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11. Environmental Activism
Hits Its Stride

A graduate student runs an air pollution monitoring station on her kib-butz and lobbies her Regional Council to fund an independent risk assess-ment of the effect of a toxic-waste incinerator at Ramat Hovav. Thousands attend a rally, sponsored by ultraorthodox communities in Jerusalem, hop-ing to stall expansion of high-tech factories in Jerusalem and reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals they store. A group of Eilat scientists pub-lishes a full-page advertisement asking Israelis not to visit the town until sewage stops polluting the Red Sea. A suit filed by a neighborhood in the Arab city of Shfaram leads to the jailing of a polluting-factory owner for contempt of court when he flouts an injunction limiting work hours and noise. Ad hoc campaigns against solid-waste landfills that threaten quality of life are launched by various groups, from Jerusalem's Giloh neighbor-hood to Kibbutz Mishmar ha-Emeq to Beer Sheva. This is a small sam-pling of the environmental activism that rippled across Israel during the 1990s.[1] And it does not include the increasingly numerous—and often radical—animal rights groups that run a parallel network of activities.

Environmental history around the world has often been influenced by small groups of committed individuals who chose to make a difference.[2] Government obviously has a crucial role in eliminating the incentives to pollute and abating environmentally destructive activity, but it will never be able to solve all environmental problems. During the 1990s, more and more Israelis began taking matters into their own hands.

Mobilizing the public on any broad societal issue is not an easy task. Sociologist Stuart Schoenfeld explains that the dynamic constitutes a classic “social dilemma”: an individual (or group) that invests resources in a collective problem finds itself relatively disadvantaged in competi-tion with other similar individuals.[3] This dynamic is particularly salient

in Israeli society, where leisure is so rare and the colloquial slur “freier” is so common. A “freier” in Hebrew slang refers to the sucker who always gets stuck pulling more than his share of the load. In more altruistic days this may have been an ideal, but today it is unmistakably pejorative.[4]

Yet Israel's society is sprinkled with individuals who chose involvement and decided to fight the environmental foe, be it in the form of pollution, corruption, apathy, or ignorance. They belong to a group of citizens that has been called Zionism's “new pioneers.”[5] Many of their stories deserve mention—far more than one book, much less a chapter, can contain. Israel would be an uglier, dirtier, and unhealthier place had they not become in-volved. Their stories are also important for what they teach about the un-derlying motivation that impels ordinary people to translate concern for ecology or health into action. Presumably that impulse must be replicated if a broader societal commitment to environmental protection is to be nur-tured and galvanized.

When the CRB Foundation commissioned a study about the state of en-vironmental activism in Israel in 1996, eighty environmental organiza-tions were identified throughout Israel.[6] In addition, many national organizations such as the Rotary Club and the Histadrut Labor Union, as well as several women's organizations—Na'amat, Hadassah, and WIZO—had started environmental initiatives.[7] Indeed, as early as 1975 there were already so many groups working nationally that Josef Tamir, the retiring Knesset eco-advocate, set up an umbrella organization, Life and Environment, to foster coordination and communication. By 2000, Life and Environment had almost eighty member organizations. In a comprehensive survey, Orr Karassin, its young attorney-director, estimated that there were probably twice as many identifiable organiza-tional efforts that were environmental in character.[8]

In the CRB survey, forty-three of the environmental groups responded to researchers' questionnaires. The picture that emerged was encouraging: Over 80 percent of the organizations had been established during the pre-vious decade.[9] The new Green players changed the face of the environ-mental movement. For instance, starting in the early 1990s, the radical “GreenAction” brought a refreshing abandon and penchant for civil dis-obedience to a somewhat staid environmental community. Greenpeace joined the local scene, plugging industrial effluent pipelines and pulling a variety of other high-profile stunts.[10] Green Course, the burgeoning stu-dent network, provided both the imagination and the shock troops on the ground to invigorate and inspire the entire environmental community.


Israel's environmental groups were never merely social clubs. About half claimed that enhancing awareness was their most important goal, but in fact they were predominantly activist in their orientation. Over 90 per-cent of organizations in the survey had met with government representa-tives to further their cause, and 41 percent did so on a regular basis. Most attempted to engage the media and write letters to decision makers. Over three-quarters reported participating in demonstrations. Almost as many claimed to have been involved in some sort of legal action. And although there are the usual turf battles and territorial tensions, these organizations are beginning to work together. Only a handful of groups had never been part of a broader alliance, and by the end of the century, groups banded into formal Green coalitions in all the major cities, led largely by revital-ized SPNI branches.

As with nonprofit groups anywhere, money is perceived as the key ob-stacle to progress, but the financial resources of environmentalists as a movement have grown. In the 1996 CRB study, less than 20 percent of or-ganizations surveyed reported budgets over 100,000 shekels ($30,000). Four years later, 28 percent had budgets over $100,000, and only 22 per-cent operated on less than five thosand dollars. Although only a third of the organizations impose dues on their members,[11] 70 percent of today's organizations operate with no assistance from the Diaspora or other inter-national funding.[12] Still, the vast majority of Israeli environmental groups are “grassroots” in character, operating without offices, staff, or the typi-cal trappings of nonprofit institutions.[13]

The chronic lack of organizational assets in Israeli environmental groups reflects a universal reality of activism. Generally a few key people stand behind an organizational initiative. The only real resource they can count on is their own passion and commitment. This is, however, exactly what makes their tales so inspiring. The following small sample reflects the sheer variety of the citizens who created the wave of environmental-ism that swept through Israel during the 1990s. It also illustrates the range of obstacles they faced.


For the record, it is important to note that the aggressive environmental advocacy model that is the prototype for many groups in Israel today was not invented in the 1990s. Indeed, as early as the 1960s, citizens' groups popped up in Tel Aviv and Haifa. The best known of these, Malraz, the Public Council against Noise and Air Pollution, was active for almost

thirty years. Malraz was established soon after the Knesset passed the Kanovich antinuisance legislation in 1961. The group took upon itself the job of enforcing the new law, which forbade unreasonable noise, odors, and air pollution. Its early leaders included Kanovich's widow, Ganiah, and Antonio Feranio, the public-spirited American engineer from Haifa with a specialty in air pollution and Supreme Court litigation.

For its first few years, Malraz lacked a clear focus, and the organization was largely ineffective. All this changed in 1965 when the government's intention to expand the Tel Aviv Reading Power Station made air pollution an urgent political issue. With the help of a supportive Israeli press (in par-ticular the ever-environmental Ha-Aretz daily), Malraz became the light-ning rod that rallied the public while Josef Tamir led the parliamentary battle in the Knesset. Its petition against the project was signed by two hundred thousand people,[14] an Israeli environmental record to this day, even though the country's population has more than tripled.

Although technically he did not found the organization, Malraz is most closely associated with Yedidyah Be'eri, Israel's first public-interest envi-ronmental lawyer. Be'eri moved to Israel from Germany as a child just be-fore the Third Reich closed its doors to Jewish emigration. Ten years later he lied about his age to enlist in the military. In 1949, as a soldier in the new Israeli Army, Be'eri was seriously wounded in combat and hospital-ized for eight months. As part of his recuperation, he attended law school. After graduating, he opened his own private practice in 1958, dabbling on the side in the politics of Israel's (rightward) Liberal Party.

It was in 1965 that Be'eri became environmentally active, offering Malraz his legal services. He remembers his personal motivation for in-volvement as tied to a visceral disgust at the black smoke spewing from the Dan and Egged buses of the period. Yet he acknowledges that his “German” sense of civic order probably colored his worldview.

After the Government pushed its plan for the power station through the Knesset, a weary and discouraged Malraz decided to avail itself of Be'eri's pro bono offer as a last-ditch effort. In 1968 he filed suit against the Israel Electric Company on the grounds that the expanded plant would create a public nuisance and damage the health of residents living as far as six kilometers downwind. Preliminary motions by the Electric Company stalled a decision, but the magistrate judge, Yosef Charish, eventually ruled in the company's favor, holding that Be'eri had not shown the prima facie damage to an individual plaintiff that was needed to gain standing in public-nuisance cases. Behind the decision was the judge's preference for private-nuisance suits; he feared that recognizing

vague public-nuisance actions would open the proverbial floodgates and allow citizens to harass Israeli industry at will.[15] Justice Charish reckoned that only the Attorney General should initiate public-nuisance actions.

The District and Supreme Courts felt differently, ruling in Malraz's favor with a liberal interpretation of standing in public-nuisance actions.[16] By the time of the final appeal, however, the station was up and running,[17] and the Supreme Court counseled Be'eri to take a wait-and-see approach regarding actual pollution damages.[18] The decision, like a few others that Be'eri would bring to the Supreme Court,[19] created an important prece-dent, even if it was a loser on the ground. In retrospect, though, Malraz's legal work and the case law it spawned opened the doors to public-interest suits and citizen enforcement in Israel.

By its own account, the lost battle exhausted Malraz's energies, and during 1968 and 1969 it lapsed into dormancy.[20] A small grant from the Ministry of Health, however, led to its subsequent revival. After its highly publicized battle against the government's energy policy, the or-ganization's orientation changed. It took upon itself the more reparable micronuisances suffered by an increasingly beleaguered urban populace. Rapid development, crowded metropolitan conditions, and government apathy combined to produce considerable human discomfort. Malraz became the address for those seeking help. Within a few years its membership reached two thousand. Between 1974 and 1977 Be'eri served in Israel's Knesset and brought his environmental concerns to issues ranging from water quality in the Jordan River to the preservation of sand dunes in Rishon L'Tzion.

When Be'eri was not reelected to the Knesset, he returned to Malraz as a voluntary chairman, and for the next fifteen years he patiently assisted dozens of citizens with their problems.[21] The late 1970s were the golden years for the group. Malraz boasted branches in ten Israeli cities and re-sponded to dozens of cries for help, where it championed the “little guy” against polluters or bureaucratic lethargy.[22] It also ran a number of cam-paigns, from antihonking to police awareness crusades.[23]

Although only a tiny minority of the public's complaints went to court, frequently Be'eri's florid, legalistic letters and the implicit threat of litiga-tion were enough to expedite progress. A 1979 pamphlet describes a long list of nuisances where Malraz successfully intervened, from muffling a noisy refrigeration system in a Safed supermarket to shutting down a dusty concrete-block production plant in Hadera.[24]

Malraz laid the blame for Israel's urban environmental woes at the feet of municipal government. “The Ministry of the Environment has a

tendency to shove all complaints from the public over to the municipality,” opined Be'eri. “But I always ask: What happens when the municipality doesn't do its job? Who helps citizens then?”[25]

By the 1990s, the organization was in decline. Malraz had never gener-ated its own funding, relying on support from modest government alloca-tions. Be'eri, already close to seventy years old, acknowledged that fund raising had never been his strong suit. He had always relied on his per-sonal connections in government to attain the monies needed for basic organizational operations. (Be'eri actually went so far as to cancel mem-bership dues when he became chairman.) When the Ministry of the Environment began to phase out its annual stipend, Be'eri could not even afford to pay a part-time secretary to type out his letters or pay basic court costs. By then, other organizations had picked up the gauntlet, and it seemed that Malraz had faded away, only to be revived in 2001 by the creative energies of environmental regulator Hilik Rosenblum, and by a major grant to monitor mobile-source air pollution in Tel Aviv.

Malraz may not have changed long-term air quality trends or revolu-tionized the authorities' sensitivity to noise pollution, but the organiza-tion improved the quality of life for hundreds—if not thousands—of Israelis. Moreover, Malraz proved time and again that the Israeli public had the legal tools and moral edge to make a difference. What it lacked was confidence, patience, and will.


By the late 1980s, there were only two sizable nongovernmental organi-zations in Israel's environmental community. The Society for the Protection of Nature was still the predominant Green organization in the country, although there were many environmental issues that it did not address. The other group was the Council for a Beautiful Israel, established in 1968 by Josef Tamir, who chaired the Knesset's Interior and Environment Committee.[26] The Council benefited from the dedication and connections of its chairwoman, Aura Herzog, who later became Israel's First Lady. The Council's objectives emphasized aesthetics, with a strong focus on cleanliness.[27] Its orientation was primarily educational, and the organization worked intensively with teachers. Its approach to activism in its nine local chapters typically did not go far beyond community beauti-fication projects.[28]

In this institutional landscape, it is not surprising that a number of small groups and countless individual initiatives sprang up to fill the vacant ecological

niches. The sheer variety of characters who became environmental activists in Israel during the period made for a fascinating, if occasionally unruly, community. EcoNet was one of the first such successes. It chose to focus on the taboo subject of nuclear power and radiation. No Israeli envi-ronmental group of that period better reflected the spirit, aptitude, and lim-itations of its “founder” or set off as many unanticipated ripples.

Shirley Rose came to Israel from California during the 1970s. Living in Jerusalem, she found employment as an English teacher and enjoyed the large and friendly English-speaking Anglo-Saxon community there. She had once worked for the American Civil Liberties Union, and she soon became restless for something more provocative than teaching English. Coming from the United States in the post–Three Mile Island era, she was astonished at the degree of local indifference to nuclear issues.[29] Israel's Atomic Energy Commission was directly overseen by the Prime Minister's Office, and it was highly furtive about its activities. Israelis generally relegated ques-tions involving nuclear power, exposures, and wastes to the broader—and inaccessible—category of “security.” Indeed, Israel's fringe Communist Party was the only Knesset faction willing to make it a political issue.[30] Environmental groups had “more pressing” and less controversial topics on their agenda. But Shirley Rose did not. When she met and married Herschell Benyamin, she had a partner in her antinuclear crusade (see Figure 32).

Herschell Benyamin was among the many distinguished British Israelis who brought their World War II experience to Palestine to fight for the Zionist cause. Benyamin was quickly put to work as an artillery officer. But unlike many of the foreign volunteers, he was smitten by the young country and stayed on after the cease-fire. (Though he was by nature a man of pacific character, he ended up fighting as a reservist in all four of Israel's subsequent wars.) An avid gardener, Benyamin was a natural person to assume responsibility for the landscaping and grounds at Israel's only golf course, in Caesarea. The position gave him unusual access to Israel's small upper-class community. This elite circle of acquaintances widened after he trained as a tourist guide and became popular among an exclusive clientele for his understated wit and charm.[31] By the mid-1980s Herschell Benyamin was well into his sev-enties and would have been quite content to retire quietly to a small farm in the rural town of Karkur and tend to his avocado trees and sundry other horticulture ventures. But he had married the wrong woman. Shirley Benyamin had decided to do something to stop Israel from going down the nuclear power pathway, which she saw as a danger to the country's and the planet's future.


As a third coconspirator she called on her friend D'vora Ben Shaul. Dr. Ben Shaul had long since quit her post at the Nature Reserves Authority. Yet her work as Israel's first full-time environmental jour-nalist at the Jerusalem Post still left her ample leisure for the new project, and she was happy to serve as editor of a quarterly commu-niqué, Israel Nuclear News. Working out of the Karkur farmhouse, they tried to establish the Israel Agency for Nuclear Information. They hoped to create a clearinghouse that could offer the public reliable infor-mation about the perils of radiation.[32] Although over 150 people sent donations after receiving the first newsletters,[33] the Ministry of the Interior refused to register the organization as a nonprofit “ahmutah.” In the wake of the Vanunu affair, where a disgruntled former worker sold revealing photographs of Dimona's nuclear weapons facility to an English paper, it may have seen something perfidious in an antinuclear group. But 1986 was also the year of the Chernobyl disaster, and the group pressed on.

In 1989, Shirley Benyamin decided to modify her tactics, changing the organization's name to EcoNet.[34] Her rationale was that because a nuclear power plant was not imminent, it was prudent to expand the base of the organization's supporters. When the nuclear monster eventually reared its head, she would be ready to field a formidable opposition.[35] After stating much broader environmental goals, EcoNet's request to register as a non-profit organization was finally approved. Herschell was formally the chairman, with his many personal connections and his driver's license. But Shirley was the driving force.

Although she was a woman past retirement age, Shirley Benyamin showed the energy of a college activist. The organization found funds to study pesticide exposures and sponsored over a dozen student research theses in environmental health.[36] As the Soviet immigrants began to pour in, the group recognized that it had a unique opportunity to assess the health impact of the Chernobyl accident. Benyamin supported re-search that monitored and advised Israeli Chernobyl survivors. In 1993 EcoNet helped sponsor a conference on the subject.[37] When concerns about the proposed Voice of America radio transmitter arose, much of the information about nonionizing radiation came from the burgeoning EcoNet library.[38] Ben Shaul's quarterly newsletter, now entitled EcoNet News, tackled a different issue each month. The bulletin ultimately reached 150,000 recipients, including all Knesset members and govern-ment decision makers.[39] And the group continued to hammer away at the nuclear-power option.[40]


Most of Shirley Benyamin's time, however, was taken up with an envi-ronmental hot line. Israel did not have a Freedom of Information Act until 1998, and obtaining data about the environment from Israel's government was not a trivial task. Sometimes the call was for expertise or interpreta-tion of an environmental situation, rather than hard numbers. Relying on a growing pool of friends in academia, she became a Green matchmaker, linking people who had problems to the appropriate expert or journal ar-ticle. The number of requests for free advice and information grew. Shirley Benyamin presided over her network of 130, mostly retired, volunteers, who helped translate and research, as well as lick envelopes.

Shirley Benyamin saw her group as a catalyst that worked behind the scenes. Besides pursuing the research initiatives, she would, like a fairy godmother, seek out innovative initiatives and share what little re-sources she had: a computer or a printer for a deserving activist who did not have one, or funding for a part-time staffer to get a promising group off the ground. In 1990, a twelve-thousand-dollar EcoNet seed grant to the author, along with much encouragement, led to the creation of Adam Teva V'din, a public-interest environmental law group that is now Israel's second-largest environmental organization.

Many government officials dismissed the pesky septuagenarian as “that crazy American” (even though her Hebrew was fine, Shirley pre-ferred to speak in English, annoying government officials in a variety of forums with her frank and merciless attacks). Slowly but surely, though, Israelis began to talk about nuclear issues.[41] The process culminated with a televised documentary about health impacts on workers at the Dimona nuclear facility and the environmental Minister's high-profile fact-finding visit to the reactor area in 1994.[42] That year the Knesset found EcoNet's work impressive enough to grant the Benyamins the coveted Knesset Prize for their contribution to Israeli society.[43]


There is an exceptionally high percentage of immigrants in Israel, in particular from North America, who have heeded the call for societal in-volvement.[44] Their disproportionate participation on behalf of various causes has led to occasional stereotyping. Referring to the heavy American presence in West Bank settlements, one real estate developer sniped that Americans who come to Israel either move to Hebron or join environ-mental groups such as Adam Teva V'din.[45] It was true that for the first half of the 1990s, all of the environmental law courses at Israeli universities

were taught by American-Israelis. The campaign for clean air by Haifa res-idents is an exceptionally successful case of community activism. Not sur-prisingly it was spearheaded by an American-Israeli.

When she moved to Israel in 1982, nothing would have led Lynn Golumbic to think she was about to become an environmental leader. She and her husband Marty brought their daughters to Haifa from New Jersey. They both focused on their jobs at IBM—he as a mathematician and she as a marketing specialist. Golumbic recalls that their small apart-ment at the Absorption Center north of the city faced Haifa. During the autumn season, when the ventilating winds dissipated, they could see a black cloud sitting on the Carmel hills. They could also feel the pollution. Marty Golumbic immediately developed respiratory problems and had difficulty sleeping; the doctors told him he had asthma. Lynn had always had allergies, but three years later these too blossomed into asthma. When their fourth daughter, Adina, joined her sisters in showing similar symp-toms, they knew that the cause could be found in Haifa's air.[46]

Initially, Golumbic was too absorbed in the day-to-day exigencies of adapting to a new country, meeting professional challenges, and raising a family of six to explore the air pollution issue.[47] She did, however, become a member in the local branch of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), an immigrant support group, and a 1987 ma-ternity leave gave her the time to become more active. By chance she took a phone call in the AACI Haifa office from a newly formed grassroots group: ENZA—Citizens against Air Pollution.

ENZA was founded a year earlier by a group of disgruntled SPNI ac-tivists in Haifa, who felt that the nature organization did not devote suffi-cient attention to the city's air quality. Those were the days when Haifa's sulfur dioxide levels reached perilously high levels—two and three times above the legal ceiling.[48] Golumbic was sufficiently impressed with the presentation of the ENZA volunteers that she wrote an article about Haifa's air pollution for the AACI newsletter. Overnight it turned her into the group's resident environmental expert.[49]

Although there were two thousand factories in Haifa Bay, the lion's share of the sulfur dioxide came from the giant oil refineries and the power plant. The Israel Electric Company cooperated with the Environmental Protection Service, but the Haifa Oil Refineries took a more defiant line. Moshe Shachal, as Minister of Energy, was responsible for the refineries. He was also a Haifa resident. The ENZA activists organized a rally in front of his home and called on Golumbic to bring along her American troops. Upon their arrival, the environmentalists were stunned to discover that

they were a minority. The oil refineries had bused in their workers to or-ganize a counterdemonstration. The workers had come to take on the Green zealots who, they believed, had come to close down their company.[50] It was not clear whether the disinformation was intentional or not. Golumbic convinced the workers that she and her fifty environmental demonstrators had not come to demolish their factory but to improve air quality for all of their children. They were so impressed with her that they lent her their megaphone and allowed her to address the crowd.[51]

Exhaustive discussions with experts and a review of scientific literature confirmed empirically what Golumbic had sensed intuitively for some time. Haifa's air was making her family sick. A 1989 survey of Haifa's schoolchildren by the Ministry of the Environment statistically confirmed significantly impaired lung function among people residing in areas of the city with relatively high levels of exposure.[52] Eventually sulfur dioxide levels were printed in the daily press, and health warnings were issued for people with respiratory problems, advising them to stay indoors. Golumbic claims that she always knew when a pollution episode hit the city anyway, because the school would call to have her take one or another of her girls home. During the Gulf War, when Haifa became a target for Saddam Hussein's Scuds, Golumbic's asthmatic children gasped under their gas masks. For her, motivation was never a problem.

The salient issue on the local activists' agenda soon became the location of a new power plant. Israel needed to augment its energy production, and the powerful Haifa branch of the electric company's union wanted the fa-cility expanded and the additional jobs. The environmentalists argued that Haifa already had the most polluted air in Israel, and that the power plant in Hadera, fifty kilometers south, offered a more logical location. Proponents, including Minister of Energy Moshe Shachal and Haifa Mayor Ariyeh Gurel, countered that a new Haifa station would somehow be different from the existing polluting plant.[53] This time they would de-mand scrubbers and other emissions control technologies.[54] The decision was formally in the hands of the National Planning Council, a conglomer-ation of diverse governmental and nongovernmental interests.

When ENZA activists began to squabble among themselves, Golumbic took the lead and forged a coalition with Shoshi Perry, who ran the SPNI's Haifa branch. They distributed bumper stickers whose slogan soon became ubiquitous throughout the city: “Air Pollution Is Destroying the City.” The year 1988 was an election year. Golumbic made sure to plant envi-ronmental activists at every political meeting where candidates appeared to lobby against the Haifa option. Radio talk shows were also targeted. It

seemed that every time the Minister of Energy came home to Haifa from Jerusalem he was greeted by a demonstration. Booklets about air quality were published and were distributed in the schools. Research by Haifa University economist Motti Shechter translated the costs of Haifa's air pollution into monetary terms of over twenty million dollars. His study provided another advocacy tool. And forty thousand people signed a peti-tion promoted by the environmental coalition.[55]

The environmental effort was not without opposition. Haifa Mayor Ariyeh Gurel was openly prodevelopment but feared that the pollution issue would hurt him politically. When Gurel canceled a permit at the last minute, Golumbic had to postpone an air quality demonstration complete with pop singer Arik Sinai. The headlines about the mysterious cancella-tion were much more damaging to the mayor than the rally would have been. In a classic move of co-optation, Gurel did an about-face and offered a seat on his ruling Labor Party's City Council list to an environmental representative. Technion medical professor Noam Gavrielli was happy to answer the call. An expert in respiratory physiology, Gavrielli had been a particularly valuable member of ENZA. The mayor was disappointed when the environmental coalition still chose not to work actively on his behalf. Although ENZA claimed that it was politically neutral, Golumbic admits that its hesitancy to join the political campaign also was driven by a classic activist fear: It might reveal the thinness of their actual numbers. Once elected to the City Council, the energetic Gavrielli was appointed chairman of the Haifa-area Environmental Protection Union; he served in this position for nine years, a significant environmental achievement in its own right.

But the most significant victory came when Hadera was selected over Haifa as the site for the expanded power plant. This would have been in-conceivable even a year earlier.[56] The Israel Electric Company did not seem to be overly upset by the turnaround. Along with the Haifa Oil Refineries, it protested the politicization of the environmental issue, claiming that this turned pollution from a technical question into a motherhood and apple pie issue. Acknowledging that their plants were not a “rose garden,” they asked rhetorically, “How much is the State willing to invest in clean air?”[57] With the millions of shekels in past profits and a functional monopoly, the question was a little disingenuous. Yet after the Haifa campaign, the an-swer was clearly, “A lot more than it was in the past.”

Golumbic continued her environmental activities for another three years. In this capacity she participated in a suit in local court against the oil refineries and in Supreme Court litigation that hastened tougher emissions

standards. But with time she began to lose steam. The time demands became prohibitive. At the same time, Haifa's air was also significantly cleaner; instances of sulfur dioxide rates that were above the ambient stan-dard became increasingly rare, and her family became healthier. It was time to move on. In retrospect she feels that the Haifa campaign made a national contribution. Certainly, air quality in Ashdod benefited as its oil refineries and electric plant ratcheted emissions down to the new standard set in Haifa.

The best indication of both Golumbic's and Benyamin's relative contri-bution is their organizational epilogues. No sooner did they bow out than both EcoNet and ENZA essentially closed up shop. The finite financial re-sources, attention spans, and energies of volunteer activists have always been an obstacle to environmental progress. Professionalization, salaries, and support staff can extend an activist's life cycle but often take the joy out of the cause. When a new environmental group sought advice from veteran environmental reporter Elli El Ad, he distilled his message down to one word: “Persist.” Golumbic and Benyamin did so long enough for Israel to benefit from their efforts.


Air quality provided the impetus for community activism in another city—and one that could not be further removed from Haifa in its socio-logical and ethnic makeup. Beit Shemesh was one of the many develop-ment towns that planners scattered around Israel during the 1950s to absorb new immigrants. A high percentage of immigrants from North Africa settled there, and it soon became associated with Sephardic socioe-conomic disadvantage. When the Nesher Company built a cement factory in the Har Tuv industrial park north of Beit Shemesh, it rescued the local economy. Instantly it became the town's largest employer—and polluter. During the 1950s, cement factories were nasty operations. But in those days, the Har Tuv plant sat far away from the closest cottages, and people were thankful for the work.[58]

As the city expanded northward, filling the open spaces along the hill-sides opposite the Nesher factory, the pollution problem worsened. The porches, cars, trees, and lawns of the northern neighborhoods were con-stantly covered with a thin white powder. When it became damp, the dust would harden. Such is the nature of cement. Clearing a car windshield in the morning literally became a grinding ritual. The particles also affected the lungs of the local residents. A 1994 government health survey confirmed

two decades of respiratory complaints. Schoolchildren in Beit Shemesh were three times more likely to suffer from chronic colds and coughing episodes than a comparable control group in nearby Givat Sharet.[59]

Elli Vanunu had come to Beit Shemesh from Morocco with his parents in 1963, at age three. As an adult, he commuted to work in a print shop in Tel Aviv but was committed to the Beit Shemesh community. Vanunu rep-resented his neighborhood in the town's urban renewal projects and did not hide his political ambitions as an activist in the Likud Party. When Vanunu bought a spacious new apartment for his family in 1988, it seemed as if his standard of living had taken a big step forward. But the apartment was deep in the town's northern dust belt. After speaking to his new neighbors and hearing repeated stories about sick, coughing children, his real estate investment did not seem quite as attractive.[60] He soon recog-nized that he had found an issue.

The Nesher factory had a long history of disputes with regulators. Many of the big factories in Israel underwent air quality regulation dur-ing the 1970s and 1980s, and yet the Beit Shemesh facility managed to elude a personal decree (under the Kanovich law) from the Ministers of Health and Interior.

Vanunu immediately demanded that the Ministry of the Environment call the factory to task for its massive releases of dust into the air. After long negotiations, Prime Minister (and environmental Minister stand-in) Yitzhak Shamir finally signed a personal decree on November 18, 1990.[61] But expectations for improvement were soon dashed. The Ministry of the Environment decided to show flexibility and agreed to accommodate the factory's request for “gradual controls.” This gave the factory several years' grace before it would be required to install an electrostatic precipi-tator in the central smokestack of the kiln. The Ministry had also done shoddy technical work: Several of the smokestacks that were the main source of dust in the complex did not appear on the map that accompanied the permit.

The factory interpreted the omission as a loophole and refused to nego-tiate over further controls, even though the unmapped sources may have been the major source of emissions. Under the permit, the factory was re-quired to measure particulate levels, but the management dragged its feet on continuous monitoring of the chimney and skipped several of the mandatory ambient measurements around the plant. When the incomplete data were submitted, they still showed a pattern of air quality violations.

Vanunu emerged as a formidable local political force. He had no trou-ble persuading the Beit Shemesh newspaper to adopt air quality as a lead

issue. He sought and received legal assistance from Adam Teva V'din and, through public-interest attorney Tirtseh Keinan, he began to bombard the Ministry, the factory, local environmental officials, and the Mayor with demands to enforce the environmental permit, in particular its monitoring requirements. Ministry personnel who may have been dismissive of the brash young activist began to take him seriously. So did his neighbors.

Vanunu's efforts struck a chord with the citizens. He was a natural organizer. He set up a march of citizens to the factory gates, demanding better emission controls. He videotaped pollution episodes. Many of the factory workers were hesitant to join the ranks of activists, but most were highly supportive, and several quietly provided invaluable intelligence.[62] When he called an emergency meeting at the neighbor-hood community center to vent frustrations over air pollution in the city, several hundred people showed up.[63] A nervous Mayor Shalom Fadida (from the Labor Party) appeared, an hour late, and made prom-ises to the angry crowd about his commitment to his city's health. Eventually Vanunu filed a private criminal suit against the plant and its manager. Although the resulting indictment did not produce results, because of an unsympathetic judge, it maintained the sense of momentum.

Publicly the factory was defiant, arguing that the dust that was choking Beit Shemesh residents actually came from nearby quarries. It tried to show its environmental commitment by planting trees inside the factory grounds. But the Nesher plant was feeling the pressure and made some ad-justments: Ambient air measurements around the plant became much more regular, and when the new electrostatic precipitator was finally in-stalled on the central chimney in 1993, the main source of emissions was virtually eliminated.[64] The factory still had “a long way to go” and peri-odically caused air quality violations that left Vanunu grumbling about the inadequate number of continuous monitors.

But at least he had a front-row seat from which to observe. The munic-ipal elections of 1994 had catapulted him into the City Council. “I simply reached the conclusion that if we won't sit in the places of power, where the real decisions are made, then we won't make any meaningful progress,” explained Vanunu. “The political campaign was purely environ-mental.”[65] Beit Shemesh's new Likud mayor was only too happy to grant him oversight authority over the same local environmental protection unit that had previously defined him as persona non grata. And although there was no love lost between Vanunu and the Nesher management, it began to cooperate.


Vanunu's triumph disproved assertions that the environment was an elitist issue. Few middle-class Ashkenazi neighborhoods ever put together as fierce and effective a campaign as had the Beit Shemesh activists. Vanunu scoffs at attempts to infer ethnic or environmental-justice dimen-sions from his efforts. (“Ashkenazic children get just as sick as Sephardic ones,” he joked.[66]) Rather, the Beit Shemesh experience is instructive re-garding the power of uncompromising activism and the potency of health impacts for politicizing air pollution campaigns. Areas adjacent to cement plants are never truly clean, and Vanunu's neighborhood is no exception. But after a decade of pressure by a politically astute and ambitious local, Beit Shemesh's air quality had improved.


Some of the more dramatic Green episodes around the world involve acci-dental heroes, whose environmental cause runs up against powerful and sometimes violent interests. Chico Mendes, the defender (and in 1988 the martyr) of the Brazilian rain forest rubber-tapper movement, may be the most famous such case.[67] As land shortages in Israel lead to windfall prof-its in real estate ventures, greed seems to have become an increasing fac-tor in turning environmental conflicts ugly. That such vicious intimidation tactics would surface in Eilat's seemingly remote bird sanctuary, of all places, suggests the pervasiveness of the phenomenon.

One of the most common misconceptions about nature is that birds mi-grate because they cannot endure the cold. In fact, their feathers are suffi-ciently warm to allow them to maintain their high body temperature and survive the winter. Rather, birds fly south to find food. When temperatures drop below ten degrees Celsius, insects are barely active, and the birds must seek them elsewhere. Hundreds of millions of insect-eating birds make their move from Europe to Africa, and predators such as hawks, ea-gles, and several dozen raptor species naturally follow their prey. Once they get to Africa though, the birds find it unwise to stay there beyond the winter. The competition for food is simply too keen to find the extra calo-ries needed for breeding. Their instincts guide them back to northern lat-itudes. Once defrosted, the land is again crawling with insects, offering the birds sumptuous dining.[68]

The round-trip flight, however, is perilous. Only about 40 percent of the half billion birds that attempt it each year survive the thirty-five-hundred-kilometer trek through the Syro-African Rift.[69] The Rift is the long, narrow valley connecting Lake Victoria with Anatolia and is the only land bridge

to fuse three continents. On the return trip in the spring, when the birds finally cross the Sahara Desert, they have only made it halfway to their summer home. Hovering on the verge of exhaustion, they are depleted of the energy they need to complete the trip to their northern breeding grounds. “Refueling” takes place in a few staging areas—isolated swamps in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the Nile Delta.

No pit stop is more popular, however, than the salt marshes north of the Red Sea.[70] Eons before a city named Eilat was a twinkling in Ben-Gurion's eye, twice a year, 283 species of migrating birds quite literally “dropped in.”[71] When bird expert Hadurum Shirihai made a list of the species that are dependent on this specific salt marsh as a staging area, he counted eighty.[72] But he did not include raptors, water fowl, or pelagics (seabirds), so the list may be twice that long.

Aerial photographs taken in 1948 show that the entire twelve-square-kilometer complex of marshes on the eastern edges of the Eilat municipal border was intact. Salt marshes usually connote knee-deep swamps, but the arid Eilat marshes looked more like an overgrown prairie. A sink for most of the surrounding rivulets and ravines when they overflow in win-ter, the land quickly dries. Yet the saline soils supported copious quantities of sea blite and to a lesser extent Nile tamarisk and insects to snack on.[73] In the town's early years the ecosystem was largely unaffected, despite Eilat's rapid growth, from five hundred residents in 1955 to thirteen thou-sand in 1972. It was about this time, however, that Europeans discovered the winter sunshine along the Red Sea, the ease of direct Scandinavia-Eilat charter flights, and the surrounding red-black magmatic mountains. Even though Eilat sits in one of the world's most active geological faults, the Israeli government subsidized a third of tourism-related construction costs for foreign investors. High-rise hotels became the rage. The dry prairie leading north from the city's coastal beach was carved up into an artificial lagoon, agricultural fields, commercial algae ponds, high-rise five-star re-sorts, and access roads. By the 1990s virtually nothing was left of the nat-ural marshlands.[74]

Eilat is renowned not only for its avian diversity but for its exotic human population as well. It is probably the only place in Israel where a man as unconventional as Shmulik Tagar could be a figure in local politics. An early settler who has lived in Eilat since the 1950s, Tagar has held a succession of jobs—from keeper of a now-defunct zoo (where he was once chased by a runaway lion) to deputy mayor. Lanky, with long, flowing white hair, a cigarette always lit, and dogmatic opinions about every imagina-ble subject, he fits right into the Eilat scene. And like many of the old-timers,

he loves the birds that come to visit twice a year. Despite the pressure from developers, he was influential enough to get an old municipal garbage dump designated as a Bird Park.

From 1955 until 1977 Eilat's trash was unceremoniously heaped in an ugly wasteland a few kilometers north of the city's beaches. It was the last corner of the salt marsh. Tagar saw that no one had yet grasped the real-estate value of the dump; it was still perceived as a nuisance. His plan was to cover the rubbish with 1.5 to 2 meters of the original salty, dry soil that was being bulldozed to prepare the next generation of hotel foundations. Then indigenous plant species could be planted and the marsh restored. Local politicians thought Tagar's idea a bit crazy but saw no reason to stand in his way. Although he harbored grand visions, Tagar was pragmatic enough to find the only Israeli scientist who might be able to pull off the rehabilitation.

Reuven Yosef (Figure 33) does not fit any typical Israeli stereotypes ei-ther. Raised in India, he moved to Israel as an adolescent. Although he was a newcomer, his powerful intellect, field skills, and determination helped him rise through the ranks in one of Israel's crack military units. He was unable to reconcile himself to Israel's Lebanon War, and in 1982 he ex-changed his officer's bars for a student card and returned to his studies. It did not take him long to complete degrees at Haifa and Ben-Gurion Universities and breeze through a doctorate at Ohio State and Cornell Universities in conservation biology. His research at the Archibald Biological Station in Florida was proceeding well when in 1993 he was called back to Israel to run the bird sanctuary project.[75]

Yosef brought considerable entrepreneurial skills to the initiative, and the garbage dump was completely reclaimed. It was only a six-hundred-dunam site, 5 percent of the original marsh, but it contained a huge seed bank in the ground that immediately started to attract ants. A few years after it opened, a Hungarian researcher estimated that its biomass was four times higher than that of the surrounding area. It made for a unique edu-cational resource.[76]

Yosef raised research funds as well as monies for the restoration work itself.[77] College students came from abroad to study with him, and to ring, tag, and monitor the birds. The local International Birding Center became a focal point for bird-watching tourists. And Yosef, the ornithologist, gen-erated a prodigious quantity of scholarly publications on subjects from flamingoes[78] and herons[79] to warblers[80] and hawks.[81] Most of the locals, however, were apathetic about the Bird Park and its efforts to restore an

indigenous ecosystem. Despite his exciting presentations, Yosef never fully succeeded in conveying the importance of preserving the key link with the natural heritage of the region, or in saving one of the last urban open spaces for residents' enjoyment. The project did not fit into Eilat's commercialized concept of recreation.

These political problems were weathered with relative ease. The more violent enemies were more trying. As the last swatches of available land around the Red Sea shoreline were converted into hotels, developers set their eyes on the Bird Park, which still did not enjoy formal statutory protection. A campaign of intimidation against Yosef and his family began. It was clear that without his passion, the bird park initiative would fall apart. In 1996 Yosef began to receive threatening telephone calls. Soon thereafter, the Bird Center's jeep was vandalized. His wife's car was smeared with eggs. Then seedlings in the sanctuary were uprooted.[82] The Yosef family dog was hanged outside their home. Finally, in the spring of 1998, things got even nastier: A fire was started in the reserve, destroying much of the infrastructure and all the research equipment Yosef had accumulated.[83] The Eilat police tried to attribute the acts to juvenile delinquency and vandalism, but the persistence of the campaign cast a much more insidious shadow. Yosef was convinced that a few local developers, who had sent hooligans to do their bidding, were behind the acts.[84]

Many times during the ordeal he was tempted to take lucrative aca-demic jobs abroad, but Yosef stayed on. It was not in Reuven Yosef's nature to retreat. He got an unlisted phone number, and raised a 3.5-meter barbed-wire fence around his center. But there was not much else he could do, except hold on. Yosef saw his own efforts in the context of the central ecological question confronting the country: “We're pouring millions of shekels into a captive-breeding program for birds like the lappet-faced vulture. But why waste money on the program if we can never release them in the wild because we don't protect their habitat?”[85]

At the start of the twenty-first century, Eilat was a bustling resort town of forty thousand people. It had ten thousand hotel rooms and at least as many more planned. The city is host to European guests throughout the winter and Israeli tourists in the spring and summer. Whether or not it can also find room to host the seasonal avian visitors remains unclear. But the birds would have no chance at all were it not for a small salt marsh that survives thanks to human inspiration and courage.



Most of the above stories share a common element: With the exception of the International Bird Center, all of the initiatives mentioned in this chap-ter utilized the legal or scientific services of Adam Teva V'din—the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.[86] The Association for Civil Rights in Israel had remarkable success in expanding the protection of human rights in Israel through its masterful utilization of the courts. Adam Teva V'din was established by the author in 1991 as a public-interest law (and later science) organization to emulate this success in the environmental realm. Starting with the EcoNet seed money and donations from Toronto-based philanthropists Linda and David Bronfman, office space was found near the old port on Tel Aviv's Ha-Yarkon Street.

Although the fuse box at the organization's office smoldered too much to run air conditioners in summer and the roof leaked in winter, there were two phone lines. They were enough to allow the group to set about its business of hounding polluters. Adam Teva V'din began by initiating a lawsuit against the city of Eilat, whose illegal sewage discharges upset the delicate nutrient balance in the Red Sea.[87] Dozens of legal actions would soon follow. Ruth Yaffe, the first attorney hired by the organization, de-scribes the initial challenges:

When I joined the staff I immediately noticed that environmental laws in Israel were somewhat anachronistic and sparse. When you contrasted the environmental legislation to the volumes of environmental laws in Europe or the United States, it was clear that legal tools existed but not at all clear how to use them. We wanted to be pioneers and were ready to be creative, but ultimately decided to be pragmatic, going down a better-tread path of focusing on specific problems rather than policy questions.[88]

The organization benefited from several advantages that Malraz had not enjoyed thirty years earlier. There was now a Ministry of the Environment, and it knew how to funnel useful information discreetly to nongovernmen-tal watchdogs, to help them bark up the right tree. The press had become interested in environmental cases, providing additional pressure points. Money was the ultimate cause of Malraz's demise. But during the 1990s, the international Jewish community was beginning to take an interest in Israel's environment, and generous funding became available. Foundations such as the Goldman Fund, the Moriah Fund, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the CRB Foundation, the Conanima Foundation, the Bracha Fund, and the

Porter Fund provided critical and sustained support for Israeli NGOs. Still, the primary advantage of the 1990s was legal.

Israel's activist Supreme Court had lowered its barriers to public-interest petitioners, allowing for almost unfettered access to the Court's administrative powers of oversight. More important was a series of envi-ronmental laws and amendments that opened the lower courts' gates to environmental litigants. In 1991, Meretz party Knesset member Dedi Zucker sponsored a Citizens' Suit bill that had been drafted by Jerusalem lawyers Reuven Laster and Bruce Terris. To the astonishment and delight of environmentalists, a year later, just prior to the Knesset's adjournment, he slipped the law by the Knesset's Constitution and Law Committee. The statute was carved up in the process and fell far short of the original vision that would have rewarded lawyers handsomely for winning pollution cases, but still it created a broad range of civil actions against polluters for offenses that now included hazardous materials, solid wastes, and radia-tion.[89] Four years later, Zucker's colleague, Benny Temkin, amended the statute and the Water Law,[90] removing a number of annoying procedural barriers.[91] Finally, in 1997, sweeping legislation absolved selected public-interest groups of the vexatious requirement to prove actual damages to their members before filing most environmental suits.[92]

Adam Teva V'din also benefited from the proliferation of grassroots or-ganizations that lacked technical expertise. It was a natural match: a na-tional organization that needed local constituents and local environmental groups that needed professional assistance. Within two years of its incep-tion, over twenty organizations signed power-of-attorney agreements with the Adam Teva V'din legal staff.[93] They often needed reassurance as much as they needed representation. For example, in the ultraorthodox neighborhood of B'nei Brak, a local group suffered from an array of dread-ful hazards and eventually went door to door to raise funds to pay for the air quality monitoring required for the suit Yaffe eventually filed.[94]

Adam Teva V'din's independent status, combined with its tendency to open dialogues with polluters by making implicit or explicit legal threats, enabled small citizen groups to engage powerful interests. Sewage is just one example of a seemingly intractable ecological quagmire where public-interest advocacy has helped. The City of Ramla's sewage had long been a problem, flowing untreated into the Ayalon Stream. From there it contin-ued to the Yarkon River. In a meeting with the public-interest attorneys, the mayor of Ramla actually invited legal action that might force the cen-tral government to provide some of the financial support for which he had long been asking.[95]


A Supreme Court petition by Adam Teva V'din against the city called for imposing a construction schedule for building the plant. The Ministry of the Interior found special funds for the project. Eight other cities were soon confronted, with most of the cases ending in legal actions that pushed cities such as Ra'ananah and Zefat toward a treatment solution.[96]

Once word got out about the availability of free legal assistance for en-vironmental problems, the telephone rang continually. Irit Sappir, who originally was hired to be an office manager, spent most of her time giv-ing environmental first aid for people's problems and eventually went back to school for a graduate degree in environmental studies. Tel Aviv University Law School offered a seminar in environmental legal aid, in which students worked as interns at Adam Teva V'din, helping citizens with their problems.

As was the case for any enforcement agency, Adam Teva V'din's first hurdle was obtaining evidence, in the form of quantitative measurements; such evidence was very expensive to collect. Even if government agencies had been willing to share information freely (the Ministry of the Environment generally was open, the Ministry of Health generally was not), they frequently lacked critical data because of their limited monitor-ing capacity. So money was raised to open a small “citizens' laboratory.” Mouna Noufi had no sooner submitted her Ph.D. dissertation in analytical chemistry at the Technion than she was hired as chief scientist and began to acquire the equipment for measuring pollution levels. The U.S. EPA hosted Noufi on a summer training visit, after which she began to test the effluents released by factories, using a variety of methods. The results of her scientific reports provided the basis for press releases and, in several cases, evidence in litigation.

The most important of these was Adam Teva V'din's private criminal suit against a pair of Haifa petrochemical plants, Deshanim Ltd. and the megapolluting Haifa Chemicals, which were dumping highly acidic efflu-ents into the Kishon River. Danny Fisch left a Haifa law firm to join Adam Teva V'din's legal team in 1994, bringing with him a pragmatic but un-yielding legal style. The Kishon cases were among his first in a long string of successful suits. Under the Water Law, the evidence showing flagrant vi-olations of the Water Commissioner's standards was not by itself enough to file suit. Fisch found a group of Haifa fishermen whose boats had been damaged by the acidic water; this met the standing requirements for filing suits that existed prior to the Water Law amendments.

The legal battle that ensued was stormy, as Fisch faced a team of Israel's most high-powered attorneys (including the legendary Amnon Goldenburg

and his large Tel Aviv law firm, along with Haifa-based Solomon Lipshitz). For two years they launched a steady barrage of procedural missiles at the suit (as well as ongoing attempts to influence the Attorney General to cancel the case).[97] Time and again, Haifa Magistrate Judge Yitzhak Dar ruled in favor of Adam Teva V'din, and testimony finally began to unfold. The evidence was compelling, and Haifa Chemicals relented. The company agreed to sign a consent agreement that the judge formally approved. Its central component was a timetable to build a seventeen-million-dollar, state-of-the-art effluent treatment facility. In addition, for the first time in Israeli legal history, a polluter created a $250,000 environmental protec-tion fund as part of a legal settlement, covered the full costs of the damage to fishermen's boats, and paid full legal expenses.[98]

As open-space preservation took center stage in the environmental agenda of the 1990s, the organization turned its attention to planning is-sues. The stakes were usually much higher in these cases than in previous ones, forcing the organization to test the boundaries of environmental precedent. This culminated in a petition to enjoin construction of the Trans-Israel Highway until a comprehensive environmental impact state-ment was prepared.

To support its case, the organization tapped a dozen international and Israeli experts for help. Their affidavits argued that the impact statements submitted for different segments of the highway did not capture the cu-mulative or indirect effect of an eight-lane freeway. The experts' opinions confirmed that the highway would gobble up open spaces and exacerbate air pollution and traffic fatalities.[99] The case dragged on for almost two years until Justice Misha Cheshin rejected the petition, offering a narrow inter-pretation of Israel's 1982 Environmental Impact Statement regulations.[100] Paradoxically, as a private attorney, just five years earlier Cheshin had rep-resented local residents who demanded a better impact statement for the Voice of America transmitter. His decision to opt for judicial conservatism, rather than a creative interpretation of the regulation's language that sup-ported environmental interests, was particularly disappointing. But there would be other cases where environmental interests would win.


Adam Teva V'din fared far better when it challenged the rash of construc-tion projects that began to threaten Israel's shoreline in the mid-1990s. The country's Mediterranean coast stretches for 190 kilometers, and the adja-cent plains embrace more than 70 percent of the country's population and

contain the bulk of the country's economic infrastructure. When one subtracts the military installations and the lands neutralized by indus-trial installations (four power stations, two oil refineries, two ports, and so forth), only about half of the beaches are left for the Israeli public. This comes to less than two centimeters of shoreline per person. In 1970, the National Planning Council decided to draft a special master plan to manage coastal-zone development. Eleven years later, National Master Plan Number 13 was finally proposed and was approved by the government in 1983.[101]

At first glance the Master Plan, with its highly protective tone, was a triumph for conservation. Development intensity levels were assigned to beaches on the basis of visitor capacity. The plan designated 98 kilometers for beaches; 47 kilometers for beach reserves; 30 kilometers for national parks, reserves, and public open spaces; and 15 kilometers for infrastruc-ture.[102] It required that developers prepare an impact statement prior to building, and it banned any sort of residential housing along the coast. The plan was more lenient with hotel construction, presumably because tourism was an economic value of sufficient importance to override con-servation interests. Significantly, it imposed a one-hundred-meter setback of structures from most of the Mediterranean waterline, preventing con-struction from encroaching on Israel's beaches. This level of protection set Israel apart as a regional leader, ahead of Cyprus's sixty-meter setback line or Turkey's ten-to-thirty-meter proscription.[103]

But the plan had several Achilles' heels. These included fourteen mari-nas that were to monopolize huge chunks of city shorelines. Not only did marinas obstruct public access to the seashore, but they also decimated the contiguous beaches to the north. The sand on Israel's shores comes from sediment that originates in the Nile Delta. Deposition had already been re-duced 90 percent by construction of the Aswan High Dam.[104] The wave breakers that enclose marinas serve as a physical barrier, trapping the sand and preventing replenishment of the beach. The massive erosion that re-sulted was particularly unfortunate, because there was no real demand for anything approaching the yacht capacity that fourteen marinas provided. Yet marinas offered a boom for the local tax base, since developers offered to pay the cities' costs of construction on the water in return for permis-sion to build on the land behind it. When the one-hundred-meter barrier was broken, it was open season on the most lucrative real estate in the country.[105] Once environmental Minister Yossi Sarid learned of the impact of the marinas, he tried to stem the tide, but mayors ignored his call to freeze marina development.[106]


Government impotence sparked a sequence of successful litigation by Adam Teva V'din attorneys. Some lawsuits were conducted in conjunction with local groups (such as the lively Residents for the Seashore—Nahariah) and some independently. Danny Fisch, a former naval officer, was particularly committed to coastal preservation. When an SPNI activist in Ashdod asked him in 1995 to help confront the marina there, he did not hesitate, even though it was already under construction. The Southern District Court in Beer Sheva quickly held hearings on the injunction re-quest. Negotiations ended in compromise, with the city agreeing to spon-sor an independent report on coastal erosion and to repair any coastal damage caused by the project.[107]

At the same time, the City of Tel Aviv proposed its second municipal marina, to be located at the outlet of the Yarkon River. As no plan had yet been formally submitted for public scrutiny, it provided an opportunity for setting a more meaningful precedent. Gila Stopler had been a lawyer for less than a year when she appeared on behalf of Adam Teva V'din, before Sara Serota, a seasoned judge in the Tel Aviv District Court. She asked Serota to enjoin the Regional Planning Committee from submitting the marina plan for public consideration until an environmental impact state-ment could be prepared.[108] Initially the Adam Teva V'din team was sur-prised by the judge's unfriendly reception: “Bubeleh,” Justice Serota condescended to the youthful-looking Stopler, “Why don't you save your-selves the court costs? It's a fairly unusual remedy you're asking for. Your case is premature; first let them submit the plan, and then file an objection if you like.”

Stopler did not back down, insisting that the public did not have the necessary information to file objections and that it could find such mate-rial only in the contents of an impact statement. The environmental Ministry's Regional Director, Dalia Be'eri, happened to be in attendance. She asked to speak to the court (a request that was completely out of order) and proceeded to criticize the government attorneys' position. When Be'eri described the damage caused by Herzliyah's marina, Justice Serota changed her mind. In the decision against the city and the develop-ers, she wrote: “It is incumbent on us to leave something for our children. The tendency to derive financial benefit from public lands ought to be sec-ondary to the benefits public lands bring the public.”[109]

The next Adam Teva V'din coastal achievement was a decision by District Court Judge Gabrielle Kling, canceling the development plan behind the Herzliyah marina.[110] Soon thereafter, legal action derailed a marina (again replete with luxury housing units) that was planned

in Haifa.[111] The marina would have changed the face of the scenic coastal landscape there, with bombastic high-rise compounds on sea-side landfills, breaking the gentle slope of the green Carmel hillsides into Haifa Bay.[112]

The enormous profits for coastal developers guaranteed that sooner or later the legal battles would turn ugly. So it was when Adam Teva V'din turned its attention to the Carmel Towers. A high-rise complex had been approved for Haifa's western coastline in 1978, prior to the passage of the Coastal Master Plan with its protective policies. The six towers were to hold 1200 luxury resort apartments and 800 hotel rooms as well as con-ference centers. It was not until 1993, however, that construction on the first tower began.[113] When Adam Teva V'din attorney Elli Ben-Ari went to check the plans, he was astonished to find enormous discrepancies between the blueprint and the city's building permit. The approved structure was supposed to be nine stories high and fifty-six meters wide. Instead, the de-velopers were building eighteen stories that covered one hundred and thirty-four meters of beachfront.[114]

Ben-Ari, a Haifa native, was appalled when he saw that, if the con-struction continued, a virtual wall of high-rise towers would block off a full kilometer of beach—a seventh of his hometown's coastline. The only beneficiaries would be the luxury apartment owners and the developers. The Adam Teva V'din Board of Directors was convinced that the organiza-tion could not stand idly by, despite the low likelihood of success in court.

When the matter came before the Haifa District Court in April 1996, Judge Dan Bayne agreed to grant a temporary injunction, implying that the building approval was not as “kosher” as the developers insisted. But Adam Teva V'din could not afford the bond that he imposed as a condition for receiving the injunction. The organization was also wary of a precedent that would impose huge financial risks on future public-interest litigants. For most of the next year, the judge's decision alone proved enough to chill the construction on the second tower. In the meantime the developers counterattacked.

The hotel project was sponsored by a group of investors that included Itzhak Tshuva, one of Israel's most prosperous contractors. They claimed that the stalled construction was costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars per week. The Carmel Towers attorney (and partial owner), Itzhak Segev, dashed off letters to Adam Teva V'din's managers and board, in-forming them of their personal liability for losses caused by delays. The personal threats were elevated on March 3, 1997, by a more formal round of letters threatening that suits were imminent.[115]


The harassment did not stop there. Prior to the organization's general meeting in 1997, last-minute applications for membership were faxed from Tshuva's Tashluz construction headquarters. Several more arrived suspiciously at the Adam Teva V'din office via courier. Newspaper reports later confirmed that at least one of the applicants had been asked to join the organization by “senior Tashluz management.”[116] Although the mem-bership forms were rejected, it was impossible to seal a democratic organ-ization hermetically. At the general meeting itself, Dan Marom, a hitherto anonymous member, created an uproar when he sent his attorney to rep-resent him. Marom owned an apartment in the first Carmel Tower, and his lawyer warned the membership that they could each be financially imper-iled if the organization continued with the suit.[117] Those in attendance unanimously voted to discontinue Marom's membership, but he promptly filed suit against the organization, calling his dismissal illegal.

Meanwhile, in the cramped Haifa courtroom, the developers were particularly bellicose. They drafted over fifty apartment owners to be co-defendants, imposing the considerable logistical headache associated with serving papers. (Environmentalists closed ranks, and the Society for the Protection of Nature offered its machines for the copious quantities of photocopying needed.) Although technically the suit was filed against the government (specifically, planning agencies and the city of Haifa), govern-ment attorneys were conspicuously uninterested throughout the trial and frequently did not bother to attend court sessions. This left the phalanx of lawyers for the apartment owners an open field to drive the defense strategy. They chose to go on the offensive, putting Adam Teva V'din's legitimacy and its management's good faith on trial.

In an attempt to establish the groundwork for the personal threats against the organization's leaders, their attorneys hammered away at the legality of the decision by the Adam Teva V'din board to file suit. Complaints were filed with the National Registrar of Nonprofit Organizations, calling for disqualification of past decisions by the general meeting on technical grounds. The organization was painted as corrupt and disorganized; the press was told that the suit was filed only to bolster the property value of the Adam Teva V'din Chairman's parents, whose view would be obstructed (although at the time they actually owned no real es-tate in Haifa at all).[118] Despite the constant objections of Adam Teva V'din attorney Elli Ben-Ari, the judge allowed cross-examination to continue for weeks.

Danny Fisch was appointed Adam Teva V'din Director in 1996, and found-ing director Alon Tal became the volunteer chairman. Fisch fielded each of the

attacks with steely composure. Dan Marom, the disgruntled member, had the bad luck to find his case ruled on by the same Justice Serota who had blocked the Tel Aviv marina. She quickly sent him packing. The organization filed a complaint with the Israel Bar Association against Carmel Towers attorneys for harassing witnesses in the middle of their testimony with the threat of a lawsuit. The threatening letters suddenly stopped. The nonprofit registry was ultimately appeased by the group's explanations. The organization even passed a mysterious audit by tax authorities The harassment may have tem-porarily put Adam Teva V'din on the defensive, but it did not stop the or-ganization from filing other legal actions against coastal projects.

When the Haifa court finally ruled on the Carmel Towers suit, both sides claimed victory.[119] Justice Bayne did not agree to tear down the two buildings already up, yet he ruled that contracts to sell them as apartments were illegal and that the one-hundred-meter line to the sea had ostensibly been breached. An appeal will decide who ultimately won, but the case had the immediate ef-fect of changing the second building into a far less imposing, skinnier tower, and it also put the financial future of the project's four remaining towers in doubt. The cumulative impact of the marina litigation temporarily chilled some of the excitement for additional coastal development. But it was a piece-meal conservation strategy. Adam Teva V'din recognized that the country needed comprehensive legislation to tighten coastal management. The orga-nization's attorneys wrote a strict law and began lobbying to pass it.

The hundred-odd court cases and countless more environmental mat-ters that Adam Teva V'din lawyers advanced during the 1990s proved that Israel's legal system was a good equalizer. The unlevel playing field created by inadequate information, a weak Environmental Ministry, and prode-velopment policies could be tipped back in the environment's favor, espe-cially if a case fell to a sympathetic judge. Developers and polluters began to pay more attention to legal requirements, and the public was on occa-sion roused from a fatalistic resignation that victory by economic interests was ineluctable. But not every environmental problem had a legal solu-tion, and there were far more cases than there were public-interest lawyers. The judicial system could provide only part of the solution. Political empowerment would also be needed.


Throughout the Knesset's history there have been legislators who cared about environmental issues. The honor roll began with Shimon Kanovich, Yizhar Smilansky, and Josef Tamir and includes Yedidyah Be'eri, Yael

Dayan, Uzi Landau, Boaz Moav, Yehudith Naot, Mossi Raz, Benny Temkin, Rachel Zabari, Dedi Zucker, and most recently an environmental economist from the Russian Yisrael b'Aliyah party, Michael Nudleman. Well aware of the impact of the Green Party in Germany and other coun-tries, environmentalists have for twenty years wondered whether the time was ripe in Israel for a comparable effort. The answer invariably was “No.”

The reasons were more practical than ideological. A Green Party could not muster the 1.5 percent threshold of the popular vote required to capture a seat in the Knesset. Other issues, in particular the question of security and territorial concession (and, more recently, ethnic patronage), dominated the Israeli voter's consciousness. Yedidyah Be'eri toyed with the idea of trying to return to the Knesset as part of a Green Party but ultimately rejected it. Israeli voters cared about the environment but not enough to cast their vote for a political party that made it the only issue.

Furthermore, despite the conventional wisdom that ecology is apoliti-cal, it turns out that not all Israeli voters feel the same about the environ-ment. Political scientist Avner De-Shalit found a remarkable correlation between Israelis' political opinions regarding the peace process and their sensitivity to environmental issues. Voters for leftist “pro-peace” parties showed the highest interest in environmental issues; levels of commit-ment dropped with voters on the right side of the political spectrum. De-Shalit also found that 68 percent of all activists and workers at the Society for the Protection of Nature voted for the Meretz or Labor Parties, which are identified as the “pro-peace” camp. Some 90 percent of the survey re-spondents who expressed biocentric views were leftist Meretz voters.[120] This led him to the conclusion that Israel already had a Green party: Meretz.

Beyond electability, the idea of a Green party gets sticky when one con-siders the range of issues that divide Israeli society at present. Anybody who even considered establishing a Green party naturally had tried to en-list the help of SPNI founder and media personality Azariah Alon. But he always demured: “I always ask: ‘What's a party?’ Josef Tamir and I can agree about the environment, but what about civil marriages or the West Bank? How could we be on the same side? In Israel, one or two people can actually decide who is running the government, and you'd have no idea of whom you were working with.”[121]

This pessimism changed overnight in the municipal elections of 1998. Shmuel Gilbert, a Haifa architect, headed an unaffiliated list, “Our Haifa,” for the city government. The campaign focused on the develop-ment excesses of Mayor Amram Mitzna but was going nowhere until

Gilbert decided to add the subtitle “the Greens” to the party name. He was delighted when he was rewarded with five seats in the local city council.[122] Pe'er Weisner registered a national “Green Party,” which then took two seats in the Tel Aviv city council elections. Other Green-affiliated parties won seats in Yehud, Mivaseret Zion, and Ashdod.[123] Once in the city councils, the new cadre of Green politicians became a lightning rod for en-vironmental concerns, with varying degrees of radicalism. The Tel Aviv Greens offered a take-no-prisoners antiestablishment approach that at-tacked Tel Aviv's air pollution problem and the proliferation of cellular phone antennas. Haifa's thoughtful and charming Gilbert preferred a pro-fessional and uncompromising focus on sustainable urban planning.

The political success in the local elections did not escape the attention of Nehama Ronen, the ambitious Director General of the Ministry of the Environment. In January 1999 she resigned her post to form the Voice of the Environment Party and run for Knesset. The press confer-ence announcing the move was broadcast nationally, and Ronen's candi-dacy enjoyed considerable media coverage.[124] Recognizing her electoral potential, Israel's Center Party offered her seventh place on their candi-date slate (a “guaranteed” Knesset spot), and she brought her platform and ecological concerns to what was then Israel's third-largest political party.

The Tel Aviv Greens, who had attacked Ronen unceasingly during the campaign, continued with their own national efforts. The party ultimately attracted MK Dedi Zucker to sit at its helm, after he was shunned in the Meretz Party primaries, as well as Tel Aviv night club and trance music im-presario Hagay Ayad.[125] Ultimately Israel's Green Party ran an unfocused and poorly funded campaign, receiving a pitiful thirteen thousand votes. When the Center Party chairman, Yitzhak Mordechai, resigned in disgrace after a conviction for sexual harassment, Ronen took her seat in Israel's parliament and soon formed a lobby of 22 Knesset members with a pro-fessed environmental commitment. These were only pilot ventures, but they left little doubt that Green politics in Israel had entered a new era.


After fifty years of independence, Israeli environmentalists needed to take stock. As is the case with any healthy ecosystem, the diversity in the shades of Green gives the environmental movement strength and stabil-ity, despite the headaches of coordinating overlapping efforts. The many serious and creative environmental institutions that have taken root and

blossomed in this small country alongside the dominant SPNI suggest that the ground is fertile for ecological commitment. Yet after looking beyond their own immediate microsuccesses, honest environmentalists in Israel must admit that it has not been enough. Financial constraints and unfavorable geopolitical circumstances join a host of other excuses to ex-plain why. But Israel's environment deserves results, not excuses.

Environmental history will not be changed by merely toughening emissions standards or defeating yet another destructive development plan. The symptoms of environmental degradation have their origins in broader societal phenomena. Not only governmental but also environ-mental nongovernmental organizations now recognize that environmen-tal problems have been framed too narrowly. If clean air and water are to be attained and the Israeli landscape to be preserved, environmentalists today must make the difficult foray into the hitherto untraveled worlds of transportation, consumerism, architecture, and family planning. These is-sues have long been on the menu of environmental groups around the world. Altering strategies may in fact prove easier than adjusting tactics; indeed, changes in orientation have already begun.

Because of its direct link to air quality, transportation was the first new discipline that environmentalists began to study. Since systematic moni-toring began, air pollution emissions in Israel have doubled every ten years. During the same period, the number of vehicles on the roads did too. Despite 100 percent import taxes on vehicles, growing societal affluence propelled car ownership rates from 6 cars per thousand people in 1950 to 198 in 1995.[126] The average daily distance traveled by the vehicles of an in-creasingly suburbanized population also grew, from 43.6 kilometers in 1980 to 47.1 kilometers in 1994.[127]

Despite the optimism at the Ministry of the Environment over catalytic converters, they have never been a panacea. It did not take long for many of the converters to stop functioning after they were tainted by the low-grade fuel sold in Israel, and, with import taxes of 84 percent of the catalog price, replacements were expensive.[128] By 1998, a third of Israeli cars reportedly failed to meet the new emissions standards, and noncompliance among older vehicles was especially rampant.[129] Although a tougher inspection and main-tenance program could have led to their replacement, the Ministry of Transportation clung to relatively lenient European standards and was not inclined to beef up its oversight of emissions testing or roadside inspetions.[130]

Without the clear legal authority to do something about the problem, the Ministry of the Environment could only offer scientific explanations for the steady increase in the concentrations of oxides of nitrogen in the

air, which kept breaking records and choking Israel's cities.[131] There was no reason to believe that a 1993 prediction made by Israel's leading air qual-ity modeler, Menahem Luria, would not come true. Luria projected that by the year 2010, smog levels in Jerusalem would be comparable to those in Mexico City, a frightening place where children's health is endangered merely by playing outside in summer.[132]

As congestion became unbearable and rush hour turned into a pro-longed ordeal, public transportation was more a reflection of government neglect than a government service. By the end of the 1990s, the country had over fourteen thousand kilometers of roads, but only 596 kilometers of railway tracks. The number of seats available on buses per inhabitant had not increased since 1970.[133] With only a minimal network of desig-nated bus lanes, passengers were penalized twice. After walking to their bus stop and waiting, they faced the same delays as all other drivers. Consumer response was swift. Between 1989 and 1994, public transport ridership decreased 13 percent in Tel Aviv.[134]

Environmentalists also came to recognize that open-space preservation was linked to a sustainable transportation policy. By 1997, 5 percent of the country's land was covered in roads.[135] If the number of vehicles contin-ued to rise, even more land would be sacrificed on the altar of mobility. New low-density bedroom communities were built around a two-car-family reality and the resignation that public transport would not be able to serve them. At the same, the inadequacy of the transportation infra-structure posed one of the primary barriers to stepping up density in cities like Tel Aviv. The underground parking garages proposed for the new generation of skyscrapers only exacerbated congestion. Without a subway or a monorail that enabled people to move quickly and easily across Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, it was unrealistic to think about doubling urban population. In the meantime, development continued to spill into the countryside.

The expansion of the environmental agenda enabled groups to form new coalitions with partners that in the past had been overlooked. There are many examples. Transportation, for example, opened the door to pow-erful allies, such as the accident prevention community, the elderly, the disabled community, and even youth movements. Connections with ultra-orthodox advocates for preserving the sanctity of ancient Jewish graves had a tentative beginning in the Trans-Israel Highway campaign. (The Israeli Arab community, whose lands were to be appropriated by the road, proved to be far better environmental allies.[136]) At the same time, in 1992 a group from farm communities, dedicated to preserving the lifestyle that

the highway threatened to disrupt, registered as a nonprofit organiza-tion.[137] Indeed, by the end of the 1990s, the Forum for Public Transportation, a broad but highly effective coalition, brought together these disparate interests. A new organization, “Transportation—Today and Tomorrow,” provided public-interest expertise.

These new constituencies brought with them a tactical component lack-ing in previous environmental endeavors. It fell under the broad heading of “outreach.” Because of NGO reliance on volunteer experts, chronic in-sulation undermined effective advocacy. Ever since the SPNI rode the success of Azariah Alon's radio broadcasts in the 1950s and 1960s, its following became increasingly predictable, and it failed to embrace new communities. For instance, in a survey conducted during the 2000 holiday season, only 3 percent of visitors in JNF forests were immigrants from North Africa, and only 3 percent identified themselves as ultra-orthodox—rates far below the actual census levels.[138] The inability to field their own transportation experts willing and able to back up the environ-mental agenda in public forums left enviros looking like amateurs.

If fundamental aspects of Israeli lifestyles are to be influenced, tradi-tional communications methods need to be reexamined. Television, the most powerful media tool, rarely gave the environment the sympathetic coverage offered so freely by newspapers and radio. Environmentalists needed to find out why no commercial films made the environment a theme, or why the evening news reported only the most outrageous eco-gimmick or disaster, neglecting the more arcane chronic problems. After dogged lobbying, in 2000, Life and Environment secured a place for an en-vironmental representative on the Board of the Israel Broadcast Authority. Public-interest scientist Dr. Noam Gressel embraced the challenge and began to push for better environmental coverage on both radio and televi-sion. The growing cable network generated modest, local ecological pro-grams on the popular National Geographic and other channels. The time had come to learn from other countries about making the broader envi-ronmental agenda a salient election topic and how to induce political par-ties to engage in a competitive, Green one-upmanship.

Other potential partners certainly existed who may have been willing to join hands in environmental matters. For example, Greens in Israel never connected with the powerful labor movement in the country—allowing themselves to become trapped by the false dilemma of “jobs versus ecology.” With the exception of the work of attorney Richard Laster and physician Ellihu Richter against particularly egregious exposures to workers in a nickel-cadmium battery plant, an asbestos factory, and the Dimona nuclear

facility, there were practically no crossovers into the occupational realm. Yet workers often serve as an early warning—the proverbial canary in the mine—that can uncover a polluting factory.

Once Israel began the reconciliation process with its neighbors, there was no shortage of environmental outreach efforts over the borders. It may have been the euphoria sparked by the glimpse of a peace that had been elusive for so long. It may also have been a shot of opportunism and the expectation of funding for joint Arab-Israeli cooperative ventures. In either case, after the peace process heated up, Israeli nongovernmental en-vironmentalists were among the first to seek out their Arab colleagues. They began umbrella groups such as EcoPeace or the Palestine Israel Environmental Secretariat.[139] Joint educational programs were started, such as the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which brought Arab and Israeli university students together in an intensive interdiscipli-nary environmental leadership program.[140] Within four years, dozens of the institute's graduates had assumed key environmental positions or launched public-interest start-up initiatives in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.[141] And there was a handful of remarkable projects, including Yossi Leshem's bird migration center, whose satellite hookup al-lowed schoolchildren to track bird migrations through computer systems in their respective countries.[142]

Environmentalists in the Middle East's “peace region” quickly became acquainted with one other. In many areas, however, a healthy dose of real-ism soon tempered expectations. In some areas, such as water quality pro-tection and nature preservation, cooperation could be vital. In others it seemed a waste of time. The Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian economies were completely different from that of Israel, producing a very different set of environmental challenges. Transportation was not yet deemed an eco-logical priority for Arabs. Drinking-water quality did not top the list in Israel. The bottom-line natural-resource balance sheet was unclear: Israel's dwindling sand reserves stood to benefit from imports from its neighbors; water scarcity would grow worse as negotiations provided more equitable allocations; wildlife might benefit from binational reserves.

Contacts also suffered from a conspicuous lack of reciprocity. Environmental organizations, in particular in Jordan, were hesitant to em-bark on high-profile collaborative ventures. Palestinian enthusiasm ini-tially was greater but vanished when the escalated violence of the Intifada came to dominate Palestinian-Israeli relations after the autumn of 2000. Here, Israeli environmentalists had little choice but to heed their new friends' suggestion for greater patience.



Eilon Schwartz, an environmental education expert from Hebrew University, served as the first Chairman at Adam Teva V'din. In addition to his views about the appropriate tactical approach for any given case, he often raised deeper “strategic” questions. Victories would not be sustain-able if the general public that the organization purported to represent did not share the organization's underlying environmental values. During the debate over the Trans-Israel Highway he reminded advocates that even if public transportation or bike lanes were dramatically improved through litigation or lobbying, most Israelis would still prefer their cars.

This need to address the intellectual origins of Israel's environmental problems drove Schwartz to join Jewish studies scholar Jeremy Benstein to establish the Abraham Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in 1994. The Center is named after the great Conservative rabbi who taught so profoundly about traditional Judaism's “radical amazement” toward the natural world. The overarching goal behind the Center's curricula, teacher seminars, and leadership training programs is to confront the environmental crisis as a crisis of values. The Center's mis-sion statement read: “Only a renewed appreciation for the wonder of the world in which we live and a renewed commitment to basic human responsibility for that world can lead to long-lasting environmental pro-tection.” Schwartz taught a perspective that was both universal and con-sciously Jewish.[143] The message appealed to a variety of governmental and nongovernmental bodies, including the SPNI and the Ministry of the Environment, which frequently used the Heschel Center on a consulting basis. By the end of the 1990s the Heschel Center was Israel's fastest-growing environmental initiative.

Reaching out to Israeli hearts and minds and infusing them with a re-newed commitment to environmental ethics is a daunting task. Simpler educational challenges have repeatedly failed. Despite years of campaigns, gimmicks, and slogans, 78 percent of Israelis polled in a government sur-vey admitted to littering.[144] The environmental ideal runs counter to the relentless message blasted across sixty cable television stations, suburban shopping malls, and an increasingly hedonistic urban culture. Despite a multimillion-dollar water conservation media campaign after the third consecutive dry winter in 2001, water consumption among the Israeli pub-lic dropped by only 1.5 percent. It is not clear whether Israelis will be able to leave their cellular phones long enough to listen to the natural wonders that might inspire them to take an alternative route. (Israel is truly a world

leader in cell-phone usage: Between 1996 and 1998, Cellcom, Israel's second cellular phone company, saw its customer base jump from five hundred thousand subscribers to one million.[145])

Lest the clash with the prevailing cultural bent appear too discouraging, it is worth noting that in some cases Israelis have listened to public-interest messages. For instance, Israelis used to be among the heaviest smokers in the world. During the country's first thirty-five years, theaters, buses, and of-fices reeked of tar and nicotine. Yet during the 1990s, smoking rates plum-meted. As a result, today's 28 percent smoking rate is only 4 percent higher than that of the United States.[146] More surprising was the commitment to indoor air quality. Without any discernible enforcement efforts by the gov-ernment, a tough 1983 ban on smoking in public areas and buses was widely honored.[147] Even El Al airlines prohibited smoking on its flights.

It is also well to remember that all Western societies are not the same. Values, and not simply transportation policies, inspire millions of Dutch citizens to get on their bicycles and pedal to work.[148] By the late 1990s, or-ganizations such as Tel Aviv for Bicycles began to add an environmental message to their more traditional recreational appeal and were eventually recognized by Time magazine for doing so. But the demarcation of bicycle lanes has been delayed again and again, and the rare cyclist remains a brave pioneer amidst the tumult of Tel Aviv traffic. The virtues of civic duty, caring for the natural world, and concern for public health are hardly alien to Israeli society. But it was not clear how to tap into these amor-phous commitments and harness them to change many popular but envi-ronmentally unfriendly aspects of modern living.

One source of encouragement was Israel's school system and universi-ties, which expanded their environmental tracks during the 1990s. A 1997 survey reported that the subject of environmental studies was taught in half of the country's elementary school classes. At the secondary level, 150 out of Israel's 450 high schools offer a final bagrut, or matriculation exam, about the environment—up from only three programs in 1991.[149] Furthermore, a 1996 study commissioned by the Ministries of Education and Environment showed a relatively high environmental literacy rate among students who participated in formal studies programs. It also con-firmed a correlation between the level of knowledge and commitment to environmental values.

Over the long run, formal education can offer crucial content to the Israeli public. Yet it remains an unlikely forum for changing conscious-ness: convincing Israelis to forgo a large family, a suburban development, or a second car. Private actions like these are at the heart of Israel's most

troubling ecological issues. Getting the public to reconsider them is a chal-lenge that must be addressed by informal educational outreach as well as government policy.

Perhaps the ultimate value of grassroots expressions of environmental-ism, therefore, is that they offer a compelling experience that flies in the face of the pervasive consumer culture. People really do learn best by doing. Hiking through a pristine valley may no longer awaken the same commitments for many as it did when Israel was less metropolitan. Sadly, many of the old natural treasures are tarnished. In 1996 journalist Meir Shalev wrote a column about his regret at having participated in trail-marking campaigns during his youth. Returning to the sites, he found the treks covered in plastic wrappers and beverage cans. Shalev wondered whether only an elite group of bushwhackers, who had to work to find the scenic routes, was worthy of hiking them.

Israel may be more urban than ever, but that does not mean that peo-ple have changed. Through activism (as shown in Figure 34), scores of cit-izens have come to rediscover their local communities and to connect to the basic human need to belong somewhere. Precisely because Israel is such a young country, with half its residents still foreign-born, many cit-izens suffer from shallow roots. Enlisting the public in efforts to enhance the physical fabric of their common urban experience offers an important tool for deepening these ties.

And aesthetics and beautification have taken their rightful place on the country's environmental agenda, as environmentalists began to think about ethics. Life expectancy for Israeli males, now standing at seventy-seven years, has consistently been among the highest in the world, and Israeli women live two and a half years longer on average![150] Statistically Israelis' “quantity of life” is doing fine. It is quality of life that needs attention.

The ancients had a keen sense of the ability of greenways to transform and edify drab urban life. This awareness can be found in pastures man-dated for Levite towns in the books of Numbers and Leviticus.[151] The me-dieval rabbi and physician, Moses Maimonides, prescribed open spaces as a tonic for city congestion. These considerations were secondary in the strategic planning of Israel's cities.[152] But there is a growing pride in local parks and beaches, or just clean, attractive neighborhoods, that energized many of Israel's ad hoc groups during the 1990s. The exceptional coalition that rose up to fight to preserve the last three hundred acres of the Jerusalem Forest became a model.[153]

It has been argued that this sense of place may be the most powerful, identifiable force behind environmental commitment.[154] Growing numbers

of Israelis were seeking to safeguard those places they called home. The vast majority of grassroots environmental campaigns attempted to pre-serve a specific cherished resource. Often a group's only purpose was to stop an undesirable landfill, factory, or road. Even in Hebrew, this phe-nomenon has been dubbed by centralist environmental regulators as “NIMBY”—the pejorative English acronym for “not in my back yard.” It is disparaged as a disingenuous, selfish desire to deflect the necessary en-vironmental price of progress onto some other, weaker segment of society. This egoism presumably leads to less than optimal environmental results.

But from the vantage point of a sustainable society, NIMBY actually represents a positive phenomenon. The same citizens—who refuse to breathe toxic air, to endanger drinking-water sources, or to concede the open spaces that offer them a bridge to their natural world—may be the harbingers of a mass environmental movement in Israel. This movement understands intuitively that only a sense of place, community, continuity, and responsibility can return the harmony between humans and their en-vironment.[155] The educational challenge is to expand the public's percep-tion of its “backyard.” In a country as intimate as Israel, the micro for many is hard to distinguish from the macro, and this educational mission may prove easier to overcome than in larger nations.

Environmentalists are often discouraged. Even when the ecological sit-uation is good, it is their job to worry about how easily things could turn bad. But the record of local and national activism in Israel during the 1990s offers some basis for optimism. More and more Israelis were waking up to their ecological problems and to their own power to improve them. Beyond the many resources that were saved and health hazards that were mitigated, activists may have infused their ranks and communities with a higher sense of purpose: that the healthier environments they protected not only bestowed benefits to their bodies but to their spirits.

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