If Foxes Could Talk

If bats and flowers could talk, and if foxes and butterflies had the gift of speech, they would almost certainly ask: "Why are they silent? Why don't they help us? Wouldn't they be appalled and send up a hue and cry if a fence were installed in their home?"

If bats and flowers could talk, and if foxes, hyenas and butterflies also had the gift of speech, they would almost certainly ask: "Why are they silent? Why don't they help us? Wouldn't they be appalled and send up a hue and cry if a fence were installed in their home?"

The animals and insects would aim those questions at the green organizations in Israel, which have been almost totally silent about the ruinous environmental consequences that are being caused by the separation fence now under construction. These are the same organizations that always insist environmental problems know no boundaries, yet which are now ignoring one of the major ecological hazards in Israel.

Only a few organizations, such as Green Action and Friends of the Earth - Middle East, have tried to arouse public consciousness about the fence's ramifications. But the large organizations, such as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), Adam, Teva V'Din (the Israel Union for Environmental Defense), and the umbrella organization of the greens, Life and Environment, have been consistently silent.

The main struggle being waged against the separation fence is, as is fitting, one that is aimed at preventing violations of the human rights of the Palestinians, who find themselves besieged in their villages and cut off from their fields and crops. A debate is also under way concerning the political and security implications of the fence's route.

However, the fence also has severe environmental consequences. This is not a fence that passes along the edges of Israel, like the security fences along the borders with Lebanon and Jordan, though they, too, are environmentally problematic. The present fence will split Israel lengthwise, as well as widthwise in three regions (Mount Gilboa and the northern valleys, the hills around Jerusalem, and the southern Judean Hills). The word "fence" is misleading, because what's being created is actually a vast system of barriers that are tens of meters wide and include a trench.

Environmentally, the meaning of a fence like this can be likened to plunging an iron stake into the carotid artery of ecological systems. Wild animals already have difficulty moving between the multiplicity of inhabited areas and roads, but they are still able to find passages. The separation fence will cut them off, isolate populations of wild animals, and constitute an obstacle to the spreading of wildflower seeds, without which they cannot multiply. In short, the fence will embitter and abbreviate the lives of creatures and plants across a broad swath and will undermine their basis of existence. It will also be a vicious blight on the landscape in the center of Israel and in the territories across the Green Line.

The silence of the green organizations is due in large measure to a traditional posture of not intervening in issues that generate political controversy. SPNI officials also argued that, because the fence is perceived as protecting human life, there is no point fighting it, and in any event a struggle will bring about only the most minor changes that will not be able to offset the overall damage.

Spokesmen for the greens umbrella organization say the various groups have different attitudes toward the fence and the umbrella organization therefore has no mandate to express a binding opinion as long as no such opinion has crystallized among all the groups. They note that the environmental organizations will hold a discussion about the fence during their annual conference, to be held this month.

None of this justifies the current total ignoring of the fence. The green organizations could have issued a call to plan the fence in a way that would minimize environmental damage, including a different route in certain places. They could have asked that passages be created for wild animals and that the planning of the fence be done in conjunction with environmental groups, like other planning processes.

The umbrella organization could have urged the groups to act on the fence on the basis of broad agreement. The SPNI, which protested against the building of a bypass road near Beit Jala in the West Bank and fought to reduce the damage of the security fence on the Lebanon border, could have spoken out against a hazard that is far more severe. After all, even minimizing damage is part of the task of a green organization. The ongoing silence of the majority of the green organizations conflicts with the goal in whose name they are acting. However, they still have an opportunity to speak out, because the fence has not yet reached the region of the hills around Jerusalem and the southern Judean Hills.