Declaring a Public Covenant to Conserve a Community Forest
The signing of a public covenant to conserve and care for the forest is an important stage in developing a community forest. The covenant represents the importance of the community forest and the signatories are community residents, the Local Authority and KKL-JNF forest managers. The covenant is a quasi-contract with public commitments to assiduously care for the forest; a blueprint for joint endeavors by stakeholders, based on the principles of sustainable development; and a springboard for social-educational activity. The principles are formulated by active residents, municipal representatives and KKL-JNF staff.
The first covenant for a community forest was signed on Tu BiShvat 2006 at Rosh HaAyin. The initial formulation was publicized in the local press and on the Internet in order to elicit public reaction. It was signed by the mayor, by representatives of KKL-JNF and by residents at a widely-attended ceremony. All residents received a copy by direct mail and it has become a subject of study at several Rosh HaAyin schools.
Photo: Moshe Sheller, KKL-JNF Jerusalem
The Covenant to Conserve the Jerusalem Forest was signed by tens of thousands of city residents. It is a key component of the public action taken to save the forest from development pressures threatening its existence, and marked a breakthrough in the struggle to conserve Jerusalem’s forested landscapes.
Saving Jerusalem Forest
The first urban-community forest was planted around Jerusalem’s capital. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president, in 1956 planted the first tree and the forest became the city’s main nature resource. Jerusalem Forest is a central venue for nature excursions and recreation by city and local residents. Up to 1967, KKL-JNF had planted some million trees in Jerusalem Forest which covered an area of 4,500 dunams. In time, however, the city gnawed away at the forest and, today, it covers some 1,250 dunam: It has lost about 600,000 trees!
For years, Jerusalemites and green NGOs have striven to conserve and cultivate the forest, promoting educational and community activity. A public covenant was formulated for the forest and signed by tens of thousands of residents. The forest boasts two educational centers: Zippori Center and the Watchman’s Hut (Shomera – for a better environment), which attract thousands of youth to educational tours and activities on nature and forest conservation.
When a plan of accelerated development in Jerusalem posed a serious threat to the forest, tens of thousands of residents embarked on a lengthy public campaign to save Jerusalem Forest. From an awareness of the forest’s contribution to the city’s quality of life and the environment, community organizations, especially residents of nearby neighborhoods such as Shomrei HaYaar, the Har Nof Quality of Life Committee, the Havaya Center, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel joined with KKL-JNF to save Jerusalem Forest from the jaws of development. They took steps to raise public awareness of the forest’s importance, ran educational activities and simultaneously acted through the planning and construction committees to avert damaging the forest. Among other things, they issued a forest newspaper, Yaarton, conducted a planting campaign under the slogan “Everyone has a Tree,” demonstrated, and organized an unusual, impressive event – “Embracing the Forest”: Some 4,000 people who held the cause dear created a hand-in-hand human chain around the forest.
The Jerusalem Forest Watchman’s Hut (Shomera) was restored by the Har Nof Environmental Committee in cooperation with KKL-JNF. Residents adopted an area of about 20 dunams containing remains of ancient agricultural installations, and erected an educational site for neighborhood children on nature and forest conservation, and organic agriculture. The site encourages residents to spruce up and conserve the forest on their doorstep. Activities included restoring the Watchman’s Hut, cisterns, wine presses and small agricultural terraces. Thousands of children and adults participated.
The sternbergia path on Mt. Tabor was built together with the community and junior high-school pupils from Dabburiya. The community helps maintain it, planting and caring for forest patches around it. Community representatives signed a public covenant to continue caring for the forest around the community.
Nevertheless, much work remains to be done. The threats to the forest refuse to disappear. In 2007, the NGOs established a Jerusalem Forest Forum that endeavors to nurture it as an irreplaceable, vital, unique nature site in the city.
The campaign waged over Jerusalem Forest was a breakthrough in public action taken to conserve Israel’s open spaces. It achieved results. Jerusalem Forest was granted legal-statutory status designating the area it covers as forestland and open landscapes according to the plan submitted by KKL-JNF to the Planning Committees.