Sunday, September 12, 2021 9:21 PM
“We have to understand the importance and responsibility we all have in dealing with the climate change crisis and protecting our environment.”
Three months into her new role, Anat Gold talks about her first major challenge – the largest wildfire in the history of the state, as well as the future of central Israel’s forests and open spaces in the age of climate change, a global pandemic, and an ever-increasing population.
Anat Gold, who was recently appointed Central Region Director at KKL-JNF, had barely time to settle into her new role when the largest forest fire in Israel’s history broke out in the forests outside Jerusalem
on August 15.
Destroying a total land area of some 20,000 dunams (6,200 acres) of forests, fields and open spaces outside of Jerusalem, the scale of the fire surpassed that of the December 2010 Carmel Forest fire in northern Israel, which burned 6,000 acres and claimed the lives of 44 people.
“The size and scope of this fire was on a national level,” said Gold. “There was a very difficult combination of factors; winds that carried the flames from place to place [at high speed], a topography of deep gorges and wind tunnels that brought the flames to crazy heights, and the very dry climate, [all this] causing the fire to be in several areas [at once].”
Firefighters from Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service came from all over the country to battle the flames. Joining them were KKL-JNF firefighters, who played a pivotal role in bringing the fires under control thanks to their on-the-ground knowledge of the area. Rangers from the Hashomer Hahadash NGO, and firefighters from the Palestinian Authority were also part of the immense team effort.
“We know the forest, so when the firefighters from other areas came, our KKL-JNF firefighters took them to the places where they could best reach the fire points because we know the field,” said Gold, noting that the key KKL-JNF point person in fighting the fires was KKL- JNF Community and Forest Coordinator Gidi Bashan. Supporting Bashan in those efforts were KKL-JNF professionals Hanoch Tzoref, forester for the central highlands; and Gilad Mastai, regional director for the coastal plains.
While Gold, as regional director, was not directly involved in coordinating firefighting efforts, she was out in the field in order to fully understand the situation and to be on hand for any assistance she could provide.
“I came across people who did not sleep for four days in a row. I saw how the firefighters fought against the flames shoulder-to-shoulder, giving support to one another. I saw the dedication of my staff in action, fighting for the forest they had planted and planned,” she said. “Everyone came to contribute what they could to the efforts.”
“That is what is unique about KKL-JNF,” she added. “For the people who work here it is not just another 9 to 5 job. For us it is a Zionist organization where everyone who works here feels pride and connectedness to its values. It is not just an organization—it is a family.”
Ten villages and towns in the Judean Hills, including Beit Meir—where the fire initially broke out, Tzova, Giv’at Ya’arim, Ein Rafa, and the Eitanim Psychiatric Hospital, were evacuated.
“With all the devastating destruction to nature we were able to prevent a larger tragedy and thankfully there were no human casualties,” said Gold.
The fire prevention measures
that KKL-JNF had recently carried out here, such as thinning out the forests and creating fire lines between woodlands and residential areas were especially important in preventing serious damage to the communities.
“This is the work KKL –JNF does daily… and it prevented a greater danger,” she said. “For nature, it was a catastrophe, but nature knows how to recuperate and regenerate itself with time.”
Following lessons learned in previous forest fires, including the Carmel Disaster, KKL-JNF will wait at least 6 to 9 months to allow nature to do its job, before they consider any kind of intervention. There will also be internal reviews of what happened during fire, of the actions taken or not taken, in order to continue improving the way KKL-JNF staff do their work, not only for wildfires, but also in day-to-day forest management and maintenance.
“Soon there will be rain, and it will wash the away the ash and the grounds will be watered. After that we will plan accordingly,” she said.
Beyond 3,600 acres of planted and natural woodland burning down, the fire has devastated entire forest ecosystems. Anat Gold emphasizes the important role KKL-JNF friends and partners can play in supporting the rehabilitation efforts
once KKL-JNF begins that work, and helping with the upgrading of firefighting equipment.
“We need to have this equipment maintained and on hand in case of emergencies; we need funds for more manpower, trucks, fire hoses,” she said. “We need to prepare for the coming years.”
But more than that, Gold continued, it is important for KKL-JNF supporters to come and see for themselves the destruction wrought upon the hilly green landscape which everyone is so used to seeing upon approaching Jerusalem.
“That view, beloved by so many, that of my childhood, is all gone,” she said sadly. “We have to understand the importance and responsibility we all have in dealing with the climate change crisis and protecting our environment.”
Today, Anat Gold, 51, lives in Meitar, a small town northeast of Be’er Sheva, together with her husband and two children.
With her new appointment, she has broken the ‘glass ceiling’ as the first woman to be appointed director in a KKL-JNF field position.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography and Environmental Development and a master’s degree in Administration and Public Policy from Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. She began her career with KKL-JNF 26 years ago as a statutory coordinator in the Southern Region. In that position she led programs that helped establish legal status for forest boundaries, permitted uses and purposes of the forest.
After ten years in that position she was appointed director of the planning department of KKL-JNF’s Southern District, and she partnered in the management of several forests and parks including Timna Park, Yeruham Park, Ofakim Park and Be’er Sheva River Park (Park Nahal Be’er Sheva). Gold noted that a very significant component of that role was the connections she forged with the surrounding communities.
“We worked with the communities to coordinate how we wanted to see these areas used, and where we wanted them to be in the next ten years, including the development of picnic areas, bike paths, and hiking trails,” she said.
Gold was then appointed director of the KKL-JNF Planning Division, a position of national scope, which had her responsible for all KKL-JNF planning around Israel, the coordination of master plans in forests and their connections with the local communities they serve. She directed KKL-JNF’s efforts in the flagship “Israel 2040” program which aimed to develop high-tech in the Negev and Galilee as a means of attracting young Israelis to those underdeveloped outlying areas. While the program has completed its mandate, Gold noted that KKL-JNF continues to emphasize the importance of helping develop Israel’s outlying areas in order to attract new residents.
In her new role, Gold will be responsible for the Central Region—which expands from Yokneam in the North to the Dead Sea area in the South—and contains the most intensively used park and forest areas, serving the majority of Israelis. As director Gold is responsible for the planning, development and management of all KKL-JNF forests and parks of that area
, and managing a staff of 200 people. Her extensive experience in the field made her the ideal candidate
for a position that had long been viewed as a “man’s job” due to the extensive field knowledge it requires.
“There is no doubt that I broke the glass ceiling. I am a KKL-JNF ‘veteran’, I have advanced from the bottom up, and I am very professional,” she said. “I have extensive knowledge and experience in management. Throughout my career at KKL-JNF I have managed people, I have worked in forest development - the heart of KKL-JNF – and I have spent many years out in the field.”
Gold sees herself as being the right person at the right time, having attained through hard work and commitment the managerial skills and field experience necessary to succeed in her new position.
“First of all I was happy and delighted that I was appointed and that KKL-JNF put its trust in me. It was a very smooth transition and a natural development from my field work and management roles,” she said. “I feel I have entered this role at the right age and at the right time. It was the right timing for the organization as well as for me.”
Gold emphasized that the Central Region does not only deal with forests and recreation areas; it is also involved in everything being done by KKL-JNF albeit on a smaller scale, including educational programs, fundraising, hosting overseas visitors, public events, project implementation, preparing land for agriculture and residential purposes, building\upgrading reservoirs, river rehabilitation, community parks, and working with KKL-JNF’s many partner organizations.
“My focus is on strengthening our connections with the local councils and municipalities in close proximity to the forests and open areas so as to strengthen in turn the connection of these communities to the forests,” she said.
“My role is to connect the population and the local authorities to the open areas and for them to view these places as beneficial for their communities, so that we can develop them and enhance quality of life for generations to come”.
Because this geographical region is subject to the most developmental pressure due to its population density, there is a need for a balancing act between human developmental needs and environmental preservation.
“This is the biggest challenge,” she said. “We understand that people need development and infrastructure, but our goal is to also retain open spaces for the next generations. We want to leave open spaces for them - during COVID-19 we realized even more how important they are, since everyone was looking for open areas to visit near their homes.”
She noted that ironically, they witness the increase of visitors to the forest by the garbage left behind and the vandalism done in the forests.
“There are not a lot of forests and the Ben Shemen Forest near Modiin is used by all the residents of the central region, including Tel Aviv and the Judean lowlands,” said Gold. “The COVID-19 period showed us what life may be like in 10-20 years and the importance of open areas. No less important is understanding that climate change has increased the number of wildfire incidents around the world. In Israel it will be drier and we can already see the damage…so it has become increasingly important to properly develop forests.”
Gold tells us that when her daughter - who today is serving in the army - was in high school, she joked that her mother’s work was also her hobby. Laughing, she admits that it’s true - other than her work, her only “hobby” is meeting up with friends for coffee.
“I am very happy and feel very comfortable in this new role. This is my hobby and even when I am on vacation I am always thinking about work and how to develop and what I can learn from other sources,” said Gold. “I am in this position only three months but I am already thinking strategically about ideas and programs I want to do in the future, but for now I am taking it one step at a time.”