Avihai Shelly
Avihai Shelly Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Life and Environment, the Israeli umbrella organization of ecology organizations, will present its Green Globe awards on Sunday to activists and NGOs that have improved the country’s environment.

The ceremony is held annually in conjunction with Earth Day. A 1970 initiative of U.S. activists, Earth Day is now marked in 175 countries.

Avihai Shelly of Netivot will receive the Green Globe for improving bus service between his city and Tel Aviv. This month a new direct express bus began running between the two cities. Shelly, who is blind and hard of hearing, and thus dependent on public transportation, fought for the new bus line with the Green Course organization.

“It has improved my quality of life, but I believe that it will also lead more people to give up their private cars, which means less pollution,” said Shelly. “It proves that public pressure yields results.”

While bus service has improved in Netivot, many places still lack good public transportation. Plans to create special express routes in the Dan Region for high-capacity buses are still on the drawing board.

“Public transportation is better now than it was a decade ago,” says Naor Yerushalmi, Life and Environment’s director. “But we are far from the development of a quality alternative to the private car. The government still prefers to invest in road infrastructure and private cars. Many employers subsidize the use of private cars with government support.”

Also receiving the Green Globe award are activists from the Carmel Beach area who worked to protect the shoreline from developers.

But despite local successes here and there, the protection of nature against encroaching development have largely failed in Israel, says Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a founder of Adam, Teva V’Din − the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.

“We haven’t blocked the plan to set up new towns in the Lachish region,” Tal said. “We didn’t block the bridge for the [Jerusalem-Tel Aviv] fast train that harmed the Yitla Forest in the Jerusalem hills, and we haven’t prevented all kinds of building projects in various places.”

Still looming, he warns, is the planned alteration in building and planning procedures, which environmentalists say poses a grave risk to open space. At the awards ceremony, this “reform” will be given Life and Environment’s Black Globe, its mark of disgrace.

Other winners of not the Black but the Green Globe are Dr. Hussein Tarabeah, founding director of an environmental education center in Sakhnin and manager of Alzaharaa project in Kafr Qasem and Kalansua. Still, the environmental movement hasn’t made much headway in Arab communities, where waste disposal and sewers are poor or nonexistent, and where there are few parks and green areas.

On the plus side, Tal and Yerushalmi cite the taxes on vehicle pollution and landfills. Also, “greens” are now widely represented on local councils; Tel Aviv Municipality will get a Green Globe for its bike paths and bike-sharing system introduced last year.

“I think we have succeeded in changing decision-makers’ perception,” said Yerushalmi, “and that has led to policy changes.”