February 22, 2019

What Will Become of Tel Aviv's Iconic Trees

“Israel is in the midst of an ambitious mass-transit project, a new light-rail network serving the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, where 44 percent of Israelis live. The system is expected to provide half a million trips a day and save hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon emissions annually.

But the project has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who say it threatens a precious resource: Tel Aviv’s towering, glossy-leafed ficus trees. Planted decades ago along the city’s wide boulevards, these trees are an iconic part of the streetscape, central to the city’s early identity as a European-style settlement in the Middle East.

For three years, environmental groups, residents, and Tel Aviv University students rallied to save the ficus trees lining Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa, the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood of Tel Aviv. A Facebook group called “Save The Trees on Jerusalem Boulevard,” with more than 700 members, served as a hub for strategizing and communication. An online petition to “cancel the death sentence” of the trees garnered 2,172 signatures. The movement received frequent coverage in the Israeli press.

In one act of protest, activists pinned traditional Hebrew mourning notices to the trees, alerting passersby to the “untimely death of the street ficus.” (In Israel, such activism has precedent: In the 1930s Tel Aviv poet Yehuda Karni published eulogies for every tree removed by the municipality, according to a book by the late Israeli historian Natan Dunevich.)”

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