My friend Sam Roberts, an Israeli filmmaker, shot some raw footage of the aftermath of the recent massive forest fire in Israel. When the Turks controlled the land of Israel (1517-1917), they taxed the people based on the number of trees on their land. As a result, when the exiles of Israel returned, they found a ravished land.
As a child, we had religious training in Judaism every Sunday at Temple Beth El in Richmond, VA. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish children were meeting at the same time at their synagogues throughout the nation. We were given these booklets that we had to fill with stamps. You would receive a stamp for every donation for a tree to help build forests in Israel.
There was a massive push to plant trees in the Holy Land. To this day you can plant a tree in honor of a deceased loved one. You can give it as a gift. Any lifecycle event can be commemorated by planting a tree in Israel. (You can plant a tree through the Jewish National Fund [JNF]) We had little charity tins to collect coins known as the "Blue Box".
So it is particularly devastating to lose such a massive amount of trees in Israel. No doubt, the JNF will work hard to replenish the forests surrounding Jerusalem. Israel is no longer the barren wasteland that Mark Twain wrote about in the 1800s.
Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies ... Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour's presence ... Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there ... the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above ... Palestine is desolate and unlovely. Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? —Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
Understand that the word Palestine in Twain's day referred not to an Arab ethnicity, but was a word synonymous with ancient Israel. The JNF known as Karen Kaymit Le'Yisrael in Israel purchased lands legally throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.