From Gush Shalom
My father was an early Zionist. Popular Jewish humor in Germany at that time had it that "a Zionist is a Jew who wants to take money from another Jew in order to settle a third Jew in Palestine." My father certainly was not planning to go to Palestine himself.
Palestine was then a country bereft of ornamental trees. The Arab inhabitants cultivated olive trees, from which they made their scant living, and at that time the citrus trees were introduced. The olive tree is native -- already in the Biblical story of Noah's ark, the dove fetches an olive leaf as a sign of life.
According to popular legend, during that war the Turkish administration cut down the trees in order to build a railway across the Sinai peninsula and dislodge the British from the Suez Canal. However, the British crossed the Sinai in the other direction and conquered Palestine.
AFTER THAT war the Zionists started to come to the country en masse. Among many other things, they started to plant trees in large quantities. Real forests sprang up, though compared with Russian or European forests they were pitiful.
The Zionists did not ask themselves why the country was bereft of so many kinds of trees. The obvious answer was that the Arabs didn't care, that's just the kind of people they are. No love for the country. No love for trees.
The Zionist movement was full of self-confidence. They could do anything they set their mind to. They hated the Palestinian landscape as it was. They were going to create a different country. When David Ben-Gurion, a 20-year old youngster, landed at Jaffa in 1906, he was utterly disgusted. "Is this the land of our fathers?" he cried out.
So the Zionists set out to change the landscape. They imported beautiful trees from all over the world and planted forests wherever they could: along the road from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, on Mount Carmel and many other places. They were beautiful.
The new immigrants did not ask themselves why the country, which had been populated since the beginning of time and remained so continuously to this day, had been so empty of these kinds of trees. Obviously, it was the fault of the Arabs.
Actually, the reason was quite different. Palestine suffers from an extreme shortage of rainfall. Every few years or so there is a drought, the country dries up, and fires break out all over the place. The trees which are not suited to this country just burn up.
Six years ago there was a warning. A large fire broke out on Mount Carmel. It consumed large portions of the forest and killed 47 policemen, who were caught by the fire while on their way to evacuate a prison.
Two weeks ago it happened in earnest. For eight months there was hardly a drop of rain. A strong, hot, east wind blew in from the desert. The land dried up. Any little spark could have started a major fire.
SUDDENLY THE LAND WAS on fire. About 150 separate fires broke out, many of them near Haifa, Israel's third largest town. Haifa is beautiful, rather like Naples, and several of its suburbs are surrounded by trees. No one had thought about safe distances or such.
Several neighborhoods caught fire. Almost eighty thousand inhabitants had to be evacuated, leaving their life-long belongings behind. Many apartments were destroyed by fire. It was heart-breaking.
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