A bitter dispute breaks out between two environmentally oriented groups over tree cutting and clearing work by the Jewish National Fund in Netanya’s Sergeants’ Grove.
By Zafrir Rinat

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel filed a complaint with Netanya police on Monday against the Jewish National Fund over what it calls “harming the natural landscape.” A bitter dispute has broken out in recent days between two environmentally oriented groups over tree cutting and clearing work by the JNF in Netanya’s Sergeants’ Grove.

SPNI claims that this undertaking is spoiling one of the country’s most important natural sites, and is demanding that the JNF desist from its work. For its part, the JNF rejects these allegations, and continued this week to cut down trees and clear areas in the grove.

The Sergeants’ Grove is located in the eastern part of Netanya. Its name derives from an incident in which members of the right-wing Zionist Irgun organization executed two British sergeants in 1947. In recent years, various surveys have indicated that the grove is home to an unusually large number of rare plants. In recent days, the JNF has introduced heavy equipment to the grove, and started to carry out tree cutting and clearing work. In response, SPNI director general Moshe Pakman sent an urgent appeal to the JNF last week, asking it to stop the work.

“The work in the grove is planned for a wide area, and will feature a tractor moving about in the heart of this site, to collect fallen trees and clear them,” wrote Pakman. “The soil at this time of the year is covered by a rich array of plant life, including very rare types of flora … This work is liable to cause much damage.”

SPNI claims that past work at the site caused heavy damage to the grove’s plant life. The SPNI position is buoyed by an estimate drafted by a plant ecologist, Dr. Gadi Pollak, which warns about damage to the flora. Pollak believes that the damage would be smaller were the work to be done in the summer; and the work should be supervised by an authority familiar with the character of the grove’s flora.

The JNF clarified that clearing and cutting of eucalyptus trees is necessary, since the grove faces a continuing process of drying, which is liable to cause trees to fall. The JNF also rejected allegations about the timing of this clearing work – it says the current period has been chosen for the project so as to minimize potential damage to flora. When similar work was done in the summer, adds the JNF, a number of trees in the grove that had not been designated for clearing were damaged.