KKL-JNF at the Presidential Conference: Green Israel - A Pipe Dream?

Sunday, June 24, 2012 7:00 PM

What should be done for Israel to be more environmentally friendly?

Israel, like other countries in the world, is facing considerable climatic and environmental challenges. Awareness of Israel's green future has been raised in recent years, along with national and civil initiatives for change.
But do present problems continue to preempt our concern for the future? What should be done for Israel to be more environmentally friendly? How are recent natural gas discoveries affecting Israel’s ecological future? What new technologies are necessary in the fields of energy, transportation and urban planning, so that Israel can be greener and serve as a sustainable habitat for its inhabitants? These questions were addressed at the 2012 Presidential Conference by a panel chaired by journalist Naama Sikuler.

L-R: Dita Bronitsky; Eran Feitelson; Lawson Freeman; Alona Shefer Karo;
Efi Stenzler, & Naama Sikuler. Photo: Yoav Devir

KKL-JNF – Israel as an Ecolab
The symposium was opened by KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, who reviewed the environmental issue and said, “We are fighting for the survival of mankind. Nations of the world have prioritized sustainable development. The population of the earth is seven billion at present, but population growth is not the only problem. The main problem is the growth of the middle class in China and India. They, too, wish to live in a more advanced and Westernized way, and we are certainly in favor of this. However, it means increased utilization of resources. The world is more hungry and more thirsty, but it is also hungry for the forests it is uprooting.”
The solution, according to Stenzler, is the new vision the world needs, which would define the concept of sustainability in a clear and understandable way.  “We are all living on this planet in an emergency situation, and we have to change our way of life. How is it possible in 2012 that millions of cars commute to work with only one person in each of them? We produce more and more garbage. Supermarkets are selling imported water. Even if it hurts us a little, the green economy has to be about you and me.”
Stenzler remarked that KKL-JNF has a lot to contribute in this area. “We have turned Israel into an ecological laboratory,” he said, “and there are not many organizations in the world that can say as much.” Stenzler noted that there was, for example, a professional KKL-JNF delegation contributing knowledge at the UN Conference for Sustainable Development taking place this week in Rio de Janeiro.
“While we sit here for an hour and a half on this panel,” said Stenzler, “one thousand dunams of rainforest trees will be felled. Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees today than it did in the nineteenth century.” Stenzler also mentioned the importance of trees in producing oxygen and reducing the greenhouse effect.
Economy and Ecology

Aerial view of Yatir Forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive

Attorney Alona Shefer Karo
, Director General of the Israel Ministry for Environmental Protection (IMEP), said that there is an outdated approach still prevalent in Israel today, which is the separation between the economy and the environment. “The world understands that no economy or society can have stability without addressing ecological issues,” said Shefer Caro.
She noted that the financial cost of environmental pollution in Israel is estimated at 20 billion shekels. There are 1,195 sites with severe ground pollution. “If we do not increase regulation, we will find ourselves mired in huge expenses. The cost of repair is inestimably greater than the cost of prevention,” she cautioned. Concerning companies that operate in a non-ecological manner, the IMEP Director General said, “Such companies should know that their businesses will be adversely affected, like what happened to Israel Chemicals at the Dead Sea Works.”
Noble Energy Vice President Lawson Freeman expressed his pride in the company’s participation in what he defined as “a revolution in the field of energy in Israel for producing energy based on natural gas deposits.”
Open Spaces and Green Energy
Professor Eran Feitelson, Head of the School for Environmental Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, commented on the title of the discussion and said, “Israel is greener today, and this can be seen in all the aerial photographs, but how did it happen? We took water for irrigation out of the natural basins, and we did away with most of Israel’s natural water systems.”
The main problem, according to Feitelson, is not really water, since the country desalinates water, but the scarcity of open spaces. “Even the Negev is densely populated due to intensive use by the IDF. Tanks drive in the nature reserves in the Negev.” He claimed that the government of Israel promotes projects for creating infrastructure that do not make sense but do cause environmental damage. As an example, he noted the plans for the railroad to Eilat, which he deemed delusional.
Dita Bronitsky, General Manager of Ormat Industries, which operates power stations for producing green energy, said that when people talk about a green and sustainable Israel, the important factors are preventing pollution and maintaining efficiency in the broadest sense of the term, which includes saving land as well as energy. “This requires education, awareness, legislation, enforcement and also incentives,” she asserted.
Developing the Negev

Efi Stenzler. Photo: Yoav Devir

During the question and answer period, Stenzler was asked about the development of the Negev. “The Negev covers 60% of the area of Israel,” said Stenzler, “but only 8% of the country’s population lives there. This creates a balance which is not fair, not social and not Zionist in terms of the gap between central Israel and the Negev. The quality of life in the Negev must be improved in order to draw many residents to the Negev.”
Prof. Feitelson responded that the work of KKL-JNF in restoring agriculture to the Negev is vital, but the people who earn a living from agriculture there are a very small part of the population. He congratulated KKL-JNF for its investment in communities in outlying regions, although he claimed that if one wishes to draw residents to the Negev, employment opportunities must also be developed along with better education and, above all, improvement of the situation of the Bedouins in the Negev.
Stenzler agreed that there is an urgent need to deal with the Bedouin issue, and he spoke about two special projects being carried out by KKL-JNF—the Visitors Center in the town of Hura and the promenade in the city of Rahat. He also mentioned KKL-JNF’s involvement in the establishment of the new Negev town of Carmit.
Sikuler concluded the session by expressing her hope that a green Israel will become not a distant dream but a fact of life.