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Israel, Arabs, and the Environment
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Conventional wisdom holds that environmental cooperation offers one of the best vehicles for building bridges between Arabs and Jews. Slogans put forward by both sides, such as “pollution knows no borders” and “our common environment,” offer an optimistic prognosis for cooperation. The notion is that if environment truly drives the discussion, agreement can be reached. Even if they frequently make for better rhetoric than actual coali-tions, such slogans offer an important first step for rapprochement. It also suggests that after all the historical settling of scores, among Israeli Arabs, self-reliance and pragmatism may be the more powerful impulse.

This has proven to be so in a few cases involving public-interest advo-cacy. Joint ventures between the Galilee Society and Adam Teva V'din—the Tel Aviv-based environmental advocacy group—were driven by the fact that both groups found themselves involved in the same case. One represented Arab communities and the other Jewish. So cooperation is a practical matter of expedience.

In one case that stretched throughout the 1990s, Adam Teva V'din ar-gued on behalf of residents of the Galilee village of K'lil. It opposed ap-proval of an industrial zone that threatened the integrity of the adjacent Kabri springs, one of the country's cleanest sources of drinking water. The development would also have impinged on the neighboring town of Sheikh Danun, which turned to the Galilee Society for help. A combina-tion of lobbying, appeals to planning committees, and Supreme Court actions stymied the project.

In another case, consulting scientists at the Galilee Society considered the effect that a planned glass factory at the new Zipori industrial zone would have on the air quality in neighboring villages. Their analysis showed future violations of sulfur dioxide standards, but the insult was not only environmental. The industrial area had been given as a gift to the Jewish municipality of Natsaret Elit, located a few kilometers away, whose industrial-park space had become limited. Neighboring Arab (and Jewish) villages would be the first to feel the effect of the pollution but would not enjoy the associated property tax benefits. The organization filed suit. Lack of an appropriate impact statement and of “Best Available Technology” led to a parallel Supreme Court action by Adam Teva V'din.[184] The Court merged the two petitions, but the two organizations had already engaged the factory's Director General in talks about techni-cal solutions. In the ensuing negotiations, the factory committed itself to

installing emission control equipment far more stringent than that required by the Ministry of the Environment. The plant also agreed to bankroll independent air quality monitoring.[185]

Joining with an Arab organization to sue against Jewish development posed no dilemma for Adam Teva V'din. After all, the Galilee Society's en-vironmental credentials and capabilities were above reproach. The Society had never hesitated to challenge Arab interests when they threatened the environment. For instance, the Society sued the town of Baka al-Biyah in the Supreme Court when the town left an entire neighborhood uncon-nected to the sewage grid. The Society later came to the brink of legal action against the city of Nazareth for opening a large slaughterhouse adjacent to a residential neighborhood.[186]

In the aftermath of the unrest and rioting that led to the shooting death of thirteen Arab citizens in October 2000, Life and Environment, the um-brella group for Israel's Green organizations, convened a meeting at the Arab town of Tira. The goal was to explore the role the environmental movement might have in bridging the social gaps and mutual alienation that had swelled between Jewish and Arab Israelis. Representatives from over twenty organizations launched a new initiative:“Room for Everyone.” Its express purpose was to identify specific sites of shared environmental challenges that could bring together Arab and Jewish NGOs in a common campaign.[187] Its first major initiative was a joint week-long bike ride for Arab and Jewish cyclists along a route that highlighted common environ-mental hazards.

Yet it is simplistic to assume that this level of cooperation is always pos-sible. Technical questions such as water quality criteria or the combination of particulate and flue gas controls are not divisive. Other ecological issues, on the other hand, are not free of politics. Environmental priorities reflect community values and by definition will diverge.

An example of an obstacle to forging a shared environmental agenda is the issue of open spaces. For Jewish environmentalists, preventing land-intensive development constitutes the highest ecological imperative of the day. All efforts are made to tighten zoning restrictions and contain suburban sprawl. But Israel's Arab community sees such prescriptions in the context of their own history of harassment and subjugation. They certainly have not forgotten to whom much of the land used to belong.[188] Indeed, this issue may be the single greatest catalyst for community solidarity. In 1975, the Rakah Arab-dominated Communist Party created a National Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands. The committee declared March 30 to be Land

Day, calling on Arabs to join them in a general strike to protest against pro-posed expropriations.[189] It soon became an unofficial day of solidarity for Israeli Arabs and a constant source of nervousness for Jewish Israelis. (For years Earth Day was not pushed as an eco-celebration by Israeli NGOs, be-cause it was too close in name and time to this new Arab commemoration.)

While Israeli Arabs identify with the general aspiration to preserve the landscape for future generations, they feel that they have done more than their share in the area of forfeiting land resources. This is why the cam-paign against the Trans-Israel Highway resonated so strongly with Arab communities whose land holdings were lost to the asphalt, who forged their first real environmental alliance with Israel's Green organizations.[190]

Zoning, therefore, looms as a perennial source of tension. After the 1948 war, Arab villages swelled because of the influx of internal refugees. Today 20 percent of Israeli Arabs trace their lineage to those families that could not return to their homes after the 1948 war and flocked to other towns.[191] At the same time, peripheral lands around the villages were frequently na-tionalized. With the high birthrate and a rising standard of living, land shortages became chronic. Arab municipalities wishing to have their mu-nicipal boundaries expanded find themselves in a constant struggle with Jewish-dominated planning authorities. Attempts to enforce zoning regula-tions and destroy illegal construction by Arabs have become highly charged political propositions. New Jewish settlements dotting the Galilee hillsides literally and figuratively cast a dark shadow.

Israeli Arabs see their cities' congestion in terms of the ongoing battle for sovereignty and a pattern of discrimination. This is exacerbated by a cultural conflict. Planners argue that given Israel's territorial constraints, Arab con-struction needs to become more efficient and move to the more vertical high-rise structures found in Jewish settlements. Such a change runs counter to the architectural tradition and tastes of the Arab population. And, as it happens, most Arab villages are already densely populated.[192]

Here again, the key to protecting open spaces in the countryside is im-proving the quality of life in the city. Although residents of high-density Arab housing projects dislike the crowdedness in their apartments, one survey suggests that they have a higher satisfaction with health and com-munity services than do residents in traditional neighborhoods. These and other environmental amenities were singled out as the principal advantage of their apartment lifestyles.[193]

Finally, no issue exacerbates mutual suspicions more than overpopula-tion. “Judaizing the Galilee” is not just a long-held Zionist axiom; it is the source of many ecologically ill-advised development projects. Not surprisingly,

Israeli Arabs oppose a new regional master plan for the north of the country that is based on the settlement of an additional one million Jewish citizens. They have seen the impact of policies designed to keep them “in their place” for fifty years. Arab environmentalists have no trouble find-ing the ecological terms of reference in which to couch their case.[194] Many Israelis agree about the plan's effect on air and water quality, congestion, and open space decimation. Yet precisely because Israeli Arabs are honest about the full range of their motivations, mainstream Green organizations may be apprehensive about high-profile coalitions.

Repeated allusions by Palestinian political leaders to the high Arab birthrate as their secret weapon only make things worse. Indeed, it is not just rhetoric. In 1996, an average Jewish family had 2.6 children; Muslim families had 4.6.[195] The present dynamic constitutes a classic “prisoner's dilemma.” Ideally, both Arab and Jewish environmentalists should join to-gether in a call for policies to promote zero population growth in all sec-tors of Israeli society. But this would amount to heresy. For Jews, the ingathering of the Jewish exiles remains the raison d'être of the State. For Arabs, population growth holds the key to greater political influence and autonomy. Yet if demography continues to be a legitimate weapon in the battle for sovereignty between Arabs and Jews, both sectors, and the envi-ronment they profess to love, will be the losers.

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