Category Archives: Environmental campaigns

With Light Rail Stalled, A Push for BRT in Tel Aviv. by Jesse Fox, Tel Aviv

After a decade of fits and starts, the Tel Aviv light rail project finally collapsed last week. Following months of last-ditch negotiations, government officials announced that they were cancelling agreements with the consortium that was supposed to build and operate the first line of the system, leaving the fate of what was supposed to be the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in Israel unclear.

Meanwhile, as traffic problems and air pollution continue to worsen, people in Tel Aviv are beginning to lose patience. Many are calling on the powers that be to begin exploring alternatives to the long-delayed light rail, and a grassroots campaign touting Bus Rapid Transit as the solution to the city’s ills is gaining momentum.

The Tel Aviv light rail project might be described as a classic case of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. Launched in the late nineties, the project was already mired in bureaucratic infighting and delays when the onset of the global economic crisis dealt it a mortal blow in 2008. Since then, while attempts to salvage something of the project have continued, popular skepticism about its fate has become increasingly widespread.

(Something similar happened in Jerusalem, where the first line of that city’s light rail network became so bogged down in delays, and inconvenienced so many, that the residents of the city took to calling it the “blight rail.”)

The Tel Aviv Municipality, for its part, has never wavered in its support for the project, which forms the backbone of a new master plan it is promoting for the city. And while the mayor has proclaimed on multiple occasions that “the era of the private car is over,” he has resisted attempts by members of the city council to promote incremental improvements, such as dedicated bus lanes, to the city’s public transportation system, while energetically promoting new parking lots and road-widening projects.

Into this context stepped City for All, a local progressive political movement, with a well-formulated proposal for two new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes. Vastly cheaper and easier to implement than the ill-fated light rail (much of which is actually planned to run underground), the plan was presented as a modest, yet revolutionary, step forward.

Hashed out over a year of meetings with government officials, transportation experts and city residents, the new plan also represented an inclusive, democratic answer to the technocratic way that the light rail has been promoted. Now its supporters are building a coalition of organizations that back the plan, in the hope of creating political pressure on the mayor to act.

Recently, the plan got an unexpected boost when the national Transportation Ministry announced its support for it – on the condition that the Tel Aviv Municipality allocate the necessary road space. The municipality, however, avoided a direct response to the challenge, and instead issued a confusing statement to the effect that it had “submitted similar plans to the Transportation Ministry ten years ago… but since then nothing has happened.”

Meanwhile, the city is poised to launch a reorganization of the existing bus system, and supporters of BRT are calling for the integration of the two proposed lines into the process. Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen, but many are beginning to realize that if it does not, another decade or so might go by before a decent public transportation system finally materializes in Tel Aviv.

Posted also on treehugger.com


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Human Resources of the World, Unite!

Eran holds the credit card and identity card during the demonstration against land reform

Eran holds the credit card and identity card during the demonstration against land reform

I have to give Eran Ben Yemini credit for setting off this train of thought when, at the recent demonstration against land reform, he observed that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government want to change us from citizens into consumers,  to determine our identities by our credit cards rather than our ID cards. I don’t think this a new phenomenon but rather part of trend that has been developing over the last 50 years. This is what makes the mad dash towards privatization so dangerous, that it is not new. The worship of market forces as the answer for all that ails us is a religion practiced by so many for so long that few even bother to question its’ basic tenets. You see, Mr. Netanyahu is not perpetuating a conspiracy nor is he a radical when he promotes his pro-business agenda. He is well within the mainstream. Slowly but surely we are being turned from individuals into human resources; human resources that spend the majority of their waking hours either working or consuming.

So where is all of this leading? Unfortunately I don’t think the following scenario is too far off. You get in your car in the morning and spend an hour in traffic jams going to work in Tel Aviv. You don’t live there but in Savyonei Kiryat Ono because that is the closest to Tel Aviv that someone with a normal salary can get an apartment. You spend your day making a newer version of something that already exists and works perfectly well. You have lunch in a chain restaurant that serves same standard mediocrity no matter where in Israel it is, standardized so that so that any employee can learn to prepare it in the minimum time with the minimum amount of training. You go back to the office to outsource some more of the work your company does to the other side of the world in order to save a couple of shekels, just in time to get back in the traffic jam home. On the way you stop where that nice orange grove once stood and they now raised another shopping mall, so similar to all the rest of them that you can’t tell whether you are in Eilat or Metula. You get home just in time to have missed putting your kids to bed, nuke some food, watch a rerun of a so-so reality show on public TV, order a new, improved GPS so that you don’t get lost in the traffic jams to work and go to sleep.

It makes me think of the Matrix when Neo wakes up to reality and realizes that he is being used as a battery. Privatization is turning us into human batteries, human resources. We are not teachers, doctors, programmers, cooks or police officers. We are being turned into education employees, health employees, software employees, food employees and security employees.

What am I doing to stop this from happening? First, I’ve changed my voting patterns. No more Meretz, no more Labour; they have too long a track record of doing nothing. Second. I’ve joined the Green Movement, my moral choice, no more strategic voting for me. Thirdly, I’ve realized that changing Israel for the better depends on me. Not through grand gestures but rather daily acts of optimism; by writing here, by talking to people at lunch, by changing the way I consume and eat and commute and raise my daughter. It is you and I and thousands of other human resources that will ensure that our lives are not determined by the invisible hand of market forces and mainstream blandness. Human resources of the world, unite!

Bram Spiero

Bibi and his privatization obsession: A continuing story

Having sold off many government companies in his last term as prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu now turns to Israel’s public land as the next potential victim of his privatization obsession.  He tried to sneak it through in a seemingly irrelevant budget-related legislation (חוק הסדרים) and when pressed on the matter, he claimed its all about making it Sharon_Pt_7 015_compressedeasier to enclose balconies in apartments.  Right.  Well, a fascinating broad-based coalition quickly organized in opposition, ranging from the Zionist Right through the Zionist center/left and to the Socialist left and its managed to squeeze a few concessions out of the prime minister, and may yet be able to stop the deal.  Green Movement leaders have been central in organizing opposition to the privatization effort.  Green Movement deputy chair explains more fully why we should oppose this effort in his op-ed in Ha’aretz today.  He writes:

The real loss, however, involves the extent of the sell-off. The bill states that 800,000 dunams, or 4 percent of Israel’s lands, are to be put on the block. Supporters glibly claim that 4 percent is trivial. It’s anything but. When the deserts of the south are taken out of the equation, along with the nature reserves, forests and of course the military training grounds, this means an extraordinary percentage of the lands in central Israel will be up for sale.

The difference between private and public land ownership can easily be demonstrated by comparing the results of two major past development controversies. In Haifa, developers linked up with private landowners to push through approval of the seven seaside Carmel Towers. Because of litigation, only two of these monstrosities now block the view and the breeze of the adjacent neighborhoods, so that a few wealthy landowners can enjoy their private beach-front perches. But it is just a question of time before a political constellation revives the original plan and a new wall of concrete neutralizes more than a kilometer of beach.

The results were different in Nes Tziona, where a vast apartment complex was proposed for the Iris Hills, one of the last calcareous sandstone (kurkar) hillsides in Israel’s center, and home to a remarkable diversity of disappearing flora. Last year the Supreme Court rejected an attempt by private landowners to break a stalemate with the Jewish National Fund, which owned much of the land, and force through their building program. 

For the full article, click here.  For the Hebrew website of the coalition organizing against the privatization, click here.

Israel Green Movement in favor of public transportation, clean air and open space!

One bus or many cars? (picture from Treehugger.com)

One bus or many cars? (picture from Treehugger.com)

OK. That was a bit of a trick title. The IGM has formally announced its OPPOSITION to recent increases in fares for public transportation. But its important to stress that we are actually IN FAVOR of high quality public transportation. We are IN FAVOR of reducing air pollution and traffic congestion by improving public transportation quality and service. We are IN FAVOR of support of buses, taxis and trains as a comfortable and efficient alternative to private automobile use. The external costs of air pollution, traffic congestion, oil dependency, loss of open space to roads and parking can all be alleviated through improvement of public transportation. And we are all in favor of cleaner air, reducing traffic jams, preserving open space and breaking our addiction to oil. The Finance Ministry, with its proposal to raise public transportation fares by 8% (even as the price of gas is falling), sees things differently.

COME DEMONSTRATE WITH US in Jerusalem in favor of affordable public transportation.  We are meeting across from the Central Bus Station tomorrow, 23 Tuesday, at 15:00. Rides available from Tel Aviv at 13:15 – contact Yoav (054-6269362) or Ofer (054-7866841) for more information.

Want to read more (in Hebrew) about the Israel Green Movement position on Transportation?  Click here.

Haifa Israel Green Movement members protest factory’s pollution of air

Demonstration report provided by new blog contributor and IGM member from Haifa, Simon Marriott.

On Sunday afternoon, 14th of December, demonstrators, from as far a field as Tel Aviv and the Galilee, gathered in a northern industrial suburb of Haifa to protest about the pollution coming from one particular factory.

Representatives of three pressure groups: The Israel Green Movement, Green Course and The Coalition for Public Health, as well as citizens of Haifa and the Krayot waved banners, handed out stickers and leaflets and chanted slogans to passing motorists on Route 4 opposite the Frutarom plant.

Frutarom, founded in 1933, is a top player in the international flavour and fragrance market. Over the years Frutarom has become a subsidiary of the New York based ICC Industries, a major international manufacturer and trader of chemicals, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Frutarom is expanding rapidly worldwide; the company recently bought Raychan Food Industries in Israel.

With factories word-wide, Frutarom is being accused of releasing environmentally damaging chemicals into the atmosphere, i.e. polluting. In August 2007 Frutarom was sued in the Haifa Court for 225 million shekels on behalf of workers at the factory and in the area. The Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection had previously identified Frutarom as a key source of pollutants in Haifa Bay, including those that caused eye irritation and strong odors.

Protesting the polluters of Haifa's air - outside Frutaron

Protesting the polluters of Haifa's air - outside Frutaron

As dusk fell many people moved on to the main factory gate to continue the protest and to present a “Top Polluter Certificate” to the management. The honour was declined.

Shai Levin, acting as demonstration coordinator for the Israel Green Movement was pleased both with the turn out and, in particular, from the excellent response to the roadside demonstration.

Amit Rabin, demonstration coordinator on behalf of the Haifa area Coalition on Public Health noted to the demonstrators: “You can control the quality of the food and water you consume, but not the quality of the air you breath. Something must be done to stop the pollution here”. Amit’s right!

Next Friday, IGM members will be joining the protests in Habonim Beach against plans for development on that beautiful spot of coast.

In other news, the Israel Green Movement welcomes Shmuel Gelbhart and the former members of the Green Party in Haifa, who announced yesterday that they were formally leaving the Green Party and joining the Israel Green Movement. Gelbhart has headed the Green Party in the Haifa municipal council for the past ten years and told the local electronic paper “Mynet” that he intends to bring as many voters in the Haifa area as possible to the Green Movement. Welcome Shmuel and colleagues!

More green hope – now in Ashkelon

Dabush has worked for years to prevent the construction of a third coal-fire plant in Ashkelon

Dabush has worked for years to prevent the construction of a third coal-fire plant in Ashkelon

Residents of Ashkelon have a great reason to go to the polls in the coming municipal elections: Avi Dabush.  Dabush – a native of Ashkelon – has such an impressive list of accomplishments, its hard to summarize properly.  And true to form of those involved in the Israel Green Movement, his accomplishments span from enacting progressive economic programs to preventing the expansion of coal power to setting up a school for children with Autism.  Dabush completed his undergraduate education at Ben Gurion University, and holds a graduate degree in organizational sociology.  He coordinates organizational support for environmental NGOs with the social justice organization “Shaltiel.”  He shares his views in a regular column on the YNET website (his latest – in Hebrew – on the politics of placing cell phone relay stations in residential areas is here).  He is running for city council on a ticket that combines new immigrants and native residents, social and environmental activists, young and senior residents.  Dabush is number two on the list led by current city council member Yuri Zamoshchik.  Here’s hoping for Ashkelon becoming a light of social, economic and environmental progress!

Saying no to beach front development in Palmachim

A haven for nature lovers and beach bums, alike.

Palmachim: A haven for nature lovers and beach bums, alike.

Palmachim Beach, just south of Rishon L’Tzion, is one of the last undeveloped, publicly accessible beaches in central Israel.  The beautiful beach is a haven for nature lovers (read: tide pools and coastal dunes!), archeological explorers, fishermen, swimmers and sunbathers.  Problem is, development rights were sold by the Israel Lands Authority about seven years ago, and now a two-meter high corrugated metal fence is surrounding a holiday-village in construction.  But a coalition of locals from Nes Tziona, Rishon and Rehovot, along with nation-wide supporters, aren’t giving up on this beach.  They hope to preserve the beach for public recreation and nature.  They’ve been hosting demonstrations, outdoor concerts, beach dinners and now – on 28 September, 19:00 at Tel Aviv’s Cinematec – a photographic exhibition.  A month later the exhibit will move to Nes Tziona and from there to Rehovot.  See here for Hebrew coverage on the event and here for my take on the campaign.  And if you’re interested, check out the English site for the campaign (and some more beautiful photographs).