A Pearl in the Heart of the Desert

The trees are planted in special sleeves that enrich photosynthesis and protect them from invasive species, flocks and wild animals.


The Negev’s Meitar Forest, which lies between the Jewish community of Meitar and the Muslim community of Hura, is a pleasant shady spot whose agreeable ambiance benefits both visitors and local livestock.

Meitar forest. Photo: Eilon Kotler
 
The forest, which extends throughout an area of around 20,000 dunam (approx. 5,000 acres) over both hill and valley, refreshes visitors with a welcome breeze as they look out towards the surrounding communities. To the north lie Al-Laqia and Kibbutz Kramim, with the Meitar woodland’s elder brother Yatir Forest to the east.

At present massive planting of another thirty dunam of fresh saplings is underway. Itzik Amsalem (51), who is in charge of this section of woodland, explains that, because of the need to fill in clearings in the forest, KKL-JNF approached its Friends in Switzerland, who enlisted in the project.

The clearings were left by trees planted earlier at the site, which, KKL-JNF Israel believes, did not develop properly because of the inhospitable soil and climate conditions of Meitar Forest. The new trees include three varieties from the eucalyptus family, together with ornamental shrubs which, according to KKL-JNF planner Garman Fyodernov, are better suited to these problematic conditions.

“The new trees we’ve planted here are treated like newborn babies,” said Amsalem proudly. He explained that, for these trees to take root and fill in gaps in the forest, their growth and management conditions have to be planned with the greatest care, with each tree being tended individually.
 
The trees are planted in special sleeves that enrich photosynthesis and protect them from invasive species, flocks and wild animals. In addition, each tree is covered with plastic sheeting that prevents surrounding vegetation from encroaching upon its resources. In winter the trees are irrigated by the sparse rain that falls in this region, and in summertime each tree will be watered separately by hand.

The forest contains a number of picnic areas equipped with running water, and cyclists can enjoy riding along the single-track bike trail that runs through the woodland. The nearby Jewish community of Meitar, which is defined as a regional council, is situated close to the forest and makes use of it for a variety of educational and cultural activities. The Muslim community of Hura, which likewise constitutes a regional council, also enjoys close proximity to the woodland, and its children explore it on cultural excursions. These two communities share the privilege of breathing in mountain air in the middle of the Negev.

Odeh al-Habanin (65), a shepherd from Hura who has frequented the forest for the past twenty years, expressed his satisfaction with developments at the site. “If a tree’s crooked, I straighten it, and if I see that a sleeve has dropped off one of the trees, I pick it up,” he said.

Every day Al-Habanin leaves home and walks with his flock for an hour until he reaches the forest. His sheep and goats spread out over the terrain, and for ten hours or so they munch the vegetation that grows among the trees and help to keep down unwanted weeds and grasses.

Itzik and Odeh agree upon the necessity for the forest and neither takes it for granted. For them and for others in on the secret (is this what’s intended? There seems to be a misprint here), this is a green pearl in the heart of the desert, which all residents of Israel are cordially invited to visit.