Desolation and Reclamation of the Land of Israel: Jewish National Fund
By Dr. David Reagan
Reclaiming the Land
When the Jewish people began returning to their homeland in the early 1900s, they organized themselves into fortress-like communities called either a kibbutz or a moshav.1 These were collective farms that provided mutual help to their members and protection from Arab attacks.
The pioneers went to work immediately, attempting to drain the swamps and get rid of the malaria infested mosquitos. Eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia and planted around the perimeters of the swamps.2 They were selected because of their reputation for absorbing large amounts of water. When these proved insufficient, canals were dug to drain the swamps to the sea.3
At the same time, the pioneers began replanting the forests of Israel. This was a very serious need. From the Sea of Galilee to the south, all the trees had been cut down. In the Galilee area in the north, there were only 15,000 trees left.4
The trees had been cut for firewood and military use, and some forests had been burned for hunting purposes.5 The last sizeable remnants of forests had been cut down in the early 20th Century to fire Turkish railway engines.6 It is also interesting to note that the Turks taxed trees, so there was an incentive to cut down trees to alleviate the tax burden!7
As the trees were being planted and the land cleared of rocks so that it could be recultivated, the rainfall began to increase miraculously. During the 20th Century, it increased 10 percent every decade, for a total increase of over 100 percent!8
The key to the reclamation of the land of Israel proved to be an amazing organization called The Jewish National Fund.9 It was established at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1901. Its sole purpose was to acquire and develop land for Jewish occupation.
In addition to relying on wealthy donors, the JNF raised money in a down-to-earth way by distributing collection boxes to Jewish homes. These came to be known as “The Blue Boxes.” During the period between the two world wars, about one million of these tin collection boxes were distributed to Jewish homes throughout the world.10 From 1902 to the late 1940s, the JNF also sold colorful stamps to raise money.11
The JNF bought its first parcel of land in 1903. It consisted of 50 acres in Hadera, located on the Mediterranean coast, about 25 miles north of Tel Aviv.12 The organization played a central role in the establishment of the first modern Jewish city — Tel Aviv in 1909.13 By 1927, the JNF had purchased a total of over 50,000 acres of land on which 50 communities stood.14 By the eve of statehood in May 1948, the JNF had acquired 231,290 acres of land.15
The record of accomplishments of the JNF by the beginning of the 21st Century was truly remarkable. The organization owned 13 percent of the total land in Israel, and it had built 180 dams and reservoirs, developed 25,000 acres of land and established more than 1,000 parks.16
One of the major projects of the JNF throughout its history has been reforestation. The Bible itself has often served as the guide. For example, one of Israel’s foremost authorities on reforestation remembered that Abraham planted tamarisk trees in Beersheba, located in the southern Negev Desert area. Following Abraham’s lead, over 2 million of the trees were planted in the same area, and it was determined that the tamarisk really does thrive in areas of scanty rainfall.17
One of the JNF’s most amazing accomplishments during the 20th Century was the planting of more than 240 million trees (and I personally planted at least 100 of them!).18 Israel was one of only two nations in the world to enter the 21st Century with a net gain of trees.19
The planting of so many trees curbed the erosion of the soil, contributed to an increase of oxygen in the atmosphere and provided a natural habitat for wild animals and birds.
In the seventh and last segment of this series on the prophecies concerning the land of Israel, we’ll marvel at the prophetic fulfilment of Israel again becoming agriculturally bountiful.