to add to the list. Late last year, El Salvador decided to take a look at Israel’s model for successful reforesting, and is now planning to appeal to its own large and influential group of expatriates in the United States and Canada, to help plant trees in El Salvador.
Planting new roots among the ruins
Unsuccessful investments in coffee plantations, a long civil war in the 1980s and then a destructive earthquake in 2001, has left El Salvador with serious environmental degradation, making much of the country look like rubble.
Rabbi Yerahmiel Barylka, director of the KKL-JNF’s Latin-American Desk, traveled to El Salvador last year to take part in a seminar to see what Israel could do. “Together with the manager, our Latin American representative at KKL, we went to El Salvador as part of a 40 person group, which included people from El Salvador who work with environmental protection and in the field of education,” says Barylka.
As part of the initial meeting, a press conference was held in El Salvador between the Israelis and El Salvadorians and included Carlos José Guerrero, Minister of the Environment in El Salvador; Matanya Cohen, the Israeli Ambassador in El Salvador; and Michael Adari, the KKL-JNF Latin America Chief Emissary.
“I gave them the basic information on how to set up a non-profit organization,” Barylka tells ISRAEL21c. “In the future we will invite all the consul representatives from El Salvador based in the United States and will give them additional seminars,” he says. Hopefully, the consul members will learn how to appeal to potential donors in the US on how to give money to save El Salvador’s environment, through tree planting.
Models of funding, forestry and sustainability
“Afterwards we will send foresters from El Salvador to Israel to learn about the KKL,” he adds.
The idea to work with El Salvador came from the Israeli side, and was facilitated in part by Barylka. Born in Argentina, Barylka is a prolific writer of Jewish books, who also lived in Mexico for nearly two decades before moving to Israel.
Meanwhile, there is an important election going on right in El Salvador, putting the co-operation plans with Israel on hold for a few months. Barylka who will be leaving his post at the KKL-JNF by then, expects the cooperation to continue by no later than the end of the year.
The bi-national cooperation between El Salvador and Israel is expected to share the KKL-JNF’s resources on financial structures, organizational schemes, funding, and all the technical aspects of preserving forests. The KKL-JNF is a five star model of community involvement, representing nearly one million donors in more than 50 countries, all of whom donate to developing the State of Israel.
Trees to improve environment and economy
El Salvador has a problem with its forests, having opted to invest in coffee plants, which failed to improve the national economy. Like Israel, El Salvador has a very large expatriate community, not living in El Salvador. Out of a population of about seven million people, about three to four million are not living in their native country, says a rep from the KKL-JNF. Some of these are affluent people who could support El Salvador if there was an opportunity to do so by planting trees.
Trees provide valuable habitat for wildlife, they prevent heat sinks from building up in cities, hold water in the earth, and provide a nourishing layer for undergrowth and new plants to grow. They can help revive economies and are the basic foundation of environmental conservation.