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Palm Trees and the Redemption of Israel

Palm Tree on Bar Kochva Era Coin

There are seven species that the Torah tells us the Land of Israel is blessed with. One of them is the date which is referred to in the Bible as honey. The "Honey" in the "Land of Milk and Honey" is referring to the fruit of the palm tree, dates, or in Hebrew tamar. In the second temple period the palm came to be identified so completely with Judea that it is found minted on coins as a national symbol. Simon the Hasmonean, the first Jewish ruler to mint coins minted a coin with a Palm tree. The infamous Judea Capta coin minted in honor of the Roman Victory over Judea in the year 70 featured a palm tree that symbolized Judea. Bar Kochva, who led a daring revolt against the Romans in the second century also minted a coin with the symbol of a palm tree

2000 years later when the Jewish People returned to Eretz Yisrael the land was devoid of the traditional palm trees. Although there were a few remnants there was no date growing industry. Most of the dates were grown in Persia, Egypt and Iraq. Two people, Ben-Zion Yisraeli and Yani (Yaakov) Avidov were convinced that palm trees should be reintroduced to Israeli agriculture. They felt that Israel is the natural place for palm trees and can become a major part of the agricultural industry in Israel. The most fruitful species were in Persia and Iraq. Persia at the time was ruled by The Shah and had diplomatic relations with Israel.

Avidov and Yisraeli travelled to Persia and bought 70,000 shoots. Shoots are a part of the palm tree that can be replanted and grown into another tree. The tricky part would be transporting them to Israel. They loaded them onto trucks and drove them over the border to Iraq. The plan was to load them onto a boat in Iraq which would sail them to Israel. They had to find a boat to transport them without any of the crew members knowing the true destination which was an enemy country with no diplomatic relations with Iraq. This proved more difficult than expected and took some time. After a few weeks they had to unload 70,000 shoots and plant them in Iraq so they would not die. Finally they were able to procure a ship and crew but they did not reveal to the crew the true final destination. In Gibraltar they revealed to the ship captain that the true destination was Israel and he had to be bribed heavily to continue on to Israel.

They finally arrived in Israel but the trip was very long and difficult for the shoots. When they finally arrived in Israel many of the shoots did not survive the long and difficult trip. Of those that survived they discovered that about half were male palm trees and of little use for bearing fruit. They did find a use for some of those male trees and planted them around the nuclear reactor that was being built during those years in Dimona. There were still about 20,000 good shoots which were planted in the Arava and northward along the Jordan River until the Kineret . 40 years later when these original trees were not producing fruit anymore many of them were replanted in the Ben Gurion Airport and are amongst the first sites visitors to Israel see. These first trees were successful in reviving a profitable industry in the State of Israel and continue to be a symbol of Jewish pride and independence.

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Photo credit: Daniel Kaszovitz

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