[If you haven't already done so, first read my 31/10/08 post The JNF Rocks. If you're new to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), read my other posts on the JNF, particularly A Certain Jewish Tree Planting Group (14/6/08).]
"Each spring, sometimes as early as January, when almond trees blossom white and pink, the birthday of trees is celebrated throughout Israel. Thousands of boys and girls in white shirts, and foreign donors congregate at designated sites to plant new starts and expand the forest. One boy in our class, however, called the ceremonies fascist and murderous. He said that pines grow acrid needles and shed them, thereby annihilating all other growth, wild flowers, shrubs, and smaller indigenous trees. He said, obviously repeating words he heard at home, that forestation of land that was not formerly forested, but which seems every year to hold fewer marks of stone terraces, as rubble and orchards disappear among and under the pines, is a part of what he called 'the big lie of our existence'. We had been friends with that boy, but on that celebration of Tu B'Shvat did not share with him the customary foods of the holiday, dried figs, dates and nuts, neatly packed for us by our parents." (Picnic Grounds: A Novel in Fragments, Oz Shelach, 2003)
"Geldof brings star quality to JNF gala," sparkled the headline in The Australian Jewish News (21/11/08).
Now what exactly was it, I hear you ask, that "human rights icon" Sir Bob had to say to the assembled faithful who flocked to the Jewish National Fund gala dinner at the Australian Jockey Club at Sydney's Randwick Racecourse?
"'I have no shame in comparing [the 30 million deaths arising from the Ethiopian famine of 1984] to the Holocaust. ['To the Holocaust! Shame on you, you scruffy, closet anti-Semite!' smouldered the worshippers. But when Sir Bob switched from Africa to the Middle East, enthralling the true believers with the sweep & depth of his knowledge of the latter, his indiscretion was immediately forgotten.]... 'It's no wonder that the great religions came from the desert [Oops - there goes Buddhism]- all the noise and stink of the city is gone - and in that great emptiness, your mind has a psychedelic [ever the hippie, how cute!] understanding of God'. But the desert is not a good friend, he added, unless we have a way to live there. 'And that is what the JNF is doing [wait for it!]- making the desert bloom." (ibid)
Making the desert bloom. The devotees literally swooned at that. This mantra encapsulated what the Israel of their youth was really all about: the great Palestinian Sandy Desert, with the odd Bedouin just trotting by on his camel (or galloping past, if spurred on by a volley from the trusty Sten), reclaimed by heroic Zionist pioneers, dune by dune, nay, sand grain by sand grain. It was just as Israeli prez Shimon Peres, in one of his former incarnations as Minister of (Dis)Information, long ago had preached: "The country [Palestine] was mostly an empty desert, with only a few islands of Arab settlement; and Israel's cultivable land today was indeed redeemed from swamp and wilderness." (David's Sling: The Arming of Israel, Shimon Peres, 1970, p 249) Precisely as former Israeli PM Levi Eshkol had proclaimed: "It was only after the Zionists 'made the desert bloom' that 'they [the Palestinians] became interested in taking it from us'." (Levi Eshkol, Jerusalem Post, 17/2/69).
Sir Bob's rekindling of this first, fine flicker of their youths is sure to result in them going forth and demanding of the Arab-loving U-bloody-N that the JNF immediately receive an international mandate to make [insert desert of your choice:.........................] bloom? Watch this space.
Now if we can just wipe the tears, or the sand, or both from our eyes for a minute, and return to the real world. The hoary Zionist myth thay Israel made the desert bloom was the subject of rigorous examination by Middle East scholar Alan George** in the Winter 1979 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies. His concluding words: "The major conclusions which thus emerge are: 1. That only about half of Palestine has a true desert climate*; 2. That expansion of the cultivated area was already under way before the occurrence of mass Zionist immigration; 3. That by about 1930 all those areas which could be cultivated by the indigenous Arab population were already being farmed by them; 4. That the area within what became Israel actually being farmed by Arabs in 1947 was greater than the physical area which was under cultivation in Israel almost 30 years later; 5. That the impressive expansion of Israel's cultivated area since 1948 has been more apparent than real since it involved mainly the 'reclamation' of farmland belonging to the [Palestinian] refugees [ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces under cover of war in 1948]; this is probably as true for the Negev desert as for the rest of Israel." ('Making the Desert Bloom'- A Myth Examined, JPS, p 100)
[*The desert half, the Negev, is in the south. ** Alan George is the author of Syria: Neither Bread Nor Freedom, 2003.]