|Wadi Al-Quf forest. Photo by ARIJ - 2007.|
|Al Qarin. Photo by ARIJ - 2007|
|Arburutus. Photo by ARIJ - 2007|
|Al Qarin. Photo by ARIJ - 2007.|
|Hebron Forest. Photo by Robina Ghattas.|
Forested Areas in the Hebron Governorate: Status and Challenges
Prepared by Roubina Basous Ghattas and Nader Hrimat
Throughout the British Mandate period, forest law was formulated to regulate and control the relationship between the people and the forests regarding woodcutting, overgrazing, and protecting forests from fires. Violation of the law resulted in the imposition of fines and/or other penalties. In 1946 the British Mandate declared 14 locations in the Hebron Governorate as forested area, where approximately 3,969 dunums of mountainous and steep lands were planted with cypress and pine trees. In the early-1930s nurseries were established to distribute forest seedlings to local governments and the general population as part of a national afforestation scheme. During the Jordanian administration in 1951, a law was enforced to protect and develop all forests of the Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarem, Jenin, Jericho, and Ramallah governorates. As of 1971, Israel prohibited all forestry activities and stopped the activities of forest nurseries in most governorates of the West Bank. The only nursery left functioning was Wadi Al-Quf Nursery in Hebron.i
The establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994 brought about new laws that are synchronized with previous relevant laws and justify the Palestinian measures to ensure continued production and sustainability of nature’s and forests’ goods and services. Since the establishment of the PNA, Wadi Al-Quf Nursery and Al-Arroub agricultural station in Hebron were rehabilitated to produce forestry seedlings. In addition, approximately 350 dunums of private forestlands and 115 dunums of governmental forestlands were replanted in Hebron.ii Currently, there are almost 14,949 dunums of forested areas in the Hebron Governorate, comprising 22 percent of the total forest area in the West Bankiii and playing a crucial role in landscape and green-coverage preservation and watershed protection in the Palestinian Territory (PT).
There are three types of forests in Hebron: natural, planted, and designated forests, which constitute 79 percent, 9 percent, and 12 percent of the total forested area in Hebron, respectively.3 The dominant plant species and associations in Hebron forests are mainly deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees, which include the pine tree: Pinus halapensis; the Italian cypress: Cypress sempervirens; the Palestine oak: Quercus calliprinos; the terebinth tree: Pistacia Palaestina; the mastic tree: Pistacia lentiscus; the carob tree: Ceratonia siliqua; the Palestine buckthorn: Rhamnus palaestinum; the eastern strawberry tree: Arbutus andrachne (Photo 1); the azarole: Crataegus azarolus; the officinal storax: Styrax officinalis; the thorny burnet: Sarcopoterium spinosum; and herbs such as Spanish oregano: Thymus capitatus; germander: Teucrium divaricatum (Photo 2); Rhus cornia; Varthemia: Varthemia iphionoides, and others.
Hebron forests are distributed all over the governorate and characterised by their Mediterranean ecosystem. The climate tends to be semi-humid to semi-dry going from west to east in the governorate, which provides suitable environments for the growth of most plant species. Most of the Hebron forests are located on fertile soil types (Terra Rossa, Brown Rendzinas, and Pale Rendzinas) and in areas that enjoy favourable climatic conditions for agriculture. Hebron forests are also habitat to many wild animals including jackals, foxes, hyenas, hedgehogs, rats, mice, squirrels, snakes, geckos and lizards, and many birds and insects. There is a great and clear interrelationship among plant and animal life in the Hebron forest.
Most of Hebron’s forested areas are governmental lands; however, only 6.6 percent of the forested areas are located in geopolitical Area A, where forests are under the control of the Palestinian Authority and fully managed by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA); 35.4 percent of forested areas are located in geopolitical Area B, where the MOA has partial authority but no control over effective management actions; and 58 percent of forested areas are located in geopolitical Area C, where the forests are under Israeli control and the MOA has no management authority (see Map 1).iv
Since 1971, both types of natural and planted forests have been exposed to destruction perpetrated by both Israeli settlers and Palestinian inhabitants. Consequently, the natural forest area of the West Bank has diminished by 59 percent. Currently, 18 forested areas of the Hebron Governorate were confiscated by Israel and isolated behind the Segregation Wall - an area of approximately 4,763.5 dunums, including almost 33 percent of the total forested area in the Hebron Governorate and 20.7 percent of the total forested area in the Palestinian Territory, despite the fact that it was a well-known habitat for several endangered wild plant and animal species. It is also known that the Israeli government continuously neglects its role in managing the PT forests, especially the ones that are enclaved or slated to be enclaved by the Segregation Wall and thus will end up under Palestinian sovereignty.
The forestlands are misused by the local population, and some Palestinian built-up areas are expanding into the forested area. Several industrial areas are also located close to existing forests and have left no buffer zones. In addition, most of the industrial investors depend on forest resources to develop their businesses, mainly utilising the trees as timber for wood manufacturing to produce furniture or to sell as raw material for other wood industries in the West Bank. The cutting pressure affects not only large old trees such as pine and cypress, but also those that can be a good fuel source such as oak, mastic, and azarolus. Palestinians also deplete forested areas through over-grazing of sheep and goats, unmanaged recreation practices, waste disposal, fire, and overexploitation. These activities, combined with natural destructive elements such as wind, snow, soil erosion, aging, accidental fires, and pests and diseases have left dramatic scars on forests in Hebron. They have resulted in a vast reduction of the natural and human-made forested areas.
Furthermore, the situation of the forest has been exacerbated by the Israeli occupation. Palestinian inhabitants of nearby villages have used and abused the forest, preferring that they - rather than the Israelis - benefit from the forest resources. The situation worsened especially after the second Intifada when unemployment and poverty increased. Many people use pine and cypress trees for timber and furniture, as pine wood costs between US$ 130 and 160 per ton (not including transportation costs). It is worth noting that in several forests not under the jurisdiction of the MOA, weak management and lack of protection measures hinder reforestation activities.
In Palestine, as in any country that borders the Mediterranean Sea, forests have fused with the totality of socially inherited and transmitted behaviour patterns, beliefs, and culture. They are just as important and, if managed well and preserved from all forms of destruction and threats, should continue to provide essential products, improve the quality of environmental services, and protect natural heritage through the ages.
Case Study: Al Qarin Forest/Hebron Governorate (Photo 3)
Using the Geographical Information System (GIS) at the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), aerial photographs that were taken during various periods were analysed for plant-cover density of several forests in Hebron. The aerial photos that were analysed are for the years 1967, 2000, and 2006.v Investigating the case of Al Qarin Forest over the 33-year-period (1967-2000) shows an 8 percent decrease in density, but an analysis of the 6-year period 2000-2006 indicates a 26 percent decrease in total plant-cover density. Thus the total reduction in forest density is approximately 34 percent as a result of intensive cutting activity, mismanagement, and the deteriorating economic situation, which leaves the local population with nothing but a wilderness to look forward to in the future. It also appears that the trees have been cut extensively in the central area of the forest and not on the borders, leaving the border area almost untouched, which masks the destruction.
Figure 1: Plant Density of Al Qarin Forest for the Years 1967, 2000, and 2006
It also appears that the built-up area has expanded, especially during the year 2006, and encroaches on the boundaries of the forest. This has facilitated the uncontrolled and illegal tree-cutting activities. It is worth noting that a planned bypass road (a shift in the path of Road 60 - see Figure 1) will be implemented soon and is expected to shave off almost 41 dunums of Al Qarin Forest, 36.5 percent of which will be the tree-cutting area of the forest. Hence large areas of the forest will be lost, leaving an area already affected by intensive cutting by the local population. As a result, the integrated biological processes in the forest will be compromised. Conservation, mechanisms for the implementation of laws, and afforestation programmes are urgently needed for the whole forested area.
Roubina Ghattas graduated from Birmingham University, UK, with an MSc degree in the “Utilization and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources.” She is the Biodiversity Specialist at the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ). She has extensive experience in research, project coordination, fund raising, and teaching.
Nader Sh. Hrimat has an MSc degree in agronomy from the University of Jordan. He is an expert in agriculture, biodiversity, and natural resources management. He is the Director General Assistant of the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem.
This article was developed as part of a project entitled: “Inventory of the Palestinian Forest Trees,” which was funded by the Scientific Research Council/Ministry of Education and Higher Education. A detailed scientific report on Hebron forests including the project details will soon be published on the ARIJ website: www.arij.org.