Documentary Review: A Jew searches for “My Tree,” planted in Israel in his honor, and finds guilt and regret instead

It’s considered one of the most righteous acts on Earth, the simple planting of a tree. But can it be an act of destruction as well?

The Canadian playwright and screenwriter (“After the Ball”) Jason Sherman ponders that question in “My Tree,” his new documentary about charitable tree-planting in the Middle East.

Sherman says it all started when he wondered where a tree that was planted in his name after his 1970s Bar Mitzvah might be. That tree was to be planted in Israel.

My Tree” became his documentary quest to figure out who talked his parents into buying him that gift, what sort of tree was planted, where it was and why it was placed in that particular spot.

As his film makes clear, there’s been pretty extensive media coverage in Canada over the years about the trees of Israel’s Canada Park — a place that the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael) designated as a fund-raising magnet for their decades long “Greening of Israel” campaign. Sherman’s film would be about the nature of that campaign and its agenda, an “innocent” asking innocent questions of folks who run a long-established charity familiar all over the Jewish diaspora.

But getting someone involved in it to talk about it proves shockingly difficult.

“Why was it so hard to talk about trees?” may be his rhetorical question. But we can guess he knew the answer before ever starting “My Tree.”

We can take Sherman at his word about this documentary’s origin story, or assume he’s being disingenuous for the camera, that he knew enough going in to ensure he’d have a compelling film on his hands. Considering the earlier reporting on the subject which explains seriously suspicious behavior by the JNF here, whose officials dodge interviews with him, guiltily drive up on him in the various Israeli planted-forests he visits and even shoo him away from their big Israeli tree nursery — which he’d arranged, with them, to visit — I have a feeling the latter is more likely.

They’ve been up to something a lot less righteous and more unsavory than is commonly known, and they know it. And he knew it going in.

“My Tree” is a damning reminder of the true nature of this “make the desert bloom” operation, which has a “facts on the ground” purpose, covering up — with parks, a “Martyr’s Forest,” groves of trees — forcibly-evacuated Palestinian villages like Yula or Imwas. The JNF has worked hand-in-glove with government and the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), which knock down houses and chased out families that had lived there for hundreds of years. The planted trees are literally erasing Palestinian history in an effort to burnish Israel’s 1948 founding myth, the later “Six Day War” “miracle” and the decades upon decades of state-sponsored “settlements” being established on seized Arab land.

Speaking to a gardener/arborist, historians, investigative journalists, his Israeli relatives, Jewish activists in Israel and Canada, a Canadian rabbi and just a couple of actual Palestinians with a stake in the contested lands, Sherman’s film paints a picture of a greening-over “cover-up.” Words like “war crime,” “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid” turn up in discussing these “no democracy does this” practices.

Starting with a brief history of Israel and the Zionist movement, Sherman works in home movies and the search for that Bar Mitzvah “certificate” promising the tree had been planted as he unravels what was really being sold — a cash donation and piece of paper that forged a connection between the Jewish diaspora around the world, and the “idea of the State of Israel.”

His Israeli relatives decry the ongoing “planting” and its connection to the country’s decades-long slide towards authoritarianism that followed the Rabin assassination. A Palestinian-American remembers returning to the village he was forced out of as a child and Sherman interviews the one retired JNF official who will talk to him, pressing him on his sunny “official version” of history and how Canada Park and other “parks” came to be, coming back again and again to that one central question that defines “My Tree.”

“What was here before a forest?”

“My Tree” makes for an eye-opening documentary about propaganda’s role in the founding of Israel and continual efforts to immunize the controversial Jewish State from criticism, partly by having donors plant 240 million trees there. And it adds another voice to the choir of people protesting the ignorance of what’s actually going on, with “trees” roles in the Apartheid necessary to carve a monocultural “Jewish” state out Palestine.

Rating: unrated, profanity

Cast: Jason Sherman, many others

Credits: Scripted and directed by Jason Sherman. A Level 33 Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:42

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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4 Responses to Documentary Review: A Jew searches for “My Tree,” planted in Israel in his honor, and finds guilt and regret instead

  1. Hillel Wallick says:

    This review is a vicious hit-job against the existence of the State of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, and its people, who have returned to their indigenous homeland.

    • Roger Moore says:

      No, actually it isn’t. A documentary I watched on Israeli history a few months back pointed out that the first time the word “Apartheid” was used about how migrating Jewish Zionists were setting up their “homeland” in the post-Ottoman British protectorate in Palestine was a letter reporting to Lord Balfour in 1919. The Brits knew “Apartheid,” as it was invented in South Africa as a Boer way of displacing the natives. And they saw being applied as a founding principal in the land grabbing that was already going on there, and remains so to this day. Buy a tree for Israel, guess whose house got seized and knocked down to plant it.

      • Howard (Hillel) Wallick says:

        Thanks for replying so promptly, Roger. So what that one person wrote to Lord Balfour claiming that migrating Zionists were instituting Apartheid. I am an American-Israeli living in Jerusalem; life here is complicated as hell, but it ain’t Apartheid. Just an hour ago I got my hair cut by the owner of a salon who is an Arab resident of Beit Safafa (an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood near my mostly Jewish western Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka). His salon is on the “Jewish” shopping street of Bethlehem Road, where he is free to be an entrepreneur and earn a living from Jewish, Arab and other customers. That is typical in the “mixed” city of Jerusalem. In any event, we won’t come to an agreement on this issue.

        Maybe this is better: the trees planted by KKL-JNF resulted in Israel being the only country in the world that had more trees in 2000 than it did in 1900.

        Anyway, I appreciate the opportunity to express my thoughts to someone with your reach and stature.

        Kol Tuv (All the Best),

      • Roger Moore says:

        I see Kool-Ade is still the national drink, but we all have our rationalizations. The most informative thing for someone who takes a “but but My HAIRDRESSER is Palestinian” view might be to watch the film. Almost everybody interviewed in it is Israeli or Jewish. This isn’t new “news” to anybody who’s been exposed to reportage on these “Martyrs Forests” and the like and their domestic land-grab policy connections.

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