Into the Wild

Israel Nature and Parks Authority brings together Jewish, Arab citizens on environmental projects.

Dozens of Jisr al-Zarqa residents gathered at the village's idyllic fishing dock Sunday to see off a brown sea turtle named Ali, saved by two fishermen who found and rescued him after trapping him in their net. Ali, named after one of the two fishermen, was on the brink of death when he was first discovered. One of the fishermen called in members of the Nature and Parks Authority Sea Turtle Rescue Center, who treated Ali, and after he recovered, the sea turtle was released into the wild at the beginning of the week.

Among those who gathered to bid farewell to Ali were dozens of students from an educational project protecting the dunes, operated by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The purpose of the project is to educate children about nature in their hometowns, with a focus on the coastal area.

sea turtle
Yaniv Levy / Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Throughout the year, students meet with counselors in the classroom, hike on the beach and visit the turtle rescue center in Mikhmoret.

Arab citizens are included in the nature preservation effort, as well, after years of being ignored and sometimes completely alienated. Today, there is a series of cooperative projects, ranging from the Upper Galilee to the Bedouin villages in the Negev.

Wednesday, at the Alonei Abba Nature Reserve, the group held a ceremony marking the second anniversary of an educational-environmental project to adopt the reserve. Jewish and Arab students from three schools in the area participate in the project, including schools in the communities of Bosmat Tivon and Kaabiya. Students learn about the reserve and the importance of protecting it.

In the village of Dabburiya, which lies at the foot of Mount Tabor, students help maintain a hiking path that ascends to the mountain. There is an environmental club in the Bedouin village Rumat al-Heib, which is next to the Hamovil Junction, run by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Recently, the children participated in a campaign to transfer 400 protected plants from an area designated for paving to a nearby natural site.

"We believe that this is the best way to educate youth to preserve nature: by connecting them to the reserves, national parks, flora and fauna in their immediate surroundings," said Salman Abu Rukun, a resident of the Druze village of Isfiya, head of the Nature and Parks Authority international relations department.

In the Bedouin communities in the Negev, the authority has initiated several cleanup activities, since the communities lack the infrastructure for clearing and burying garbage. Among these activities are the use of a contractor to clear away animal carcasses and transfer them to a vulture feeding station. The Bedouin residents, who clearly understand the importance of the activity, regularly send information about carcasses in the area. In the community of Bir Hadaj, near Kibbutz Revivim, the authority's inspectors are conducting an educational project that includes outdoor cleaning campaigns.

Increasing the involvement of Arab communities does not solve many problems that still exist, mainly in places where communities' development needs clash with plans for preserving forests and nature reserves. In Fasuta in the Galilee, for example, residents fought against including privately owned agricultural areas in a nature reserve. In Jisr al-Zarqa, restrictions were imposed on the development of the village, one of the most densely populated in Israel, because it borders a nature reserve.

The Nature and Parks Authority is still far from creating similar cooperation on the other side of the Green Line. B'Tselem, a human rights group, recently published a report about the Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley area, claiming that the authority has defined large areas in the region as nature reserves and restricts Palestinian entry to them. It also imposes heavy fines for picking protected herbs.

The problem of protected flora exists within the Green Line, as well. Recently, the authority began a project in elementary schools in Wadi Ara, where pupils are taught about the problems that result from picking wild herbs.