Photos: Views of Eshtaol Forest areas in Israel, photographed on March 18, 2006.
Eshtaol Forest, a popular recreation area and one of the largest forests in Israel, is located north of Beit Shemesh and near Ta'oz and Neve Shalom. Like many other forests in Israel, it was planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
The Jewish National Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine (later Israel) for Jewish settlement, owned 13 per cent of the total land in Israel by 2007. Since its inception, it has built 180 dams and reservoirs, developed 250,000 acres (1,000 squire km) of land and established more than 1,000 parks. In a period of over fifty years, the JNF planted over 260 million trees mostly in semi-arid, rocky, hilly terrain where agriculture is almost impossible and the risk of land degradation is very high.
There are critics who accuse JNF on various counts, including for planting non-native pine trees rather than local species such as olive trees. While some forests have been planted for security reasons, others are for demarcating Israeli areas. Forests in the Negev Desert are said to have been planted to restrict herding by the Bedouins. After the 1948 war, forests were planted on the sites of abandoned Arab villages whose inhabitants left the areas or were expelled from their homes.