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Half of the people who call themselves Israelis are not native, having de-cided at some point in their lives to move to an alternative homeland. With emigration a very real option, the majority of native-born citizens also consciously choose to make their home in Israel. During the 1990s, the number of Israelis living abroad who returned to Israel began to surpass the number leaving. Each year, newspaper surveys report that 91 percent of Israelis are quite satisfied with their country.[110]

The satisfaction is linked to a general sense of quality of life. There are many places where it is easier to become rich, but the ancient land still casts a spell over newcomer and veteran alike. The stimulating lifestyle of-fers advantages that trump military insecurities, overzealous tax collec-tion, and a host of other social and economic maladies. Besides leading the world in registered synagogues and institutions of Jewish religious study, Israel also ranks first in areas as diverse as orchestras per capita, theater subscription rates, in vitro fertilization rates, and dairy cattle productivity. And although the society is not perfect, for most Jews it is still family.

It is important, therefore, to temper any ire toward Israel's ecological negligence with an honest recognition of the material and basic comforts that the Zionist revolution produced. There is a tendency to glorify the first half of the century in a romantic vision of milk and honey—when crystal rivers babbled through ancient wadis to a sewage-free seashore, and fresh air ventilated the soul, unencumbered by lead and nitrogen diox-ide emissions. But Palestine was also a land where scorching summers without air conditioners (or even electric fans) were almost unbearable, where insects and malaria prowled mercilessly, where even a spartan diet was often unattainable, and where plumbing (including indoor toilets) was a rarity. Indeed, the pristine rivers of the land dried up during the summer and became perennial only when fed by a steady source of sewage. Even those environmentalists fully aware of the ecological consequences of the

progress made would be disinclined to turn the clock back and forgo the as-tounding advancements of the twentieth century.

It is precisely because quality of life holds such an essential place in most citizens' values, however, that Israelis are now able to turn their at-tention to their relationship to their environment. Zionism has completed a crucial stage. There are many good reasons for believing that it can evolve to address the new ecological challenges spawned by its own suc-cess. The first is environmental consciousness.

Israelis are beginning to look at the entire planet with new, greener eyes. During summer heat waves, newspapers are suddenly writing edi-torials about the greenhouse effect, acknowledging that Green calls for concern, once dismissed as alarmism, are compelling. The Kyoto climate convention does not require “developing countries” such as Israel to re-duce their greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, by the century's end, the Ministry of the Environment had lobbied other Ministries to support a ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions, both because it was good business and “the moral thing to do.”[111]

Yossi Sarid is the politician who best represented this new level of en-vironmental awareness. He believes that information holds the key to reconciling the Zionist dream and the Green dream. “In the early years of the State there were mistakes made in all areas, not just the environment. (In those days they thought that wars would solve problems. That's why we had five wars.) Even the serious mistakes were understandable during the first stages of the country. People just didn't know. Do you think that Ben-Gurion knew anything about ecology? I can tell you that Levi Eshkol didn't know a thing about it. They didn't know because there was no one to explain it to them. The opposite was the case. They told them, you have to build more and more.”[112]

Sarid is therefore willing to absolve Zionism for many of the ecological follies that were perpetrated in its name during the 1950s and 1960s. He is, however, unforgiving toward political leaders of the past twenty-five years who knowingly did the wrong things in the name of the public in-terest. This public interest has clearly changed: “During my last year as Minister of the Environment, I stopped all development around Lake Kinneret,” Sarid explains. “I saw it as one of my most important achieve-ments. Once, they didn't understand the problems caused by building around the Kinneret. Today building there is actually anti-Zionist. It's not just that the country needs to be a home; it needs to be a home that you can live in.”[113]


Not all Israelis have made this leap in understanding. But a growing number have, and they have the power to help the rest along. When a law banning smoking in public places was enacted in 1983, many Israelis laughed at it, given the pervasiveness of smoking on buses and in restau-rants and public halls.[114] Today, public areas are smoke-free. It was a silent majority that cared quite deeply about the air it breathed, not the govern-ment, that enforced the new norms. In addition, the law pushed ahead a consciousness that was already evolving. Now other areas of Israel's envi-ronment are ripe for such a push. Israelis are looking beyond their physi-cal survival for a better way to live.

There has always been a spiritual dimension to Israeli patriotism. It has taken a new form in the growing number of secular Israelis who seek a re-newed connection with Judaism, in a variety of nontraditional forms. The best place to find spiritual renewal will probably always be in the natural world, just outside the window.

Israel in the next millennium will still be home to rocky hills and ver-dant valleys, sandy coasts and a desert that is both empty and teeming with life. The Israeli instinctively returns to this natural world, finding rest from the cacophony of city life, much as the prophets did when seeking in-spiration in days of old. There is no better place than in the natural world to purge defeatist impulses from the human heart—and indeed, the earth is full of examples of successful cures for each and every Israeli ecological ailment.

Adopting a new environmental ethos can open the public's minds to available solutions, but it cannot minimize the sacrifice required for the common good and for the good of future generations. Clean-ups cost money. The requisite self-discipline in transportation, consumption, and housing is not always convenient. Israel's ultimate national challenge may therefore be to regain the higher sense of purpose that comes from giving to a society that aspires to be a “light unto the nations.” Ecology needs to be a central component of this renewed Zionist dream.

As the twentieth century closed, Israeli society had become more indi-vidualistic and divided over core questions about its collective identity.[115] A growing number of citizens embraced self-indulgence and material ac-quisition over ideological satisfaction, shirked military reserve duty, and voted for narrow sectarian concerns. Yet relative to other countries, Israel still rests solidly on a deep reservoir of common purpose and willingness to sacrifice that has shown little signs of depletion. It is there in the def-erence to the elderly on the buses or to the wildflowers in the fields. It is

there as yet another round of terrorism tests a nation's resolve. Once peo-ple are convinced of the severity of the environmental situation, this spirit will provide the requisite commitment to preserve the water, earth, and air. Regardless of when they actually arrived, most Israelis' ties to the land are deep.

Before he went to his lonely death, Moses wrote a farewell letter to the people of Israel that is otherwise known as the book of Deuteronomy. He offered them the options of a blessing or a curse. The choice has been woven into Judaism's central prayer, the Shema. According to the Scriptures: “The land that you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt that you just left. There you had to sow your seed and water with your foot as in a vegetable garden. No, the land you will pass through and in-herit is filled with hills and valleys, and it drinks the water of the rains of heaven. It is a land which the Lord your God cares for. Indeed, the eyes of God are always on this land, from the start until the end of the year. And I will give it rains in their due season, the first rain and the last rain. And you shall gather your grain and wine and oil. And I will send grass.”[116]

If one allows oneself to lapse into a puerile conception of divinity, it is instructive to imagine what the Creator might see, peering down from on high upon this promised land four thousand years later. In the most recent cycle of dispersion and redemption, Jews returned en masse to their an-cestral homeland, making much of it a greener place. The renewed forests, the abundant agriculture, and the reserves set aside for the other creatures would surely be a source of happiness. Yet other omens would be trou-bling. Watering so many fields has sapped and sullied many of the reser-voirs. The toll that the farmers' and the factories' chemicals took would also not be overlooked. Asphalt strips crisscrossing the hills and plains added little to the landscape, except perhaps the acrid exhaust of cars. And all those people—indeed as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands along the seashore.

Even an omniscient Creator might not have anticipated the mischief that civilization was capable of once it forgot that with dominion came re-sponsibility. Who would expect the people to turn the good rivers of their land into streams of squalor? Who could imagine producing such copious quantities of garbage and toxins with no serious plan about how to dispose of them? Or allowing a land so venerated to be paved and built into sub-mission? If one took the biblical admonitions seriously, it would almost seem that the conditional curse offered a few verses later was coming to pass: “And the stranger that comes to your land from afar and sees the

plagues upon the land and the sickness that the Lord has laid on it—sulfur and salt and burning, where the land will not be sown and will not bear any grass…”[117]

Rationalizations would be duly noted. There had been poverty and refugees and wars to overcome; a modern state was created. But these cannot temper a deep sense of sorrow at what has been lost. The trying circumstances serve only to amplify the merits of those who successfully worked to preserve and heal the land. Still, if any dispensation was due to the Holy Land's ecological saints (and sinners), it would have to wait for a world to come. While on this earth, much more was expected.

And so it is important to remember that it is not divine decree, but human ambition, myopia, negligence, and sometimes greed that brought these curses to the land. Precisely because the people of Israel created their many environmental problems, they were also blessed with the collective wisdom, wealth, laws, technologies, and passion to solve them. The same Zionist zeal that allowed an ancient nation to defy all odds for an entire century can be harnessed to confront the newest national challenge. More than any of their ancestors, the present generation stands at an ecological crossroads—offered the choice of life and good, or death and evil. This “last chance” to preserve a healthy Promised Land for posterity is a weighty privilege indeed. Surely as it writes the next chapters in its envi-ronmental history, Israel will once again choose life.

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