was the director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the Jewish National Fund
The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. The JNF is a quasi-governmental, non-profit organisation...
. From the 1930s, Weitz played a major role in acquiring land for the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine.
Weitz was born in Burmel, Volhynia
Volhynia, Volynia, or Volyn is a historic region in western Ukraine located between the rivers Prypiat and Southern Bug River, to the north of Galicia and Podolia; the region is named for the former city of Volyn or Velyn, said to have been located on the Southern Bug River, whose name may come...
in 1890. In 1908, he immigrated to Palestine with his sister, Miriam, and found employment as a watchman and an agricultural laborer in Rehovot
Rehovot is a city in the Center District of Israel, about south of Tel Aviv. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics , at the end of 2009 the city had a total population of 112,700. Rehovot's official website estimates the population at 114,000.Rehovot was built on the site of Doron,...
. In 1911, he was one of the organizers of the Union of Agricultural Laborers in Eretz Yisrael. Weitz married Ruhama and their eldest son, Ra'anan, was born in 1913. Two years later, in 1915, he was appointed foreman of the Sejera training farm (now Ilaniya) in the Lower Galilee. Weitz helped to found Yavniel, one of the first pioneer colonies in the Galilee, and later, the Beit Hakerem
Beit HaKerem may refer to:* Beit HaKerem, Jerusalem, a neighborhood in west-central Jerusalem* Beit HaKerem , a biblical fortress in Judea identified by many with the later Herodium site...
neighborhood in Jerusalem
. His son Yehiam (Hebrew for "Long Live the Nation"), born in October 1918, was killed in a Palmach
The Palmach was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palmach was established on May 15, 1941...
operation on June 16, 1946. Kibbutz Yehiam
Yehiam founded on November 26, 1946, is a Kibbutz located in the western Upper Galilee region of Israel - about 10 miles due east of the coastal town of Nahariya and five miles south of the border with Lebanon...
was established in his memory. Sharon Weitz, another son, followed in his father's footsteps and later took over as director of the Forestry Department.
As head of the JNF Forestry Department, Weitz put his visions of Israel as a forested country into practice. He was spurred on by David Ben-Gurion, who told Weitz he wanted a billion trees planted within a decade. In 1949, he proposed a division of labor between the Israeli government and the JNF. The government would engage in applied research in planting techniques, especially in arid areas, and the development of a timber industry. It would also establish nurseries. The JNF would improve indigenous forests, work in afforestation of hilly regions, stop the encroachment of sand dunes and plant windbreakers. Weitz saw plant nurseries and afforestation as a vital source of employment for the masses of new immigrants arriving in the early days of the state. He was guided by the belief that developing a work ethic was imperative for acculturation.
In 1966, Yatir Forest
Yatir Forest is a forest in Israel, located on the southern slopes of Mount Hebron, on the edge of the Negev Desert. The forest covers an area of 30,000 dunams , and is the largest planted forest in Israel.-History:...
in the Negev
The Negev is a desert and semidesert region of southern Israel. The Arabs, including the native Bedouin population of the region, refer to the desert as al-Naqab. The origin of the word Neghebh is from the Hebrew root denoting 'dry'...
was planted at Weitz's urging. He described the project as "rolling back the desert with trees, creating a security zone for the people of Israel." Named for the biblical town of Yatir
Jattir was a town in ancient Israel.)Jattir was located in the mountainous land of Judah. It was made a levitical town for priests to live. David gave some of the spoils from his battle with the Amalekite's . )Jattir is identified with Khirbet Attir southwest of Hebron....
, it is now Israel's largest planted forest.
Weitz’s never formally studied forestry but his autodidactic perspective was reflective of the period. The forestry strategy he crafted emphasized the economic utility of forests and the importance of the Aleppo pine as the hardiest of local species. As a result, Israel’s forests for its first twenty years were largely mono cultures which would soon suffer serious losses due to natural pests. Weitz frequently clashed with the nascent conservation movement in Israel which found the industrial approach to tree planting that the Jewish National Fund adopted to be objectionable. Today, many of Weitz’s ideas have been replaced with more sustainable approaches to foresting.
Weitz was an advocate of population transfer
Population transfer is the movement of a large group of people from one region to another by state policy or international authority, most frequently on the basis of ethnicity or religion...
. On June 22, 1941 he wrote in his diary: "The land of Israel is not small at all, if only the Arabs were removed, and its frontiers enlarged a little, to the north up to the Litani, and to the east including the Golan Heights...with the Arabs transferred to northern Syria and Iraq...Today we have no other alternative...We will not live here with Arabs."
According to Ilan Pappe
Ilan Pappé is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK, director of the university's European Centre for Palestine Studies, co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies, and political activist...
, passages in Weitz's diary in April 1948 show his support for the transfer of Arabs during the 1948 war: "I have drawn up a list of Arab villages which in my opinion must be cleared out in order to complete Jewish regions. I have also drawn up a list of land disputes that must be settled by military means." According to Efraim Karsh
Efraim Karsh is professor and head of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, and director of the Philadelphia-based think tank, the Middle East Forum...
, Ben-Gurion rejected the idea, and no such committee was ever established. Nevertheless, Nur Masalha and Benny Morris claim an unofficial Transfer Committee was established in May 1948 composed of Weitz, Danin
Ezra Danin was the head of the Arab section of the SHAI, the intelligence arm of the Hagana, Israeli politician and an orange grower...
and Sasson.Later in life, Weitz's views appear to be more conciliatory towards the neighboring Arabs and he is reported to have refused to attend ceremonies of renew Jewish settlements in the West Bank after the 1967 war.
- My Diary and Letters to the Children, vols 1-6, Masada, Ramat Gan, 1965, 1973 (the original diaries are in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem).
- HaYa'ar V'haYiur B'Yisrael (The Forest and Forestry in Israel), Masada, Ramat Gan, 1970 p. 140-141.
- Journal entry from June 26, 1946 published in Tlamim Ahronim, Jerusalem, Keren Kayemet, 1974, p. 24-25.
- From Small to Large - The History of Land Reclamation in Eretz-Israel, Ramat Gan, 1972
- Creating a Land Legacy - Chapters from a Diary, Tel Aviv, 1951
- Our Settlement Activities in a Period of Storm and Stress, 1936-1947, Tel Aviv, 1947