Preferred Citation: Tal, Alon. Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c2002 2002.

Palestine's Environment, 1900–1949


For all intents and purposes, there were no focused environmental ac-tivism or formal Green organization in the Yishuv prior to or during the Mandate period. Nonetheless, numerous researchers and teachers in the area of biology, zoology, botany, and nature studies are generally recog-nized as the forebears of Israel's environmental movement.[152] For many years, their interaction was informal and unorganized. However, with the establishment of the professional journal Ha-Teva v'ha-Aretz (Nature and the Land) in 1931, communication between the natural scientists of the Yishuv improved. The agronomist Ariyeh Feldman founded and edited the journal. It offered an accessible forum for academics and teachers, as well as amateur nature lovers, to report findings on subjects related to nat-ural history. And today for those interested in nature, reading back issues from the 1930s is still fascinating. Despite the chaos and disruption of the period, for twenty-eight years, until his death, Feldman did not miss a sin-gle monthly issue.[153] Today the periodical lives on in a more glossy format as Land and Nature.

Even before publication of the journal, Alexander Eig's 1926 pamphlet Additions to the Knowledge of Plants in the Land of Israel contained a re-markably prophetic analysis about disappearing habitats and the threat to Palestinian biodiversity:

Already today, if one of the botanists from the past century rose from the grave, he would not recognize entire regions. Those interested in the nature of the Land and its fate must get organized into an association for

the purpose of preservation of nature. One of its primary tasks would be to keep a constant watch about all that concerns the plants of Israel.[154]

Eig would die an untimely death at the age of 44 but not before amass-ing an astonishing list of achievements, which included founding a Department of Botany and establishing the Botanical Gardens at the Hebrew University, and researching and writing numerous publications, including the first comprehensive taxonomic guide for names of plants in Palestine.[155] He did not live to implement his call for ecological activism, and it probably went unnoticed by most of his scientific colleagues. His writing, however, appears to have moved the Mandate forester Amihu Goor to initiate a wildflower protection program. Indeed, it was Eig who prepared the proposal of protected plants.

Similar calls to save the Palestinian landscape were heard in the 1930s in Hebrew architecture and planning journals.[156] These were lone voices with no organizational follow-through. Nonetheless, the network of re-searchers and teachers with a passion for nature and the outdoors contin-ued to grow. With the establishment of the Biological Pedagogical Institute in Tel Aviv in 1931, nature lovers in the Yishuv had a nerve center. Many consider its founder, Yehoshua Margolin, to be the greatest environmental educator of his day.

Prior to coming to Israel, Margolin had taught nature in Kiev. It took no time for him to take over the subject at Mikveh Yisrael, the oldest agri-cultural school in the Yishuv, located south of Tel Aviv. There “Uncle Yehoshua” was always leading his adoring students into the field. Some of the results can still be seen in an impressive taxidermal collection.[157] As luck would have it, a former pupil from Kiev, Shoshana Parsitz, oversaw education for the city of Tel Aviv. Parsitz had fond recollections of her fa-vorite class from school days, and when the old Central Synagogue with its 750 square meters of adjacent land moved to its present, more promi-nent location, she offered Margolin the old site on 12 Yehudah ha-Levi Street (today it is a parking lot). Moreover, she found funding for a budget: the then-astronomical sum of one hundred Palestinian pounds a year.[158]

Margolin had no trouble attracting top young academics such as Heinrich Mendelssohn and Alexander Barash to the Biological Pedagogical Institute. Beyond formal and informal teaching, the Institute sponsored a youth group called The Young Naturalists, who would hike throughout Israel, bringing back samples from their travels. National Societies of Botany and Zoology were established, with the Institute serving as their base. The former synagogue lot quickly became a small zoo, home to a variety

of species that had been collected by amateur enthusiasts. Until his death in 1947, Margolin taught hundreds of young people, and they be-came the new generation of nature teachers. Among them was Azariah Alon, who would eventually bring his encyclopedic knowledge of Israel's land, nature, and history to the new nation through a weekly radio show and many books. Although these incipient conservationists might today be categorized as “public-interest scientists,” most in fact were driven by the Zionist Romanticism of the period.

Palestine's Environment, 1900–1949

Preferred Citation: Tal, Alon. Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c2002 2002.