Opinion |

The Settlements as Plastic Bags

A revolution just occurred in Israel when stores started charging for plastic bags. If the thought of paying 10 agorot can turn the country into a bunch of environmentalists, what might happen if the settlements hit them in the pocket, too?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A new home in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
A new home in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The damage they do is enormous. They don’t break down for centuries. They spread, blow in the wind and pollute open spaces. In fact, they pollute the whole area and even kill (animals). Israelis knew all of this a long time ago, yet they never lifted a finger against this vexing problem – which has increasingly choked the environment. Israelis have repressed, denied and ignored the worsening problem, believing that by doing so it will disappear by itself. But it hasn’t gone away; it’s just piled up higher. They’re rarely reused, except to collect dog droppings, and Israelis use 2.7 billion (!) plastic bags a year – 325 bags per person.

And then a law was passed. Ten agorot (2.6 cents) a bag. And presto – no more bags. Three weeks have passed and the supermarkets are devoid of bags. A million-shekel jeep in the parking lot, and its owner saves 10 agorot on a bag. Suddenly, alternatives were found: grandma tote bags, trolley bags, multiuse bags – and it also turned out that they’re convenient. How could we have continued to live with these toxic bags? How did we use them by the hundreds, blind to the damage?

Ten agorot, that proved all the difference. For 10 agorot, we changed reality beyond recognition. For 10 agorot, we saved the world. For 10 agorot, Israelis awoke from their apathy and became environmentalists. The 10-agorot revolution. A thousand PR campaigns couldn’t have achieved the same result. The conclusion: Hit them in the pocket.

The damage they do is enormous. They don’t break down for years. They spread and pollute the environment, and they kill (people). The settlements.

Most Israelis know this, yet they don’t care. They are aware of the irreversible damage – but they yawn. Yes settlements, no settlements – who cares? Who even ever goes there? But the settlements deserve their own 10-agorot law. What worked with plastic bags will work in this case, too.

That law won’t pass in Israel. The settlers are too strong. But if the world passes it, and afterward Israelis have to pay out of their own pocket, out of their comfort and security, for the settlements – the wake-up call will be immediate. We’re already paying a huge price for this real estate greed – in blood, money, moral image and international standing. But few are willing to admit the connection between cause and effect, between crime and punishment. There are also people who make this connection fade and disappear. As with the plastic bags, all that’s needed is an honest price. Israelis won’t be willing to pay it.

The day the majority knows it has to pay for the settlements will be the beginning of their end. The day the damage is shown to be direct, by means of ostracizing and economic sanctions, will be wake-up day. That’s why boycotts and sanctions are so essential for Israel. That’s why the BDS movement can still save Israel – without intending to, of course. It’s ironic: The Legal Forum for a Democratic Zionist Israel wrote an amazing letter to supermarket chains, claiming that the plastic bag law doesn’t apply to the settlements. Maybe the settlers also understood the danger in the law’s success.

A shopper at an Israeli supermarket using a reusable bag, January 7, 2017. Faced with paying 10 agorot for a plastic bag, many are reusing bags or using trolleys.Credit: David Bachar

See what 10 agorot can do, and think what will happen with real sanctions that every Israeli will feel. What will happen when Charles de Gaulle, JFK and Heathrow airports are closed to Israelis without visas? And IKEA, Zara and McDonald’s close their branches here. What will happen when Hyundai and Kia cars are not sold in Israel, and it will be clear that it’s because of the settlements?

Without sanctions like these, nothing will change – just as nothing changed without sanctions on plastic bags. As with the bags, the result will pleasantly surprise us. As with the bags, we’ll suddenly ask ourselves why we didn’t think of it before. And as with the bags, we’ll suddenly understand how good and safe it is without them.

Without plastic bags and without settlements, which have polluted our lives and endanger our future.

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