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.
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
For Bracha, Beersheba was the perfect place for the event
“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
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
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
But in Bracha’s opinion not all is grim and
“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.
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
“The success started from the school system,” he
“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.
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.
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
“This gives us the legitimacy to fight,” she said.