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Israel Plants 10,000-Tree Forest in King's Honor

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 1998 – In the red earth on a hill in biblical Galilee overlooking sites where Jesus preached, thousands of trees flourish on once-barren land in a forest named in honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Young trees planted there years ago have grown from saplings into a tall antidote to Israel's arid land.

When the slain civil rights leader's son, Martin Luther King III, visited Israel in 1987, he planted a pine sapling honoring his father and said: "This tree symbolizes the continuity of my father's mission."

Many trees were already growing when the the Jewish National Fund's Forest of the Righteous Gentiles established the King forest in 1976 with the ceremonial planting of 39 trees, symbolizing each year of his life. The forest is in Turan, near Nazareth, said Robert Francks of the Jewish National Fund.

"Righteous gentiles" usually refers to non-Jews who saved Jews from being killed in the Holocaust, Francks said. "But in a broader definition, righteous gentiles are non-Jews who have shown solidarity with the State of Israel and supported the Jewish people," he said.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Jewish congressional members serve as the memorial forest's honorary sponsors. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, corporations and many other organizations and individuals, black and white, raise money for trees, Francks noted.

Rev. Robert A. Pruitt, pastor of African Methodist Episcopal Metropolitan Church in Washington, said during a ceremony at the forest, "Martin Luther King Jr. was great for his love of mankind, whether Christian or Jewish. How fitting that he be remembered by planting trees here. He may be buried, but his leaves are still blooming here in these hills, holy to both peoples [Americans and Israelis]."

"The forest was donated primarily by American Jews wishing to honor Dr. King," said Lenore Siegelman of the American Jewish Congress. "There is great commitment among Jews to the human rights principles Dr. King represented.

"We honor him as a man of courage and vision, a man of great dreams and great actions, a seeker of nonviolence and peace," Siegelman said. "His leadership of the civil rights struggle is a chapter in American history from which all of us can draw inspiration and renewed strength. Dr. King made contributions of enduring value to the life of our nation."

"Being an arid country, trees are very precious in Israel," Francks said. "Trees represent human beings. When there is a forest fire, it becomes almost a personal loss to people in Israel. People feel a very deep emotion."

Hundreds of trees are added to the forest during King's birth month each year. The Jewish National Fund is responsible for planting and maintaining the forests. Tree-planting is part of an ongoing effort by the Jewish National Fund to fill once-barren hills of Israel with greenery. In the last 50 years, the fund has planted more than 200 million trees in Israel, Francks said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Jewish National Fund's Lavi Planting Center at Golani Junction, where all afforestation projects in the region of the country are acknowledged. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Forest marker is the fifth down on the left.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMartin Luther King III plants a tree in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Forest on Sept. 10, 1987, during his religious pilgrimage and study mission in Israel.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageZevi Kayemeth of the Jewish National Fund's American Department greets Martin Luther King III at a tree-planting ceremony in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Forest on Sept. 10, 1987.  
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