Nineteen years after his father, Shalom Karniel, fell in the 1948 battles for Israel’s independence, in a convoy that made its way to Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, Shimon Karniel, the unofficial (Jewish) “mukhtar” of Gush Etzion, returned with his friends and established the destroyed kibbutz from the dust. The lands of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), as well as the forests that had been in the area before, were destroyed. Arab rioters set fires to finish off whatever was left. Once again, Shimon and his friends worked for many years to replant the forests and green landscape again in the Gush Etzion hills.
Karniel first offers the historical background of the area. He claims, “Hundreds of years ago, the whole mountain area of Gush Etzion consisted of thick Mediterranean groves.” “Today, only a few parts of it are left. The Turkish government and local villagers cut down all of the wood for firewood.”
“The little forest areas that survived are due to the British Mandatory Government. They designated the remaining forests as nature reserves.”
Karniel explains, “When we arrived in 1967, the mountains here were completely exposed.” “We returned to our destroyed homes after 19 years and established the kibbutz.” “One of our most important jobs was the task of replanting forests, but today the reality is problematic.”
“The trees planted on Israeli soil belong to everyone, to our people and to the other people.” “It is heartbreaking that some people willfully uproot these trees.”
One who closely follows this eco-terror phenomenon, and documents it, is Yaron Rosenthal. He serves as the director of the Kfar Etzion Field School.
He explained the decision to plant forests in the open spaces. The JNF reached the conclusion that there was only one way to preserve the land. The JNF decided to plant thousands of dunams of trees. This way, the State of Israel established both ownership and sovereignty in the area. Additionally, the JNF prevented local farmers from seeking to expand their agricultural and grazing lands.
History of the Region
“In the 1940’s, the residents of Kfar Etzion planted here more than 100,000 trees,” he says. “But in the years following the Six-Day War, they planted thousands of dunams of trees.” “The area would once again become a forest.”
“In the last two decades we clearly see that in many areas in the forests, especially near the Arab villages, the trees have been completely cut down. I remember how, as a young field school counselor, I would lay here all night in ambushes to catch the villagers cutting down the woods. But this story of eco-terror got out of control. At the same time, we also suffer from repeated arson every summer.”
“(After the Arabs cut down the trees), they then arrive at the land that they just uprooted. They suddenly appear and start plowing and planting fruit trees. If we don’t catch them in time, the land automatically becomes private land for Arabs. This is despite the fact that they have never been in possession of ownership documents. (According to the law, cultivated land is legally private – even without ownership documents.) It is therefore very difficult to get the intruder off of lands that they cut down the trees from.”
Rosenthal claims that the Arabs in the area are taking over these lands with a deliberate hand. He explains, “The Europeans and other foreign countries are investing millions of shekels in this. They pay the Arabs to work land that was never cultivated until now.”
As Rosenthal alluded to, Arabs use arson as a terror method against Israel. This is not a new phenomenon. With each dry season, Israel experiences additional arson terror incidents. Prime Minister Netanyahu called the arsonists ‘terrorists.’ It became such a national problem that the Israeli government had to come up with a plan to battle the arson terror.
This actually is not new (links to articles on arson fires during dry seasons)