The Duty of Israeli Arabs

"Think globally, act locally" is perhaps the most important slogan proposed by the environmental movement around the world. In Israel, no place requires more urgent implementation of this call than the Arab and Bedouin towns.

In recent years, many of these towns and villages have become hubs of activity hazardous to the environment and public health. Trash is strewn in every direction and accumulates in large piles, sewage-treatment plants are falling apart, and raw sewage pollutes rivers and endangers groundwater. Building contractors and construction workers deposit construction debris on village outskirts or in nearby parks and forests, sometimes just a short distance from a marked garbage collection site. In many towns, there are almost no public parks or gardens, and the few that do exist suffer from neglect.

For many years, the government has failed to address adequately the crumbling infrastructure of Arab towns, but it is not responsible for everything that happens in them. The time has come for residents to think about problems nationally, but act locally. Even the severe financial and management crisis in many Arab councils does not justify such widespread environmental neglect.

In many Arab towns, internecine strife among families or powerful interest groups precludes measures that would benefit the community, among them the allocation of land for a public park. There is a dire problem of insufficient collection of municipal taxes as well as water and sewage fees, a problem that cripples a town's ability to address infrastructure deficiencies.

In the face of this total collapse, the Arab public needs leadership and a proper level of awareness, two elements conspicuously absent. The lack of awareness, or, to be more specific, the indifference and apathy to the environment outside the home, has produced a situation where people litter their village even though they have the option not to.

The lack of leadership prevents the planning and allocation of resources, which would probably improve most areas related to quality of life. Local leaders still do not grasp their responsibility for all matters related to solving basic problems. Some of these leaders collude with interest groups that grab swaths of public lands and exploit them for private use.

The most one can hope for and encourage today is for grassroots citizen organizations and nonprofit groups to alter the reality. A few socio-environmental groups are operating in many towns, fueled by an understanding that they must work with local leaders and educate the public on the connection between quality of life and protecting the environment.

Experience from cases in Jewish towns shows that a campaign waged by residents and environmental organizations has proven an effective tool for putting pressure on decision makers at all levels of government. It also helps shape public opinion toward a greener orientation. There are people in Arab towns who are convinced that concern for the environment is a luxury for a municipality struggling to overcome poverty, unemployment and land shortages. But it is by no means a luxury to make sure that piles of garbage and puddles of sewage do not surround homes from every direction and become a threat to public health, seriously harming the quality of life.