12/08/2011 02:23

‘We want this to become a yearly tradition,’ says Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich of Adam Teva V’Din event.
Talkbacks ()

Achieving true environmental justice in Israel hinges upon the involvement of the country’s public in pushing for the policies they desire, agreed many of Israel’s top green activists, government officials and researchers at a conference on Wednesday.

The Environmental Justice Conference, the first of its kind in the country, was organized by Adam Teva V’Din – The Israel Union for Environmental Defense and was held in Beersheba.

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), municipalities, activism organizations and the academic world discussed the country’s environmental success stories as well as its ongoing challenges, all of which must be tackled with the participation of those who encounter them on a daily basis.

Outside of the conference hall stood a large whiteboard, where the several hundred participants, including an entourage of students from the Environmental High School in Sde Boker, pledged their commitment to environmental justice.

“Civil society has the power to continue being a watchdog for the environment,” Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha said to participants.

Bracha defined environmental justice, in part, as a circumstance in which natural resources like beaches and parks are all fully accessible to the public, information is completely transparent, the desire to make the environment better for future generations is being fulfilled and “the periphery areas are not referred to as the trashcan of the country.”

For Bracha, Beersheba was the perfect place for the event to occur.

“There isn’t a more natural place to have this conference than in the city of Beersheba,” Bracha said, emphasizing how the city is so successful at promoting environmental justice, awareness and sustainability in the municipality.

Another reason for holding the conference in Beersheba was to draw more attention to Israel’s southern communities.

“We chose to do it in the Negev, in Beersheba, because we don’t get very many appeals from communities for assistance in the south,” Fran Ran told The Jerusalem Post during a sit-down interview with her and Bracha in the weeks prior to the conference.

Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich expressed his excitement that the inaugural conference was occurring in his city, and he pledged that it could continue to occur there on a yearly basis.

“I am very happy that this conference began here, in our town,” he said. “We want the conference to be something that happens yearly, a tradition.”

Alona Shefer-Karo, the director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry, echoed Bracha’s sentiments about the importance of environmental justice.

“There is a disproportional division between the resources going to the peripheral area and to the rest of the country,” she said, noting that the ministry is aiming to better the situation of the periphery in every decision that its members make.

But in Bracha’s opinion not all is grim and problematic.

“Contrary to all these problems in the last few years, the awareness of the people in the public has increased, understanding that protecting the environment is protecting their health,” he said.

Some positive examples, according to Bracha, include a cleanup of asbestos that occurred in Nahariya at the behest of the people, the victory of preserving Palmahim Beach through a campaign started by teenagers and the Israel Lands Authority’s recent decision – after immense pressure from the public, Adam Teva V’Din and the Society for the Protection of Nature – to nix plans for a vacation village on Betzet Beach.

Meanwhile, Danilovich attributed Beersheba’s success in recycling and green rehabilitative projects to the city’s children.

“The success started from the school system,” he said.

“The children educated the parents to recycle.”

In order for environmental justice to truly be achieved, every individual resident and organization must follow their “moral obligation” to speak up and make comments on behalf of the environment, Danilovich said, stressing the fact that he is “an optimist.” Only then, according to him, can the people turn ideas of sustainability into practice, like transforming the polluted Beersheba stream from a sewage dump to a place where families visit all year.

“The ministry can make the legislation and promote the legislation but if the explanation and education don’t come from underneath and from the municipalities, the revolution won’t happen,” Shefer-Karo agreed.

“We see ourselves as the body that is responsible for protecting natural resources for the benefit of the public,” added Galit Cohen, the deputy director-general for policy and planning at the ministry.

In recent years, however, the public has really begun to understand the connection between the environment and economics, and the real price of protecting their natural resources, according to Cohen. People are therefore more willing to pay for things like a Dead Sea salt harvest, whereas in the past the price may have once seemed too high, she explained.

“This gives us the legitimacy to fight,” she said.