News comes in contrast to recent reports that the JNF is pushing afforestation plans at the expense of Bedouin communities in Southern Israel.
By Zafrir Rinat

Some Jewish National Fund forests are being reduced to allow development, especially of Arab villages in the north, according to a recent report.

The news comes in contrast to recent reports that the JNF is pushing afforestation plans at the expense of Bedouin communities in the Yatir area of the northern Negev and the Goral Hills north of Be’er Sheva. According to the JNF report, from 2009 to 2010, figures show a trend to rezone forest land for residential development of Arab communities.

One prime example is the decision of the planning bodies, with JNF approval, to take an 212-acre bite out of a forest in the north to expand the city of Tamra in the Galilee, which has grown extensively in recent years and needs more land for housing.

The JNF is also giving up 45 acres near Nazareth, more than 50 acres for the village of Salem and 20 acres for the city of Umm al-Fahm.

“We were persuaded that a planning need exists to expand these communities and this was done in coordination with us,” Kahana said. “However, we must remember that we only make a recommendation; the decision is made by the planning bodies,” he added.

The largest amount of forested land to be given over to construction in an Arab community is 1,112 acres in the Bedouin town of Molada, one of the Bedouin communities that have been granted legal recognition over the past few years.

According to the report the National Master Plan on afforestation, created some two decades ago, has been successful at protecting forested areas. Only about two percent of forests (some 8,000 acres ) have been given over to development. Most of that area has been rezoned for construction of various types, but in some cases it has been turned into nature reserves, thus ensuring it will remain open land.

A few thousand acres of forest have been given over for infrastructure such as roads, railways and water lines, according to the head of the Jewish National Fund’s planning administration, Pinhas Kahana.

Nira Tzadok, a JNF planner, explained that some of the forested area being turned over had already been damaged by illegal construction, and therefore the JNF decided to allow it to be developed for housing. However, she added: “A wadi runs through the new community that is still defined as forested land and when the community develops, we will assist the development of the forest for the benefit of the residents,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the south, Bedouin residents are claiming the opposite is happening, that land is being afforested and they are being forced out.

The Bedouin argue that they own the land in question, and that afforestation can thwart future development plans for their communities. Earlier this month, residents of the unrecognized village of Atir in the Yatir area of the Negev submitted their official objections to a plan to develop a forest they say will force their homes to be uprooted.

Dr. Tabet Abu-Ras, the director of the Arab rights group Adallah, which is representing the residents together with the planning rights association Bimkom, says afforestation has become a way of taking over lands and pushing the Bedouin out.