Some of the most heartbreaking photographs of the Expulsion from Gaza, were of the families of Gush Katif kneeling in their gardens, crying, gently pulling saplings from the earth, carrying them lovingly in their hands as the soldiers led them away. These trees were replanted outside their new homes, the dirt that clung to the roots carrying a piece of the homes they left behind. The uprooted people of Shirat Hayam, while waiting for their new homes to be built, were eager to put down new roots. CFOIC Heartland put out a call for these refugees and we were able to plant hundreds of olive trees and date palms in their new community of Maskiot. The refugees were still in temporary homes but with the help of Christian friends, we began to replant, to rebuild.
Ever since, CFOIC Heartland has offered the opportunity to Christian friends from all over the world, to plant trees in Judea and Samaria. And we have been planting trees in their name.
Our supporters write poignant notes with their tree orders. Mike, from England, wrote: ”May the trees be my legacy to flourish in the land of Israel, long after I have passed beyond this life.” One Australian boy sent money for a tree in memory of his Dad. A family from Tennessee planted trees in memory of their departed loved ones, to honor them and to bless the land and the future of Israel. One woman planted trees in honor of her precious grandchildren! One donor ordered a tree in honor of her sister, who then passed away, and the tree became a tribute to her memory. Bonnie, from CFOIC’s American office, received an invitation to a 50th wedding celebration with the line ‘No gifts, please’, so she planted a tree in the couple’s honor… a gift that keeps on giving.
When CFOIC Heartland director Sondra Baras’ son Yehuda married Sapir, we offered you the chance to plant trees in their honor. One donor quoted a fitting verse from Isaiah for the new couple: ”For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
We read in the Bible, that after years of wandering through the wilderness, the People of Israel were commanded: ”When you will come into the Land of Israel, you will plant all fruit trees.” (Leviticus 19:23) Tree planting presents the Jewish People with a wonderful way of settling the land, of making a connection with the land.
Our Christian friends understand this vital, spiritual connection to the trees of Israel and some of our supporters have had the privilege of planting trees with their own hands, in our communities. Trees are an indication of the belief in a lasting future for the land of Israel. In Karnei Shomron, groups have planted citrus and pomegranate trees along our roads. In our young couples’ neighborhood, mothers love lifting their children to pick oranges fresh off the trees planted by CFOIC Heartland groups, peeling the fruits, biting into the sunripened juiciness, and spitting the seeds back into the soil. In the open square of our hilltop community of Alonei Shiloh, Rev. Peter Hasler and his Swiss congregation recently planted olive trees and grape vines. With the rich soil still clinging to his hands, he read aloud from Jeremiah 31: ”Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and shall enjoy the fruit.”
CFOIC Heartland also planted 150 trees in the community of Efrat on the Eitam Hilltop. Mayor Oded Ravivi was moved: ”This signifies a historical event. After a ten year struggle in the Supreme Court of Israel, during which we were not allowed to plant a single tree or bush, a decision rejected the false claims to this land by Arabs. By settling the Eitam, we will be fulfilling our destiny and that of the matriarch Rachel, so closely identified with Efrat, who was promised ‘And the sons shall return to their borders’. We thank our Christian friends for helping protect our land from encroachment and for helping turn this desolate hilltop into a blooming, productive area.”
There is a classic tale from the Talmud, of Honi, a righteous man, who came upon an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him, ”Do you really think you will live the seventy years until the tree bears fruit?” The man answered, ”Perhaps not. However, when I was born, I found trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted for me, I am planting for my children and grandchildren.” May the people of Israel be privileged to continue putting down roots in the Promised Land. And may we see the fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel (34:27), ”And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land.”