Young Israelis of the year: Ahmed Amrani, 29: Greening the desert

Young Israelis of the ye

Not that many founders of tiny volunteer organizations get a chance to influence policy in their hometowns. Ahmed Amrani, 29, can now claim that privilege. A native son of the Beduin city of Rahat, Amrani is the founder of the only environmental organization to arise organically out of the Beduin communities - Green Rahat. A volunteer organization of about 40 people, its projects have been modest at best: cleaning up the streets, or turning a local kindergarten's backyard into a community garden. However, Amrani took a giant step up this year - he was appointed chief of staff to the new mayor of Rahat, Sheikh Faiz Abu Seheban. That's a fairly unusual position for an environmentalist to find himself in: Generally, environmentalists are the ones shouting on the sidelines at local or national governments to get their acts together. Amrani has wasted no time in trying to implement a green vision for his poor and neglected city. He requested and received the help of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor Alon Tal to create a green blueprint for improvement. A professor in the Mitrani Department of Dryland Ecology at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at BGU, Tal turned the challenge over to the students in one of his classes. They came up with a series of proposals to address everything from education to landscaping. While the plans will have to be expanded and funded, the mayor has expressed his approval of Amrani's efforts. Amrani told The Jerusalem Post a few months ago what he saw as the city's most pressing environmental problems. "Our biggest problem is garbage and waste. The wadis are filled with it and the empty lots along the streets are too," he said. There's lots of open space in Rahat, but none of it is green and none of it is well cared for, he pointed out. Sometimes it is more impressive to bring a little bit of change and effort to a barren wasteland where the cards are stacked against you than to make another change in a more convenient atmosphere. It's too early to say what Amrani may accomplish, but it's worth keeping an eye on him as he struggles to raise the standard of living and green the Negev's second largest city.