'Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree'

Opinion: Luke Hilton explains HaYovel's largest project to date - "Greening Israel."

 The Greening Israel team plants a tree (photo credit: Ben Hilton)
The Greening Israel team plants a tree
(photo credit: Ben Hilton)

Israel lay desolate for 2,000 years, just as the prophet Jeremiah predicted:

“It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares.” (Jer. 12:11) 

The destruction of the land of Israel started with Rome. Josephus records that the Roman armies cut down Israel’s trees and destroyed the forests in order to build siege works in their conquest. There's a legend that even speaks of the Romans uprooting Israel’s vineyards and taking them back to Italy. 

Not only were the forests cut down at that time, but the large, grazing herds of wildlife in Israel were hunted and driven elsewhere to find forests and grasslands that could sustain them. The removal of the animals -herds of sheep, cattle and goats - resulted in the desertification of the land. With the root structure no longer in place to hold the land, erosion began to happen.

The ground could not hold water, and with no trees or grass to shade the soil, the sun began to parch the land. It’s estimated that an inch of topsoil has been lost to erosion every year for the last 1,000 years. That’s 80 feet of soil that Israel has lost.

If you come to Israel today, you’ll find this fact supported when you look at the rocky and barren mountains. Without root structures on their slopes, the hillsides lost their soil to the valley floors. 

For the next 2,000 years, many people fought over the land of Israel. One kingdom after another took possession of it. With each new conqueror, the land grew more desolate. More forests were destroyed, more livestock and wildlife were forced to flee the country. The people who tried to survive in the land had to cut down more trees during the cold winters. They shepherded their goats in the forests, and they overgrazed the grasslands. 

The final blow came when the Ottoman Turkish Empire ruled over Israel and decided to build a railroad that would connect Africa and Europe. They taxed the only trees remaining in Israel so that they would be cut down and sent in to build the new railroad.

This was the nail in the coffin of Israel’s land destruction.

In the late 1800s, Jews began returning to Israel in record numbers with a desire to see the land restored. They drained swamps in the north, planted orchards all along the Mediterranean coast and began to farm the Negev Desert. 

During the British Mandate, which started in 1923, the British ruled that anyone who planted a tree would own the land where the tree was planted. Olive trees began to pop up all over the land of Israel.

Millions of trees were planted all over Israel. However, because Judea and Samaria has remained contested land, this region has been left out of most of the large-scale tree planting projects that have taken place over the last century. 

When HaYovel first came to Israel 18 years ago, we never imagined that we could be a conduit for the nations to be a part of restoring the land of Israel. After bringing thousands of Christians to serve dozens of farmers in Israel's heartland, however, we are now launching our largest project to date: Greening Israel - planting trees in Israel’s heartland. 

With a vision to see tens of thousands of trees planted all throughout Judea and Samaria, we are planning to plant 20,000 trees every year beginning in 2023. As soon as the shemitah (sabbatical year) finishes this September, we’re planning to put 5,000 trees in the ground.

Together, we can restore the ancient forests that once were in the heartland of Israel. You can partner with HaYovel to physically restore the forests of the biblical heartland.

The time has come to reverse the destruction that took place in the land of Israel. It is time to break the cycle of the nations destroying the land of Israel. Now, the nations can restore the land, just like the prophets foretold. 

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the LORD for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 55:13) 

Instead of simply being an observer in the restoration of God's Kingdom, the nations of the world can become a partner. It's time to restore Israel's forests to their former glory.

Luke Hilton is HaYovel’s director of marketing.