This Thursday marks the 34th Earth Day, which has become a day of celebration for environmental groups and organizations in Israel and around the world. The day will be dedicated to discussions of various environmental problems, but this is also a suitable time to note the role and importance of the environmental activists.
There is a small group of people in Israel who for years have been waging exhausting battles against large corporations, government ministries, municipalities and general public apathy in an effort to reduce health risks, protect nature and the landscape, and promote environmental justice: i.e., a hazard-free life for the rich and the poor.
These activists come from diverse backgrounds, and each has his/her own motives, but they do have a few things in common. Many of them cooperate with environmental organizations, but work alone for the most part, and most are marked by the establishments against which they are struggling as radicals and nuisances. They do, indeed, sound determined and they do bear particularly bleak tidings, but it turns out, in general, that they know exactly what they are talking about.
Many of the environmental activists pay a heavy price for their actions. They often forgo more lucrative career opportunities, and expose themselves to political pressures, threats to their lives and lawsuits. Unlike human rights activists, the greens get almost no political backing, and their struggle, therefore, is particularly difficult. Some of them have always had full environmental agendas, but many of them joined the struggle after seeing their childhood landscapes or residential surroundings come under threat from environmental hazards.
The following are a number of environmental activists in Israel without whose presence and involvement more flowers and wild animals would disappear, and more contaminants would endanger the environment. Without these individuals, public and government awareness of the environmental problems would be even weaker, and it would be easier to commit more environmental injustices.
l Bilha Givon has been managing an environmental protection organization, the Sustainable Development for the Negev nonprofit association, for the past few years. Before that, she served as a leading activist for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). Givon started out doing nature conservation work but in recent years she has been a partner to campaigns to protect the public in the Negev from industrial contaminants.
l Herzl Keren is a resident of Netanya who some 10 years ago embarked on an almost solo and lengthy struggle to save the rare natural assets along the coastline of his city, primarily the purple iris, which faces extinction. Thanks to his fight, some of the areas in which the irises grow and bloom have been saved from construction work.
l Yoram Asidon, who lives in the area of Ramat Menashe, is party to the fight of a local committee for the protection of the region's landscape against destruction resulting from the paving of the Trans-Israel Highway. For years, Asidon has worked to promote the use of public transport instead of paving additional roads.
l Boaz Ra'anan of Ashdod is trying to prevent the coastline of his city from becoming a continuum of large and ugly buildings, and to stop private elements from taking control of the city's beaches.
l Dr. Avi Cohen, a physicist who lives in the Harutzim community in the Sharon region, dedicates a great deal of his time to saving the area's open spaces from construction initiatives.
l Finally, one must mention the regional environmental coordinators working for the SPNI: Yochanan Darom in the north; Moshe Perlmuter in the center; Avraham Shaked in the Jerusalem mountains; Shay Tachnay in the south; and Nir Papay, who coordinates the beach conservation activities. These individuals are trying to block a huge wave of various and strange initiatives that have one thing in common - the desire to destroy more and more public resources so as to earn as much money as possible.
The people mentioned here are only a representative sample. There are many others, who contribute no less, feel despaired and exhausted, and believe they are waging an uphill battle. It would be worthwhile on Earth Day to remind them that in many places around the world, small groups or lone activists have been the ones to bring about social and environmental changes.
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