Israel’s history of planting trees started long before the terms "sustainable development" or "climate change" became popular. Situated on mostly arid land, the early Jewish pioneers brought the wilderness to life by planting trees, sowing fields and making the desert bloom.
The International Day of Forests is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees outside forests. With a focus on climate change, this year’s International Day of Forests aims to highlight how sustaining healthy forests and tackling climate change go hand in hand.
The world has made tremendous progress over the last few decades. Technological advances paved the way for unprecedented economic development, people are living safer, healthier lives, and societies have more control over their own destiny.
However, improvement in the standard of living has also introduced new global challenges. Population growth, changing consumption patterns and limited natural resources have taken a heavy toll on the planet. The international community has been slow to realize that in order to ensure that future generations enjoy what we have worked so hard to achieve, we must take measures to protect our planet from further environmental degradation and climate change.
Forests are the lifeblood of the planet and one of its most treasured resources. They are complex eco-systems, providing food, water, shelter and livelihood. Unfortunately, we don’t treat them as such. The current rate of deforestation [di-fores-tay-shon] could lead to the complete extermination of the world’s rainforests in as little as a hundred years.
The Jewish people’s strong bond with trees goes back to biblical times. Trees are mentioned in the book of Genesis, as one of God’s first creations.
In the book of Deuteronomy, it says "כי האדם עץ השדה" – "A man is like the tree of the field". Both are intertwined in the circle of life and need air, water, soil and sun to survive.
Last month, Jews all over the world celebrated Tu be-Shvat, known as the "New Year for Trees." In Israel, it is customary for children to mark this holiday by planting thousands of new tree seedlings.
In fact, Israel’s history of planting trees started long before the terms "sustainable development" or "climate change" became popular. Situated on mostly arid land, Israel was not blessed with natural forestry. The early Jewish pioneers brought the wilderness to life by planting trees, sowing fields and making the desert bloom.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, KKL-JNF, Israel’s official afforestation administration, has planted more than 240 million trees covering over 250,000 acres of land, including Yatir forest, which is situated in the northern Negev desert and is Israel’s largest planted forest. Due to these efforts, Israel was one of the only countries to enter the 21st century with a net gain in the number of trees.
The principal role of Israel’s forests is to provide ecosystem and educational services for the benefit of all of the citizens. In 1951, JNF planted a forest of 6 million trees in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. "Ya’ar Ha Kdoshim", as it is called in Hebrew, has an important social and educational role. Every year, KKL-JNF in cooperation with Bnei B’rith International hold a ceremony in the forest commemorating the heroism of Jewish rescuers, who with great courage aided in the survival of Jews, endangering their own lives as well as those of their families.
In recent years, and in line with the UN Climate Change Conferences, Israel has strengthened its environmental policy to ensure the protection of forests and contribute to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Israel’s National Master Plan for Forest and Forestry, adopted in 1995, aims to build the resilience of Israel’s forests and recognizes the need to reinforce their sustainable management.
As a hub for green knowledge, Israel is at the forefront of research and development in the fields of forestry and desertification. Israel shares new technologies in eco-innovation with many countries around the world and especially those in arid and semi-arid areas, helping them adapt to climate change through sustainable agriculture, soil and water management, desert afforestation, biological control of invasive insects and bushfire preparedness.
Israel is committed to the implementation of international treaties in the sphere of afforestation and environmental protection and is looking forward to continue working with others to create a climate smart future.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I would like to share with you a story from the Talmud:
An old man was planting a tree.
A young person passed by and asked, what are you planting?
A carob tree, said the old man.
Silly fool, said the youth. Don’t you know that it takes 70 years for a carob tree to bear fruit?
That’s okay, said the old man. Just as others planted for me, I plant for future generations.
The moral of the story is simple, yet telling – The generation that built this institution 70 years ago did so for the benefit of future generations, now it is our turn to pay the investment forward and ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the fruits of our labor.