It is very hard to protect wooded areas and nature reserves in a small, densely populated country like Israel, where new homes and workplaces are in constant demand. But, according to statistics on the state of Israel's forests just published by KKL-JNF, it is not altogether impossible. Since the National Master Plan for Forests and Afforestation was approved twelve years ago, only one percent of woodland has been sacrificed to construction.
The National Master Plan for Forests and Afforestation - or NMP 22 for short - defined almost 10% of Israel's area (1.6 million dunam - one dunam is equivalent to about a quarter of an acre) as existing forest or areas slated for future afforestation. However, parts of these forests can be appropriated for construction and development purposes, at the planning authorities' discretion, by means of a procedure called "easing master plan restrictions."
KKL-JNF's Planning and Strategy Division has published the results of a study that monitored forests in 1995-2006, and these show that during this period almost 16 thousand dunam of woodland were lost to construction. Furthermore, there are additional threats to the forests that do not show up in statistics on woodland area loss: the laying of roads, electricity cables, and railway and gas infrastructures. Although this infrastructure work does not count as rezoning, it has in fact caused direct damage to tens of thousands of dunams of woodland.
It is usually KKL-JNF representatives who appear before the planning committees in an attempt to protect forests from the depredations of building plans. According to Pinhas Kahana of KKL-JNF's Planning and Strategy Division, the organization's officials have already managed to block plans for the construction of a gas station in woodlands near Ashkelon. "We fought against building in a grove in Beersheba and the plan for the neighborhood that was finally approved included conserving the forest," he says. "In another case in Beersheba we surrendered an area of woodland inside the town in exchange for areas outside it that will be planted with trees to serve as a green belt."
Other organizations join KKL-JNF
Sometimes a public protest is necessary, and KKL-JNF needs the help of other organizations to prevent damage to woodland, as was the case with the fight to stop the Safdie plan to build on the ridges to the west of Jerusalem. In another case, which involved land adjacent to the community of Gizo, KKL-JNF officials managed to stop construction on woodland that had not been included in the National Master Plan for Forests and Afforestation.
Most of the cases in which KKL-JNF does agree to encroachment upon forests, involve the expansion of existing communities in rural areas - including Arab communities.
Rezoning of forests has also been approved to allow agricultural communities to implement a variety of projects. Thus, Moshav Ramot Naftali was permitted to build henhouses on previously forested Galilee land, and Kibbutz Hatzerim, in the Negev, was allowed to build its motor sports park in a forested area. "We try to limit the damage caused by infrastructure work as much as we can." said Kahana. "The National Council for Planning and Construction recently decided that, before permission is given for infrastructure work in forests, it has to be clearly shown that there is absolutely no alternative."
Condensed from an article by Tzafrir Rinat, HaAretz