With what environmental organization are you affiliated?
I’m a graduate student at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, a regional center for academic studies and research. It’s a rather unique place where Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians — as well as North Americans and Europeans — study the environment, live together, and do joint research.
I also spent five years working at Green Action, an eco-social NGO based in Tel Aviv.
What are you working on at the moment?
For my research, I’m involved in a joint Palestinian-Israeli project for trans-boundary watershed modeling and restoration strategies. I wanted to do scientific research, but it’s also very important for me to make an impact on the environmental issue. To add to that, I’m a great believer in practical cooperation between people as a lever for peace, so I’m always excited about joint projects in the Middle East.
I truly believe that peace between Israelis and the Palestinians will emerge when we tightly weave together the fabric of our lives.
How do you get to work?
Right now, I live about 100 steps from my workplace — that’s because I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to live and do part of my degree in the lovely campus community of Midreshet Ben-Gurion at Sede Boqer. Before coming here, I spent my life in the Tel Aviv metropolis where I relied on nothing but my bike to get to work as well as everywhere else. I’m a great supporter of bike commuting.
What’s your environmental vice?
My lab work; let’s not talk about it.
How do you spend your free time? Read any good books lately?
I’ve recently read The Web of Life; it’s an amazing work by Fritjof Capra, a physicist taking physical and biological theories and discoveries to create a holistic and almost spiritual perspective on our global ecosystem.
What’s your favorite meal?
Being a vegan in Israel, I crave the fresh fruit and vegetables we have here, yet there’s nothing like the divine hummus they sell in Jaffa.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
Last fall, I spent some time doing an internship in Burlington, Vt. It freaked me out when people kept saying that I’m like a typical Burlington Vermonter: a young vegan and radical environmental and peace activist with dreadlocks.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
The desert — no questions about it. I was born in the coastal Mediterranean part of Israel, but I was always attracted and amazed by the desert. The desert to me is more versatile in landscape and experience than any other place in the world. There’s a deep and immediate connection to the earth, to the bare rock that you just can’t find in other places. The harsh conditions and the untamable nature of the land give me a sense of humility, and I’m truly glad that the megalomaniac Zionist project to “green” the desert failed.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Contemplating between the car and the meat industry, I go for the meat. It’s where I started my political life, and I still think that the animal-farm industry is the cruelest and most immoral industry — and also one of the most environmentally destructive. For these reasons, I hope to see that industry disappear. I think it would be a step forward for humanity.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Go vegan! No wait … sell your car … or curb your consumption. Or start an urban food garden. Actually, just try to be a good person and minimize your impact on this planet.
Touched by Angel
From your experience studying at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, what examples have you seen of environmentalism breaking down political barriers or furthering coexistence? — Hart Feuer, Portland, Ore.
Environmentalists in the Middle East have an advantage over other Middle Easterners when facing the political issues of the area, especially the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. The reason is that these environmentalists understand that at the end of the day, all the issues that lie at the basis of the conflict as presented in the mainstream are marginal. They might be very traumatic and important on a personal level, but on the macro level, they are marginal compared to the environmental problems we are facing.
Or as a smart environmentalist I once knew said (and in the meantime, became a Knesset member), “It’s like arguing about the interior design onboard the Titanic.” It is the understanding, for example, that if we run out of water, who cares who is right; if we overpopulate this area, we will all become refugees. I would be generalizing, but I think this perception is the link between all Arava students.
Do you know of any other cooperative projects between Israelis and Palestinians? — Daniel Orenstein, Providence, R.I.
There are many cooperative projects between Israelis and Palestinians, but unfortunately not so many that are environmental. Besides the Arava Institute, I would refer you to a wonderful Palestinian-Israeli Fair Trade project, which I had the honor of taking part in during its initial stages back in my days at Green Action. Bustan is another organization that I support; it is also involved in environmental peacemaking.
The Zionist ethos — from its formative years to the present — puts a lot of emphasis on settlement and development of the land. Do you think this worldview is at all compatible with sustainability? Perhaps Zionism needs to be reshaped to fit into 21st-century reality? — Dror Etzion, Barcelona, Spain
The ethos of continuous settling is probably the most unsustainable element of Zionism. The initial goal was to capture as many lands as possible in order to push back the Palestinian and Bedouin communities and to create “Jewish territorial continuities.” This is the goal still today in establishing new settlements in the Galilee, the West Bank, and the Negev, and is the fuel that keeps the fire of our ethnic conflicts going. On top of that, I find this settling frenzy devastating to the Israeli environment as well as to the existing communities (the bottom line is simply more suburbanization).
Can you tell us about the Israel Ride cycling fundraiser for the Arava Institute? — Grist editors
The bike ride is a wonderful fundraising event that keeps the Arava Institute going and is organized in collaboration with Hazon.
People raise money, they come to Israel, they ride, and they sweat. Then they cross the desert and sweat some more. Then they come back home saying it’s the greatest experience they have ever had, and at the end of the day, the Arava Institute can support students from Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. The 2007 Israel Ride is now being planned.
How do you factor in the political, ethnic, and religious conflict of the region into transboundary watershed modeling and restoration strategies? What are the limits and strengths of your model? — Jennifer Welch, Chicago, Ill.
Well, personally I don’t, but that’s because my field is environmental microbiology and environmental chemistry, and not political science or economy. Building the political/economic model is the next stage of our project after we finish the physical model (mapping pollution sources, estimating pollution loadings, etc.) and will be performed by people trained for dealing with these kinds of issues.
If you want to see what something similar looks like in the end, I would refer you to a report by Friends of the Earth Middle East on the wastewater problem in the West Bank. This report also incorporates political and ethnic issues in an attempt to solve an environmental problem.
It seems to me that policy makers need to be more scientifically literate. What do you think we can do to educate these few who make the decisions that affect us all? — Kathleen Winn, Bruges, France
I agree that a lot of the politicians and policy makers are embarrassingly illiterate and ignorant. I also think that policies should be based on a strong scientific background.
But let us never forget that policies are always based on and driven by ethics and ideologies, even though they often presume an “objective” aura.
We should never leave politics (and that includes policies) in the hands of the so-called “professionals.” To continue with the Titanic note, let’s not forget that the ark was built by amateurs while the Titanic was built by professionals.
I go to school in Burlington, Vt. At which organization were you an intern? — Corey Paradis, Nashua, N.H.
I was participating in a program called “Beyond Borders: Israel-Arab Peace Partners Project.” It was organized mainly by Saint Michael’s College and Burlington College. I was interning at the University of Vermont at the department of geology with Dr. Greg Druschel.
I loved Vermont and have dear friends there, but could never live in a place colder than my freezer at home.