A Jewish National Fund official linked his organization’s environmental advocacy to Israel’s historic struggle to become a homeland for the Jewish people.
Speaking in West Orange, Chuck Fax, JNF’s campaign vice president, said Theodor Herzl, who championed the organization’s founding in 1901, felt the purchase and cultivation of land was central to establishing Jewish security.
“Why trees?” asked Fax. “Because Ottoman law decreed that in order to perfect title to land, a deed was not enough. You needed to take occupancy of the land, and cultivation of the soil was considered to be occupancy. Plant trees and you own the land. So we planted trees.”
Since then, his organization has planted more than 250 million trees in Israel, “and we are still planting,” he said.
In recent years, JNF has expanded its portfolio to include “Water Crises in Israel,” the title of Fax’s March 11 talk at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange, which drew over 150 people.
“Water is an obvious concern for us, and for all of Israel,” he said. “Without water, Israel may die.”
‘Anything can grow’
JNF raises millions of dollars for research and development in the field of water technology.
“We build dams for water preservation,” said Fax. “We build water treatment and recycling plants that enable us to expand and reuse the resource multiple times.”
Fax said JNF also funds ecology and environmental science courses in Israeli universities. Its graduate students come “from all over the region, including Jordan and the West Bank, and include Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews and students from the United States, Canada, and Europe.”
At a conservation program supported by JNF at Mitzpe Ramon Air Force Base in the Negev, Fax said, “we are using cutting-edge wetlands technology to recycle water for grass and tree irrigation,” effecting a major saving of fresh water.
JNF is also involved with accessing a recently discovered aquifer at Kibbutz Shamir, tapping an underground well that may provide more than six billion gallons of water each year.
At the JCC breakfast gathering, Mark Rattner of Morristown reported on JNF’s Makor Mission 2010, which took place Feb. 12-18. Rattner is a member of Makor, a group of JNF volunteers who makes trips to view the group’s projects in Israel.
“We saw water treatment facilities, wetlands experimentations programs, and agricultural projects,” he said. “The fact that anything can grow in some of these regions is just amazing. They are about as desolate as you can imagine, and yet there are groves for all types of fruits and vegetables.”
Mission participant Marcy Needle of Morristown was struck by what she observed at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
“I was most impressed by the ingenuity of the Israelis in identifying solutions,” she told NJ Jewish News March 12.
“I was also impressed by the cooperation I saw between Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian students. They can study and learn together as they perform research on environmental concerns that benefit the whole region. They can go back to their homes afterward, and they are able to cooperate on future projects.”
Despite this international cooperation, Fax lamented that “there is an effort to delegitimize Israel, to turn us into a pariah state, like South Africa under apartheid.”
The battle over public relations and public perception “is a war that Israel is not winning,” he said.