Opinion

Life Is Not a Nature Film

There is a clear connection between the disaster at a nature reserve in southern Israel, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and our political leaders' self-proclaimed love of this land

A dead ibex at Nahal Ashalim, after large quantities of acidic waste spilled into the stream, July 4, 2017.
Sharon Tal/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

There is poison in Nahal Ashalim (the Ashalim stream). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about the “Land of Israel” and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid talk about its great value, about connection, about commitment. Endlessly. At every opportunity. That is the essence of their worldview. It’s a right-wing government, isn’t it? And there is poison in Nahal Ashalim. “A tsunami of poison,” someone called it.

Huge amounts of poison are flooding this lovely stream. And yet there’s silence. Nobody talks about it. At least, no one who constantly talks about the Land of Israel – no one who exploits this land, the connection to it, the feelings it arouses in people – for immediate and petty political needs. For power. But they should think about the ibex carcasses on the banks of the stream; they should think about the fox carcasses after they drink the polluted water. Sometimes, reality is its own best parable – like a bird that flies low in hope of water but crashes on the ground.

And no, this is not a nature film, it’s not something distant. It’s the connection to this place on the most fundamental level; a connection in the most tangible, most vivid, most honest sense. I’m still trying to find some sort of public reference – a tweet, a Facebook post – to learn their thoughts about this disgrace, and the deep sense of contempt for this land that it reflects.

We were in the same situation only three years ago, in a different place [Evrona Nature Reserve near Eilat], with a different poison – and what has been done since then? Then, too, there was silence. And the soil never swallows abuse quietly. In the end it comes out. Erupts. That is the way of the world.

I didn’t find a single picture this week of any politician, among those who speak such lofty words about this place, among those who are willing to send people out to die, among those who are unwilling to give up a single inch of land – not one picture against the backdrop of the stream, no solemn expression, no outcry.

But the sight of this stream should make us scream. This polluted water, the lack of references to it, the virtual ignoring of it, the placing of this story on the margins of the news – all testify to the void between the words, between people’s tendency to shout about how “connected” they are, how they “love the land,” how much this place belongs to them, and the sense of profound detachment and alienation, the clear lack of interest in the polluted stream and the animals living there.

It is frightening to consider the extent to which our thinking about this place has become “political” in the hollow sense of the word. The extent to which we as a society are barely living in the reality – the furrows of earth, the sweat, the smell of blossoms – but only the echoes of all that, only what is being sold through the television screen.

It’s exactly the same story as what is happening in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis there. Anyone who doesn’t see the people there, stuck in the heat with little water and medicine, most of the time without electricity – anyone who can dismiss all that with the wave of a hand, why should he get upset by an ibex carcass lying on the banks of a stream, bursting with poison?

It’s much more convenient to recycle the supposedly tough talk ad nauseam; much more convenient to pass another law that will make it difficult to divide Jerusalem; much more convenient to babble, to incite. That’s also why nobody is talking about the announced closure of a plant in Kiryat Gat, leaving 400 people unemployed. Nobody sees them, either.

Those who speak of “replacing the elites,” about equality, about the country’s outlying areas, did any of them go to Kiryat Gat to encourage the people, to fight? The main thing was that the Indian prime minister was coming, the main thing was to have a picture taken with Britney Spears. Again, this is also linked to the polluted stream, just as it’s linked to the situation in Gaza.

Palestinian students looking to Gaza's only power plant through a barbed fence in Nuseirat, the central Gaza Strip, in January 2017.
MAJDI FATHI / NurPhoto

It’s not politics, it’s humaneness. It’s the understanding that people are responsible for one another. It’s the understanding that without thinking about this place on all its levels, without concern for nature, without concern for people’s livelihoods, without concern for the weak – yes, even if they are an enemy – without all that, there really is no right to exist. Without all that, we’ll continue to sink into the mud, to increasingly pollute the space in which we live.