Come North for the Hiking, Stay for the Protests and Petitions

Amid the trees, grass and streams, Passover visitors also encountered protest tents and environmental activists.

Tomer Applebaum

The hundreds of thousands of Passover vacationers who toured the north of Israel this week may have come for the green space, flowing streams and summery weather, but many of them left with environmental awareness, having encountered some of the multiple protests at popular tourist attractions in the north.

Some people think the public is weak and the government makes the decisions, said Amit Harpaz, a resident of the northern town of Rosh Pina as he sat in a protest tent over the holiday at the entrance to El-Al Stream in the Golan Heights, where he was demonstrating against oil drilling. “But the reality is that public opinion is what decides all the struggles in Israel,” he said.

Harpaz and his wife Leora, both of whom are involved in the Golan protest as well as a demonstration against the construction of a museum at the entrance to Wadi Rosh Pina, which was to be their next stop, said they wished they could split themselves into three. That way, they would also have been able to get to a protest against the installation of a high-tension line near the Hula Valley’s Lake Agmon.

The stream where the Harpazes demonstrated was one of three sites in the Golan where protests were held by oil drilling opponents — local residents in conjunction with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Greenpeace and the student environmental group Green Course. The other sites were the entrance to Ayit Stream and the ancient synagogue of Umm al-Qanatir, near an area slated for probe drilling.

“We are presenting this as a national struggle,” said Michael Elkayam, an environmental activist from Moshav Eliad in the Golan who estimated that about 10,000 people had passed through the protest tents over Passover. “The feeling is that the only way is to motivate the public,” he said.

Environmental activists said most of the visitors got involved, whether by signing petitions or agreeing to spread the word to their friends.

“The public is very connected to these things,” said Elkayam. “And even when there’s a negative response, there’s still a lot of sympathy.”

There were some verbal confrontations as well, such as when oil company representatives approached the El-Al Stream protest site with PR material. Volunteers shouted at them: “How much will you destroy our lives for money?” And another drilling protester said he had argued with an oil company employee at the Umm al-Qanatir protest site.

In Rosh Pina too, visitors showed interest in the protesters’ cause.

“Visitors were very interested and asked questions, even though they were in the middle of their trip,” said Amir Yaluz, a leader of the Rosh Pina residents’ protest against the construction of a museum slated to focus on Romanian pioneers in Israel.

The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites is against the construction and wants the museum to be built in existing buildings. Area residents say a good place for the museum would be the now-abandoned first Hebrew school in the town.

A woman from Rishon Letzion who came with a group shouted to her friends that they should sign Yaluz’s petition “so they don’t destroy nature!” Another group, from Ra’anana, also signed the petition.

“We feel a certain spirit,” said Yaluz. “People want more and more to preserve nature.”

At Lake Agmon on Wednesday, where protesters were intent on burying the plan to build a power line in the area, the demonstration took the form of educational activities. Hundreds of people took part in an obstacle course that was part of the protest effort by volunteer local residents, the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and regional councils in the area.

“There was an obstacle course that looked like a high-tension wire that the kids had to cross, wearing wings, without getting ‘electrocuted,’ said Anbar Rubin of the JNF. The activity is meant to illustrate the danger to the many birds in the area that the power line represents. Most of the children didn’t make it across, Rubin said.

There, too, visitors signed a petition. “After the holiday, after people go home, they can continue to support the struggles on the Internet,” Rubin said.