Wednesday, September 30, 2009

JNF: Palm tree destruction and Xmas trees

J-Wire: JNF Australia shocked at palm tree destruction
September 30, 2009 by Henry Benjamin

In what appears to be a pre-Succoth hunt for palm leaves, dozens of palm trees have been destroyed in Israel. JNF Australia is outraged. Federal president Grahame Leonard told J-Wire: “This appears to be a deliberate attempt to irresponsibly and without authorisation strip the trees of their palm leaves in such a way as to destroy them. JNF Australia has interests in palm plantations in the Negev. These are not our trees. But it doesn’t matter whose they are…this is a despicable destructive act and those who did this should be ashamed of themselves.”

Sydney Yeshiva Centre’s Eli Feldman spoke to J-Wire . He said: “Although the report says it is appears to be the work of those in need of palm leaves for Succot, we should abide by the principle of being innocent until proved guilty. Nevertheless, it saddens us very much to hear this news. We instruct all our members to follow the law of the land and to make sure proper permission is granted before touching a tree. Our organisation is very conscious of the work JNF does and most of us have Blue Boxes.”

The JNF’s Michael Marmary told J-Wire: “While on a routine tour, KKL-JNF foresters were surprised to discover that dozens of palm trees planted along the banks of Nahal Harod, in Israel’s northern Jezreel Valley were severely mutilated. It is assumed that individuals interested in the palm branches, used in the prayer services of the upcoming, weeklong Succoth holiday were involved.” While conducting a routine patrol along the banks of the Harod Stream (Nahal Harod) that had been nurtured and rehabilitated over the years KKL-JNFforesters were shocked to discover dozens of palm and date trees stripped naked of their branches.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler stated, “These trees were planted a few years ago in an effort by to rehabilitate Nahal Harod. We rehabilitated the banks of the stream, planted fruit trees and forest groves, constructed and upgraded picnic areas for the enjoyment of the area’s visitors, paved hiking and cycling trails”.
Gil Atzmon, regional KKL-JNF director said, “The trees were decimated in a wild and barbaric manner. The injury was identical in all of the trees, all of the trees’ branches were cut from their tree trunks, seemingly to expose the palm branches to the sunlight so that they would receive a nice green color just before the holiday when these criminals would return and cut the remaining branches”. Atzmon further noted, “This is a mortal injury to the trees. Their treetops were damaged, an injury that will almost certainly cause the trees to wither and die. It hurts to see horrific vandalism such as this”.
The mutilation of the trees for the sake of obtaining their branches is rare in comparison to the damages caused to wild palm trees and willow trees in areas throughout the country because of their use as roofing for the outdoor succas (tabernacles). The injury to the wild palm trees in numerous areas has left these regions virtually stripped of these types of trees that were once a significant part of the regional landscape. This uncontrolled cutting has created a situation in which many of the trees have lost all of their branches, and there were even cases in which whole trees were ripped from the ground.

In earlier years, the country’s Chief Rabbis issued proclamations decrying this phenomenon and reminded Jews “a succa constructed with stolen palm branches is not kosher”. In the past, individuals caught cutting and stealing the branches were fined fines reaching upwards into the thousands of shekels.The KKL-JNF is planning to reinforce its supervision of its forests close to the Succoth holiday and distribute roofing materials for succas at various sites throughout the country in order to combat this phenomenon. The distributed branches are the remains of the trimming routinely conducted inthe forests to protect the life of the trees.

We agree - that is certainly not the way to go about getting S'chach for Sukkot and must be condemned. However reading the outrage expressed in the article one could get the impression that entire forests have been decimated, when it reality they are talking about a dozen or two trees. So, fellas, lets not get things too much out of proportion

But...meanwhile the highly-regarded AJNWatch Reseach Unit did some sniffing around and reported that the very same JNF seems to be far more accommodating when it comes to supplying Xmas trees to Christians. (A gesture no doubt to ensure that no traditionalist Christian will be tempted to chop down a tree on his own... )

Free Christmas Trees from JNF for Christian friends and members of the Foreign Press - 30 November 2006

To: Members of the Foreign Press

From: Shlomit Shrvit, Spokesperson

Dear friends, Re: Christmas Trees

As has become our custom, Jewish National Fund will be pleased to distribute Christmas trees that have been thinned out from its forests to its Christian friends and members of the Foreign Press. The procedure of thinning out of the forests this time of year is part of the regular curriculum in the Jewish National Fund forests.
Trees can be picked up from our Givat Yeshayahu Nursery (near Beit Shemesh) begin from Sunday Dec. 17, until Dec. 24 2006 between 08:00am - 15:00pm.
Kindly contact us in order to reserve your tree - please do so no later than Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005. In your reservation, kindly indicate at the same time the approximate height you would like the tree (between 1 to 6 meters).

Best wishes for a joyous holiday season to you and your families.
Best Regards,

Orit Hadad
Spokesperson's Office

Jewish National Fund

(AJNWatch sidebar comment: Orit Hadad, is the spokesperson for the spokesperson Shlomit Shrvit! This got us wondering. Exactly how large is the JNF's "Spokesperson's Office"? And what about the rest of its bureaucracy? How many extra forests could be planted by reducing unnecessary staff? We asked our Researchers this and similar questions. They sent us to these links: / / / These article are from a while ago and we hope that matters have improved since. But no one here can recall the Australian Jewish News reporting these issues. If any of our readers do, please let us know.)

Another blogpost of interest (especially the comments section):

* * * * *
Meanwhile it seems that the JNF may be talking out of both sides of its mouth, ie, trying to do the right thing for Christians and at the same time assuring their Jewish (especially traditional and religious) supporters not to be overly concerned about the possibilty of their Blue Box coins helping celebrate a 'holy day' of a religion responsible for untold pain and suffering of Jews for centuries.
How does the the JNF spin it? They say that they actually only giving away "...Christmas trees that have been thinned out from its forests." (More later.)

"Thinned out"? Huh? Since when do Israeli forests require "thinning out"? The experts say that even planting for another 100 years, there will still be no need to "thin out". Come on JNF, pull the other leg - it plays "Jingle Bells".

[We here at AJNWatch have no firm view on this matter either way. Who knows, maybe handing out Xmas trees to those unlovely churches (and their monsignors, bishops and nuns,) UN officials, foreign journalists and embassies, will keep them busy stuffing stockings, thus having less time to spew anti-Israel rhetoric. Maybe. Maybe not.
But please, JNF, don't take your supporters to be total fools.]

We doubt that Eli Feldman knows about the Xmas-tree links. After all, he would surely realise that the Yeshiva's mentor and inspiration, the Lubavitcher rebbe, would've never approved financially supporting distribution of Xmas trees.
* * * * *

As for the JNF's claim that the trees are sourced by being "thinned out from forests", see what the JNF itself says in an advertorial in Jerusalem Post . Here one can see exactly where these Xmas trees come from:

Choosing your own Christmas trees from KKL-JNF forests

"I can't believe that Israelis ensure that Christians in Israel have Christmas trees! This is really cool!" We were speaking to Nathan, a student at the Jerusalem University College on Mt. Zion, whom we met at KKL-JNF's traditional Christmas tree distribution at their regional offices at Givat Yeshayahu, on Wednesday, 10th December.
"... I'm studying the history and geography of the Holy Land at the Jerusalem University College, the only Protestant institution of its kind. I'm on a two-year program and let me tell you, this is really amazing!"

Every year just before Christmas, KKL-JNF distributes trees to churches, monasteries, embassies and the foreign press in Israel. Eli Ben-Sheetrit, KKL-JNF forester in charge of the lower Judean coastal plain, told us about the project and how it worked: "The first thing we had to do was to choose which tree would make the most beautiful Christmas tree. We decided on the Arizona cedar and as you can see, no one is disappointed by our choice. We used to cut them down in the KKL-JNF forests and bring them here for distribution, but then we had no way of knowing if we were cutting too many or too few. A few years ago, we decided to grow the trees here at Givat Yeshayahu on a few plots especially set aside for this purpose. We alternate between the plots to make sure we always have enough trees to meet the demand.
"We receive one-year old seedlings from KKL-JNF's tree nursery at Eshta'ol - this year I have received 2,000 seedlings. They grow here for another two years until they are about two meters tall, which is the height that most people want. I expect to distribute about 1,200 trees this year. I receive a list of the institutions that requested trees, from Ms. Sarah Singer of the Interior Ministry and in addition, individuals can also take trees for a symbolic fee. KKL-JNF subsidizes the project to continue the good relations with our Christian citizens and visitors. We also supply trees to the United Nations missions in Israel. Personally, I have been working in KKL-JNF for 27 years and I want to see this beautiful tradition continue every year."
After registering with Eli or with Sarah Singer, one can go directly to the cedar grove to choose his tree, where a KKL-JNF employee fells the tree and helps load it into the truck.
Early in the morning, busloads of nuns arrived from Jerusalem and Bethlehem who received almost 400 Christmas trees. Amal came to choose trees for Christ Church at Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem. "Christ Church was the first Anglican Church in Jerusalem and I have been coming here every year for trees - this year I'm taking twelve. We really appreciate this and I look forward to returning next year."
For people not affiliated with a church or formal organization, coming to choose and take away a tree can be a real family outing. We met Maiwenn, who is originally from Brittany, but now lives with her husband Udi in Jerusalem. "We heard about the tree distribution through my husband's work, CBC TV of Canada. Apparently KKL-JNF sends out faxes to various organizations in Israel. It's a great opportunity to get outside with our kids and it's a special experience to choose our Christmas tree in the forest where it grows."
More trees will be distributed before Christmas on Monday, 22nd December, mainly to embassies and the foreign press in Israel.
For more information, please visit our website at or e-mail Sponsored content

Another report:

Jerusalem Distributes Free Christmas Trees to Christians
Susan Jones

Jerusalem ( - The city of Jerusalem distributed free Christmas trees to Christians on Thursday as part of a longstanding tradition, a city spokesman said.

For decades, Israel has distributed the trees free of charge, particularly to the expatriot community of Christian leaders, journalists, diplomats and others. One observer quipped that the Jewish State is probably the only country in the world that gives away free Christmas trees to Christians. It is "symbolic of the way Jerusalem unites all three monotheistic religions," said Jerusalem municipality spokesman Gideon Schmerling in a statement. The trees are donated by the Jewish National Fund, which is the country's forestry agency.

"Every year we distribute about 1,200 Christmas trees to religious leaders from different churches, diplomats, U.N. representatives, U.N. peacekeepers and the foreign press," said Paul Ginsberg, head of the forestry department of northern Israel."We also make trees available for sale for the Christian Arab population," Ginsberg told the Cybercast News Service.

Between one thousand and fifteen hundred trees are sold each year."Because we're the only official forestry agency in Israel, we feel responsible to sections of the population to provide them with a service they require," he said.

According to Ginsberg, the most popular variety is the Arizona Cyprus, which looks the closest to a "normal Christmas tree," has a fairly dense number of branches and a greenish-gray color. Most trees are four to six feet tall, although special-order trees are larger. They are harvested as part of the regular process of thinning out the forests."We do our best not only to plant trees for future need [but also to make sure they are] the right size," he added.


So here's some free advice to the JNF. Plant plenty of forests of palm trees. Every year before Sukkot set up distribution centres all over the country. This will put an immediate stop to random vandalism and destruction.

To use their own words: "Every year we distribute about 1,200 Christmas trees ...," said Paul Ginsberg, "...Because we're the only official forestry agency in Israel, we feel responsible to sections of the population to provide them with a service they require..."

This will also show that JNF has "Jewish" interests at heart and deserves the support worldwide Jewry.


Footnote: AJN article about problems in the JNF Sydney office:


  1. Wow! Amazing post. Very informative with much new info.
    Thanks to your "Reseacr Unit" for their efferts.

  2. I came upon your blog via google and find it most interesting.

    My wife and I were lifelong supporters and workers for the JNF until we realised that most of the money raised stays here in in the US for expenses and then the little bit that does get to Israel is again eaten up mainly by office and publicity costs.
    We figured that not much more than 10% of all monies raised actually ended up in trees and forests. What a joke and disgrace towards donors and volunteers.

    We have continued with our voluntary and charity work but now focus on local charities and causes where at least 80% of funds go to the need and needy

    Chag Sameach

    Sadie and Harry Weiss
    Chicagi IL

  3. chenyok said...
    Let's not forget that the JNF was silent when Kfar Darom was surrendered to our enemies for no reason, when that village was bought with donations made to the JNF, trusting that organization to safeguard that land in Jewish hands.


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