This Tu Bishvat, Jewish and Bedouin students participated in a joint tree planting ceremony in Lahav Forest, in celebration of coexistence in the Negev. Soldiers and local senior citizens joined the youth in planting trees, making for a unique opportunity for diverse encounters. The event was organized by the KKL-JNF Southern Region’s Education Department.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for Arabs and Jews to do something together for the benefit of the country and the environment,” said 13 year-old Fatan Alafinish, a pupil at the Alrazi School in Rahat. “For us kids, it’s also an opportunity to make new friends with children from different places.”
Four hundred pupils from all over the Negev took part in the event, including from schools in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Rahat and the Neve Midbar Regional Council. Many of the students participate regularly in joint activities and coexistence meetings between Jews and Arabs. “It’s already been a few years that we have been cooperating with the school in Rahat, and today’s meeting is really a high point,” said 13 year-old Ido Eilon from Ashkelon. “We are planting trees together, which symbolizes new hope and cooperation.”
“This very special ceremony is in the spirit of coexistence,” said KKL-JNF Southern Region Education Department Director Hagit Ohana. “The children plant trees together in the land of Israel and enjoy activities. Planting trees symbolizes the spirit of partnership and togetherness in Israeli society, for the benefit of the environment and the beautification of our country.”
“The purpose is to meet each other, to work together and to live together in the same country,” said Jihad Nasser, a teacher from Rahat.
The students began the day with lively music and dance. Hundreds of Israelis – Jewish, Bedouin, young, old - danced together in the forest, with the sun-lit clouds as their backdrop and the earth their stage.
KKL-JNF began planting Lahav Forest in the Northern Negev in the early 1950s. Today it spreads out over an area of about 7,500 acres. Scenic routes, picnic areas and heritage sites make the forest an attractive place for both local residents and visitors.
Once the music stopped, everyone went to plant trees. KKL-JNF personnel had already prepared the area for planting. They dug trenches, creating small dams that trap water when it rains, preventing flooding and erosion. In this way, the saplings awaiting planting will receive sufficient water to grow and develop in their new home.
The scene of people of all ages and from different locations, cultures and religions planting trees together, conveyed a powerful message of hope for Israel’s shared future. What could be a better time to do so than Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, and a symbol of growth and new beginnings?
“Lahav Forest is so close to our home, we must protect it,” said Sharif Abufariah, a 14 year-old from Rahat. His friend Fadil Abuhalil added: “The forest contributes to our quality of life, that’s why it’s so important to plant trees. People pollute the environment, while planting forests helps keep our air clean.”
“We’ve had such a nice day, we planted trees and also made new friends,” said 13 year-old Ta’ir Nahum from Ashkelon.
The young trees that the participants planted will continue to grow, nurtured and watched over by KKL-JNF foresters so that they become tall and strong. There is hope that the new friendships formed on this day will continue to grow too, forming a firm base for a shared future together on this land.