Israel Is Returning to Alfalfa

Those who cross on green deserve encouragement. But an hour of blackout, riding a bicycle and changing the light bulbs in the Presidents' Residence are not enough. It's all well and good, but not really serious.

Suddenly it was fun to live here. Before the upcoming elections, before the season of promises and watermelons, even the inside of the watermelon looked green. Israel's citizens were the object of a green attack this week, unless it was actually the squirting cucumber, a poisonous green member of the squash family, found in garbage dumps.

It all began when Tel Aviv turned off its lights; as a resident of the city, I did, too. The idea did not really turn me on, but I didn't want to stand apart from the public. Things continued with the Week of Love for Nature, Water and the Environment, when the Israeli government convened in an ancient cave and decided to develop bicycle paths. Had the ministers implemented the conclusions of the Winograd Report and done proper staff work, they would have learned that Beit She'arim was a necropolis to which Jews - far and near - came in their old age to die and be interred there, and that what flourished at the site was the work of the hevra kadisha (burial society), such as quarrying, stonecutting, designing and decorating gravestones, constructing and carving sarcophagi.

Midweek saw a large convention, Environment 2000, at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, while the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership and the Pratt Foundation awarded prizes to media people who cover environmental issues. And we still hear the echo of the president's declaration of his intention to turn his residence into a green home. For the moment Israel seems to be returning to alfalfa.

Those who cross on green deserve encouragement. If things continue this way, the time of the songbird will come and the voice of the turtledove will again be heard. But the continuation must be more substantial. An hour of blackout, riding a bicycle and changing the light bulbs in the Presidents' Residence are not enough. It's all well and good, but not really serious. Even the important law to protect the beaches of Lake Kinneret, which was approved this week in the Knesset, will be tested by its enforcement rather than by its provisions - and we know enforcement is weak.

Here are proposals to take with us on the new path: When it leaves the cave, the government will drop its opposition to the Clean Air Law; the Israel Electric Corporation will not be allowed to build another coal-fueled power plant in Ashkelon; the "Peace Canal" between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea will not be dug without prior examination of the environmental consequences, which are likely to prove catastrophic; Bahad City (a central location for all Israel Defense Forces training bases) in the Negev will not be built until all the statistics about pollution in Ramat Hovav are fully known; the Palmahim beach will not be destroyed for a vacation village; and the lovely spots in Timna will not be destroyed for a hotel. And there are other ideas to save Israel from becoming a boiling Jurassic Park.

Sometimes it seems as though the "new greens" don't have the foggiest about the reason for all this green, and for them whatever is greener is more profound and less shallow.

Let's see them confronting their best friends, the leading real-estate magnates. There is no green free lunch, and it's nothing like a gourmet meal. Let's see them, for once, riding a bicycle without trampling anything underfoot and without rolling their eyes heavenward.

When will we know that green has taken its place in the rainbow? When senior ministers compete for the Ministry of Environmental Protection and senior media people quickly glance in that direction. Because there are no small ministries and there are no small issues. There are only small ministers and media people.