Biodiversity at Jerusalem Botanical Gardens

A human is like a tree, like a human the tree also grows, like a tree a human life can be cut down and I don’t know…

…כי האדם עץ השדה  כמו האדם גם העץ צומח  כמו העץ האדם נגדע  ואני לא יודע

I feel my lifeblood being sapped by the ongoing rocket/missile exchanges between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas. Israel is trying to protect us by getting rid of Hamas’ rockets and weakening Hamas. Hamas is trying to get Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, to improve Palestinians’ living conditions in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hamas is also trying to make life so stressful and unbearable that we lose hope, with the aim, clearly outlined in their charter (1988), of uprooting us from this land.

This week I visited the Jerusalem Botanical Garden on the edge of the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University, a tranquil retreat in the midst of the city, welcoming to all (explanatory signs are being put up in English, Hebrew and Arabic). Their vision statement makes it clear:

Just as biodiversity is a key to a healthy natural world, so human diversity is a cornerstone of a healthy society. We promote and encourage both.

The 30 acre park is divided into six geographical zones, European, North American, South African, Australian, Asian and Mediterranean and has more than 10,000 species of plants. I was delighted to find Sternbergia, a young sycamine sapling and not only the five species of oak trees indigenous to Israel but some 75 different oaks of the 700 species that exist in the world growing at the botanical gardens, a refuge for endangered species. More than just replicating the flora of Eretz Yisrael the botanical gardens teach respect and awe for the biodiversity of our world. There is an African savannah grass maze for children to explore, there is a section on herbs and medicinal plants, a path of Biblical plants, water plants and plants of the desert.

Jerusalem has two botanical gardens (the first planted in 1931 on Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University), two university campuses and two Hadassah hospitals. History explains why – the institutions on Scopus were cut off from Israel for 19 years when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the war in 1948. An Israeli convoy under Red Cross auspices delivered supplies and exchanged personnel every two weeks.  Scopus and Jerusalem were only reunited by Israeli paratroopers during the Six Day War in 1967.

In 1947 Tuvia Kushnir, a brilliant young man, was studying and researching the plants of Palestine (under the British mandate, before the State of Israel was declared) at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Tuvia discovered a rare flower, the Galilee fumitory (Fumaria thuretii Boiss) near Kibbbutz Eilon in the Upper Galilee, the southernmost extent of its range. The flower was not seen again for 60 years until Prof. Avi Shmida and other botanists discovered 80 individual plants of Galilee fumitory in April 2012. Tuvia was one of the first iris researchers in Palestine and identified an iris that bears his name Iris tuviae (also known as the King Uzziae iris). And Tuvia identified a kind of crocus that grows only in the desert that was named after him, Colchicum tuviae.

On January 15th, 1948 Tuvia was part of a group of Haganah soldiers given the task of carrying supplies to the defenders of Gush Etzion (on Friday two rockets fell in the Gush, the first fired towards Jerusalem), 4 kibbutzim south of Jerusalem that were under blockade by Arab forces. They set out at 11pm on foot from Har Tuv, making a detour past the British police station so as not to be detected (it was a capital offense to carry arms) and past Arab villages. Three soldiers turned back when one soldier twisted his ankle and was unable to continue leaving 35, the march of the lamed-heh (two Hebrew letters that have the value 35). Towards dawn the group was discovered near the Arab village of Tsurif, the alarm was raised and hundreds of Arabs from the neighboring villages attacked the convoy. Though the British heard the shots they did not investigate until all was quiet. The Israeli soldiers fought until they had no more ammunition – all were killed including Tuvia. When the British arrived on the scene they found the bodies horribly mutilated making identification very difficult. Rabbi Arye Levin performed the rare Goral Ha-gra ceremony, a mystical procedure devised by the Vilna Gaon where the rabbi opened a Tanakh and was drawn to read certain verses which gave hints to the identity of the bodies.

2:15pm Jerusalem time  I’m at home writing this post. By the time we hear the siren there are about 15 seconds until we hear a distant boom. Channel 2 reports that the rocket fell somewhere near Bethlehem, about 6.5 km south of where I am sitting.

At the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens work has begun on a Children’s Discovery Garden that will offer Jewish, Muslim and Christian young people an opportunity to explore and discover the wondrous natural world, to learn that diversity is important and in the process meet each other. Discovery and play will be used to show how plants adapt to their environment and the interaction between the two. Activities will include a canopy walk in the treetops and a descent down to a roots exhibit. Perhaps plants which are apolitical, are concerned less with borders and which speak to us all can show us the advantages of diversity and living together.


4 thoughts on “Biodiversity at Jerusalem Botanical Gardens

  1. Pingback: Site Map | Israel Tours | Israel Tour Guide

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  4. Pingback: Wildflowers in Judean Desert | Israel Tours

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