Category Archives: Media

Defending the home front

The next IDF chief, Yoav Galant, might be worthy of being Isrel’s no. 1 soldier, but his illegal acquisition of public land for private use and development of his property questions his moral, legal integrity.

By Daniel Orenstein on Haaretz.com

The chief of staff is Israel’s No. 1 soldier. The country’s security rests on his shoulders and its army is expected to follow him into battle. He should thus be a person with an impressive military record, charisma, intellect and determination.

But should the chief of staff also display outstanding integrity and be a law-abiding individual who respects his fellow citizens? The state says yes, which is why Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant’s appointment to the chief of staff post was reviewed by the the Turkel committee, tasked with assessing the integrity and thus suitability of candidates for senior government positions.

Last month, the panel approved Galant. Yet, despite its lightning-fast approval, lingering doubts remain, as seen in comments by the deputy attorney general and by the Turkel committee itself. At issue is Galant’s illegal acquisition of public land for private use and development of that land as an extension of his own property.

The Israel Green Movement, along with six of its national leaders, is appealing to the Supreme Court to halt the appointment. They charge that the committee was negligent in approving Galant before doing its homework. The petitioners describe how Galant “took control of land against the law and consistently, and with thuggish behavior, ruthlessly and crudely trampled law and order − behavior that started in 2006 and continues until this day.”

The story, meticulously covered by Maariv journalist Kalman Libskind, begins in the late 1990s when Galant purchased a five-dunam lot on Moshav Amikam, near Zichron Yaakov, and built a new home. The Galants were reportedly unhappy that their driveway would cut through their own land, so they cleared a new road on public land between the neighbors’ homes. The neighbors complained and the head of the local planning authority ordered a cessation of the road building. Then Galant built a new road, again on public land, this time even longer. When the neighbors challenged this road, Galant produced a letter from the army stating that it was required for “emergency evacuations.”

Meanwhile, Galant went on to plant trees along the driveway, obstructing the neighbors’ views. When a neighbor tried to trim them, Galant cynically had her arrested for damaging trees. Next he cleared a parking lot, put up fencing and lighting, and extended his garden, all on publicly owned land designated as open space.

The Galants were given an additional 35 dunams of land by the Israel Lands Administration for agricultural use without going through conventional channels and, according to the Green Movement appeal, without paying. Then Galant took 28 dunams more for agriculture with no official approval. This proved too much for even the ILA, which sent a letter to Galant in 2006 demanding he uproot the trees and evacuate the additional 28 dunams. It took him two years to apologize for his “mistaken” cultivation of the additional land, and an additional year to remove the trees.

A paper trail of half a dozen court and local planning committee statements compiled by the Green Movement suggests that Galant systematically disregarded planning laws and procedures. But there are other important implications that go far beyond one individual exercising his political clout for personal gain.

When our military and civilian leaders show disregard for the law, the effect is a trickle-down justification of lawlessness and of cynicism that magnifies the impact of the leader’s activities. As one of his neighbors tellingly revealed to Haaretz, “Many people in Amikam sit on public land. The point is that we have a gentlemen’s agreement that as long as it doesn’t bother the neighbors, it’s not a problem.” A second neighbor excused Galant’s actions with a blithe reference to Ariel Sharon, whose Sycamore Ranch is the largest private farm in the country, also acquiring land through questionable means.

Secondly, the lack of response to Galant’s flaunting of the law also erodes faith in the public institutions that are responsible for enforcing it. When the Haifa district building supervisor requested that the authorities stop Galant from using the illegally constructed infrastructure, the man added that if this did not happen, his agency would continue losing the public’s faith. But Galant persevered and created new facts on the ground and the authority of the public planning and building committees was indeed diminished.

By ignoring Galant’s behavior, the effectiveness of the Turkel committee, guardian of government integrity, is also brought into doubt. Indeed by its own admission, it reached its conclusions before reviewing any of the claims regarding Galant’s land grab, and despite the results of the deputy attorney general’s report. In short, Galant may have been guilty of actions that call his integrity into question, but the committee assigned to investigate didn’t take the time to investigate.

We need not accept this behavior from our military leaders or politicians, and we should demand of our public institutions − land-use agencies, courts and government committees − to fulfill their role to the public, regardless of the standing of the individual under question. As for Maj. Gen. Galant, if the Green Movement petitioners are correct, he should immediately evacuate all but his five dunams and return the rest to the public.

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When fire is an abnormal event

When the mandatory review of the events surrounding the fire is complete, and its conclusions reported, it must not overlook the ecological conditions that contributed to the pall of smoke wafting from Mt. Carmel.

By Daniel Orenstein on Haaretz.com

The flames were still spreading across the Carmel Forest and homes were under imminent threat when a steady stream of commentary began to burst forth. The commentators rightly agreed: Israel was woefully unprepared for a fire of this magnitude, and years of insufficient budgets for firefighters and equipment were tantamount to extreme negligence. The human tragedy of 42 deaths and scores of burnt homes magnified this conclusion.

When the mandatory review of the events surrounding the fire is complete, and its conclusions reported, it must not overlook the ecological conditions that contributed to the pall of smoke wafting from Mt. Carmel. How we manage our forests, activities in and around the forests, and climate change are all considerations that should be folded into our long-term policy to avoid the disastrous consequences of future fires.

Note that I don’t write that we make policy to avoid future fires. Fires – human-caused and natural – have been occurring on Mt. Carmel for more than 750,000 years. Ecologist Zeev Naveh, who has spent his career studying the Carmel, goes so far as to call it a Mediterranean fire bioclimate. Many of the local species of flora are adapted to, or even dependent on, periodic fires, which clear out their competitors and allow them to regenerate. In this way, biodiversity in the forests is also increased. With the first post-fire winter rains, seedlings signal the forest’s regeneration. It is incorrect to speak of burned forest areas as being destroyed.

Re-colonization of burnt areas, however, is contingent upon having undamaged areas from which plants and animals can colonize, and having viable seeds left in the soil to resprout after the fire. This means we need large areas set aside for protection, so that a mosaic of periodic fires can be allowed to occur in different areas and at different times. Further, restoration work following a fire must be conducted with minimal damage to the soil, so as to avoid damaging the seed bank.

But if fire is a normal event, why did this one end so tragically? One reason is our management strategies. A prominent and oft-ignored recommendation from previous post-fire professional reports is the need for creating fire breaks – areas with little to burn – by clearing vegetation away from roads and built-up areas. Cows and goats can often be used in lieu of heavy equipment to prevent the accumulation of flammable material. While too much grazing can be destructive, the ecological system thrives in the presence of a moderate level that lowers fire risk and maintains a high biodiversity of plants. The impending professional review must investigate why, despite numerous recommendations, the scale of fire breaks and forest clearing around built-up areas has been so inadequate.

Another activity to be discouraged is planting of pine trees. Coupled with fire suppression in the naturally occurring oak-pistachio woodland ecosystem, pine plantations are highly flammable, and their presence encourages the outbreak of hotter, more destructive fires. Some pines occur naturally on the Carmel, and they are the first to re-sprout following fires, but pine planting should be restricted from all areas except recreational and picnic areas; the rest should be left to natural regeneration.

The second reason why this fire was so tragic is that many of us want to live surrounded by forest. The most terrible consequence of forest fires is the loss of human life – in particular, of those who live in the forest and those called upon to protect them when it burns. Such losses can be avoided to some extent by preventing further residential and commercial encroachment on forested areas. Preventing such expansion into the Carmel Park will protect human life and property and maximize the size of the area being preserved to assure its long-term ecological viability.

The third reason this fire was so devastating is global climate change. The Carmel fire followed five years of drought, and the driest November in almost 50 years. Local climate modelers predict that the north of Israel will experience warmer temperatures and declining precipitation (and the rain that does fall will come in heavier events ). The result will be more water running off into the sea, higher evaporation rates, and less water infiltration into the ground for the utilization of plants and humans. Israel’s current drought is consistent with a climate we’d expect in a warming world. And so are drier forests, which are more susceptible to fire events.

With this increase in fire threat due to climate change in mind, Israel has two policy options: prevention and adaptation. On the one hand, we should be reducing our carbon emissions. Indeed, the recent government decision to reduce these emissions by 20 percent in the next decade is a good start. On the other, we need to build more resilience into our social and ecological systems – including ensuring better disaster preparedness, preserving a greater amount of open space and water as a buffer against unforeseen future environmental changes, and managing our forests with defensible space between human settlement and natural preserves. Such practices will improve our capacity to deal not only with fires in the future, but also with many types of natural or human caused disasters.

With some ecological foresight and resolute leadership – and yes, proper funding for a firefighting service – perhaps we can limit the damage of the next, inevitable fire.

News bytes 24 days before Israel’s elections – the Green Movement-Meimad hit the blogosphere

Green Movement-Meimad Open Election Event

Green Movement-Meimad Open Election Event

While politicians are still debating whether or not Israel’s elections will be held on time, and the mood in Israel is still shadowed by the ongoing conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, the Green Movement-Meimad is continuing to reach out to the Israeli public.  The party’s election event will be this coming Sunday at the Convention Center in Ramat Aviv.  Everyone is invited to attend and meet the party’s candidates, activists and supporters and transportation is available from all over Israel.  Sunday, 18 January, 18:30, Ramat Aviv Convention Center (גני התערוכה), Purple Prime hall.

A new party without huge cash reserves or support from vested business interests, we’re depending on the good work and will of hundreds of activists and thousands of supporters.  One excellent source of support and inspiration (an Obama-esque source) is the blogosphere.  Three in the blogosphere who have weighed in with a positive take on the Green Movement-Meimad party are author/journalist/blogger (South Jerusalem)  Haim Watzman, Jewish Climate Initiative blogger Yannai Kranzler, and teacher/writer/blogger/activist Elana Sztokman.

In her blog, “For serious Jewish women,” Sztokman interviews Professor Alon Tal and writes:

Building bridges

IGM-Meimad: Uniting rather than polarizing

The overlap between environment, education, and social justice creates a powerful and inspired platform – all in the name of Judaism. “We’re talking about ‘nutritional security’,” says Tal. “We want to bring compassion back, a certain type of internal harmony, a community that has a strong sense of social justice.” And this requires political activism.

The new party, the only party running whose list is exactly 50-50 men and women, reflects the pluralism and wholesomeness of its message. “What I like about this merge is how it blends secular, young Jews and mostly religious or traditional Jews,” Tal emotes. “We were so excited about a partnership with this party, even though they had a rabbi with a black suit on as their head and the people in our party were much more secular – because we thought that was something as a statement of sorts. It was good for the country. All the polarization that exists in Israeli society is fabricated by larger parties and manipulated by them. While in fact, on the key day-to-day issues, we don’t have any problems, and we have the same visions.”

The rest of Sztokman’s wonderful interview is here.  Watzman’s piece (which prophesied the merger of the Green Movement and Meimad) is on Jewcy, here, and Kranzler’s supportive piece is here.  We appreciate all three bloggers and their efforts to bring about a social-environmental revolution in Israel.

1 in 6 residents in my apartment block explicitly support the Green Movement-Meimad!

A good start: 1 in 6 residents in my apartment block explicitly support the Green Movement-Meimad!

On our way to the Israel Green Movement primaries!

Invitation to the green celebration and primaries

Invitation to the green celebration and primaries

First and foremost: Green Movement Celebration and Primaries – all the public is invited for the celebration, members invited to vote.  So come to the Kibbutz Seminar Center in Ramat Aviv this Friday, at 8:45 through the afternoon to celebrate with us.  If you are a voting member, candidate profiles in Hebrew are here.  About 10 of the candidates are also profiled in English on our site.

Otherwise, so much to report – The Green Movement is involved in several environmental campaigns, two new writers have joined our blog, new Facebook groups – including one in English for locals and one for Israel Green Movement friends abroad, and several articles covering our press conference yesterday (one in English here and one in Hebrew here, with video coverage of Eran Ben Yemini and Alon Tal at the press conference).  But, alas, I have my day job to worry about and the primaries are coming up, so I can’t write more now.

When I get back, I’ll report on the results of the primaries and we’ll get many more items of interest up on the blog.  So, more soon and here’s to a greener, more economically and socially just Israel!

Our IGM candidates

Our IGM candidates

Israel Green Movement and the elections – running independently

The Israel Green Movement – with 900 card-carrying members and growing – has been approached by a number of parties to join with them in their race for Knesset.  The most serious of these offers – from the peoplehoodnew social-democratic party in formation (including Meretz, ex-Laborites and social activists) was turned down by the IGM membership in a vote of 22-74.  Yossi Abramowitz, who is running for the IGM list, covered the event on his blog here.  Unfortunately, I can’t cover the issues that were raised, as I didn’t attend, but I will link to the discussions around the event as they come up.

greenprophetIn the meantime, more excellent reading material from Greenprophet.com, who interviewed our spokesperson, Rami Livni, here.

And while you’re reading, here’s my newest piece – this time in the Providence Journal – on my impressions from the first Middle East Biodiversity Congress last month in Aqaba.  I include it because I argue, once again, that our environmental problems are grounded in more systemic problems of inequity, war, misplaced values, and demographic and economic issues.

The causes of our biodiversity crisis, like the causes of many of our global environmental problems, are rooted in broad, systemic problems: Wars, military training and arms races in the Middle East directly degrade the natural environment, but also insidiously distract us and divert our limited economic and political resources, from not only caring for our natural heritage, but for people as well. The gospel of economic growth churns up ecosystem after ecosystem, and with them some of the most beautiful natural assets that the Earth has to offer and a source of wonder to people. Population growth places increasing stress on hydrological systems and land reserves that must continue to provide raw materials, food, water and space to an ever-growing population.

A significantly different shade of green

While many, many of Israel’s seasoned environmental activists, scholars and sympathizers have already joined up with the Israel Green Movement, I have been asked more than once why Israel needs another Green Party.  The question is flawed.  Israel has, until now, had a Green Party in name only.  Ha’aratz environmental writer Zafrir Rinat points this out in today’s Haaretz.  It is important to note that Rinat has been on the environmental beat for more than ten years and he knows the Israeli environmental scene inside and out.  Rinat writes of the Green Party (the other guys – not us):

To this day, the party lacks any democratic setup and its worldview is worryingly narrow. It almost ignores social and political aspects pertaining to Israeli society…

What most characterized the party to date has been its efficient use of the “green” label that has become a hot commodity in recent years. Also, it attributes many far-fetched environmental accomplishments to itself in order to gain public support.

However, most of these accomplishments in the field – reducing pollution and preventing construction in open areas – are the product of hard work by non-governmental organizations. With the exception of a few local achievements in Herzliya and Tel Aviv, the Greens have had almost no influence on environmental issues on the national level. The party can claim that the election of its members to the Knesset will help it gain influence, but the fact that it has already self-ascribed other environmental achievements does not help its political credit.

The article is here.  While that says it quite clearly, I’ve conveyed to my friends a more personal interpretation of the situation:

Many of the Green Party founders and leaders were politicians looking for a cause.  The Israel Green Movement is made up of leaders from the environmental movement who decided that politics would be the best way to move the environmental agenda forward.  This is reflected in the platforms – the Green Party never has seemed to have a comprehensive world view.  Bike paths and cell phone antennas (prominent issues in their past campaigns) are important, but we need economic and social policies as well – environmental problems arise from a world view and behaviors that harm both the environment and society.  The Israel Green Movement has published a detailed vision and is working intensively on a detailed issue-oriented platform that encompass a social-environmental world view and relates to economic policy, the peace process, land use policy, education, social welfare and many other issues.  Indeed, will be no niche-specific party.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t good people in the Israel Green Party – but as a whole, they never attracted the rank-and-file environmental activists because something is missing.  They never attracted a wide constituency because they are a niche-specific party.

I think if those in the Green Party with a social-environmental world view compare their party with the Israel Green Movement, they will “come home” to us.  I don’t want to see a split in the vote as it harms everyone interested in promoting social justice, economic equity and environmental progress, but continuing with a Green Party that doesn’t really “get it” will also not bring about the real changes we need in Israel (and the world).

The Israel Green Movement – Becoming a Political Party!

Its official!  The Green Movement will be making a bid for the Knesset.  The Jerusalem Post reports:

The Green Movement transformed into a political party this week ahead of national elections scheduled for February.

For the whole (short) article, click here.

Obviously, we’ll be reporting here any developments as soon as they surface.  But I can’t emphasize enough – now is the time to join if you’d like to influence the future direction of the party of the Israel Green Movement.

knesset