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Environmental Justice

From air pollution to contaminated water supplies to diminishing green spaces, environmental hazards threaten everyone in Israel. While these dangers know no boundaries, citizens from affluent neighborhoods are becoming increasingly well organize and effective at protecting their own backyards.

But those living in Israel's geographic and socio-economic peripheries often lack the moneyand political power to challenge polluters or press for enforcement of government standards. GEF is working to ensure that Israel's vulnerable populations, including Arab citizens, new immigrants and other economically disadvantaged groups, have the skills to access their rights and the clout to influence government decision-making.

Environmental Justice Initiatives
In addition to helping these populations become empowered and engaged, GEF is also striving to strengthen the environmental movement as a whole and extend the principles of environmental justice to the entire movement. Priorities for GEF include:

    * Increasing public participation in local and national planning processes
    * Enriching environmental education in both formal and informal settings
    * Expanding and enhancing the efficacy of national and regional coalitions
    * Raising the profile of public health issues

Some of GEF's recent grantees in the field of environmental justice include:

The Environmental Justice Project in SHATIL, the New Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations, plays a key role in strengthening the environmental movement through direct consultation and skills-building workshops for grassroots organizations. SHATIL's Environmental Justice Project - initiated nearly a decade ago - assists dozens of Jewish and Arab groups each year through consulting services designed to improve organizational and resource development, advocacy efforts, and public relation. Another focus for the Project is coordinating coalitions and strengthening cooperation among environmental organizations and citizens groups. For instance, the SHATIL-coordinated Coalition for Public Health, comprised of twelve organizations, is raising public awareness about the alarmingly high rates of heart disease and cancer in Haifa due to dangerous levels of industrial toxic emissions.

Community and Environment
Through its community outreach program, the Israel Union of Environmental Defense (IUED) provides free legal, scientific and planning assistance to community groups seeking solutions to local problems. This year, IUED is focusing on building new partnerships with community groups and non-profit organizations in under-served sectors of the Jewish and Arab communities.


In the last decade, Israel's consumption of electricity and motor fuel - the two leading sources of air pollution - has doubled. Diesel fuel is particularly deadly, yet it accounts for over half the petroleum used in Israel's transport sector.

A recent epidemiological study linked 300 deaths per year to transport-generated particulate pollution in Tel Aviv alone. Rates of asthma, once relatively rare among Israeli children, have jumped from 5.6 percent in 1980 to 17 percent today - bringing respiratory illness to epidemic levels.

Israeli women suffer from one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world - one in eight women will develop the disease. In Haifa, home to the country's largest chemical plant, the rate skyrockets to one in six.

Air Quality Initiatives

Despite the gloomy statistics, a recent analysis suggests that merely switching to electric buses will save the lives of at least sixteen people each year. Inspired by studies such as these, GEF is resolutely committed to preserving air quality and protecting lives. Priorities include:

    * Tightening and increasing enforcement of regulations against polluters
    * Finding and promoting alternative fuel sources
    * Protecting those most vulnerable to air pollution - the elderly, the infirm, the young

Some of GEF's recent grantees in the field of air quality include:

Clean Air Now
The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) is countering years of official inaction with this vigorous program of citizen enforcement, regulatory reform and innovative legislation. Beyond combating transport and industrial pollutants, Clean Air Now! is also spearheading a major legislative effort to adopt a comprehensive clean air act.

Association for the Quality of Life in Naharia
This citizens' association is working to protect Naharia - a coastal city in the western Galilee - from the environmental fallout of unsustainable development. The Association is gearing up to challenge plans to construct an amusement park on an asbestos burial site. Strategies include gathering epidemiological evidence and launching an educational campaign.

Open Spaces

Israel's population is booming. The size of New Jersey, Israel has witnessed a six-foldincrease in its population in just over 50 years to over 7 million, and demographers predict that the population will reach 8.7 million people by 2020.

With each new person comes increased development - more neighborhoods, more shopping malls, more highways and more landfills. A country with abundant land resources might have been able to accommodate these mounting needs. But in a tiny nation like Israel, the result is an environmental crisis.

Areas that were once rural, such as the fertile Sharon region in central Israel and the scenic Judean hills south of Jerusalem, are being swallowed by a wave of urban sprawl. In Israel's burgeoning cities, even concrete parking lots are considered open spaces according to some city planners.

Open Spaces Initiatives

Just as the situation seems unstoppable, a coalition of Jerusalem activists: the coalition for the preservation of the Jerusalem hills, has halted, agianst all odds, plans to expand the city of Jerusalem westward and build 20,000 living unites on the Jerusalem forest. The coalition has been invited by the mayor of Jerusalem to engage strategic and environmental thinking in strengthening the city of Jerusalem from within.
GEF is committed to building on these kinds of victories and to promoting sustainable solutions for the future of open spaces.
Priorities include:

    * Strengthening local planning regulations for open space management
    * Improving solid waste management
    * Confronting the growing transportation crisis
    * Protecting ecosystems and biodiversity in rural open spaces

Some of GEF's recent grantees working to protect open spaces include:

Tel Aviv Center for Community Action
This umbrella coalition coordinated by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) mobilizes and organizes community groups to take an active role in the planning process. A major focus for the Center this year is involving neighborhood activists in a campaign for new municipal guidelines for urban open spaces.
Sustanable transportation projects promoted by SPNI, Transportation Today Tomorow and Green Course.

Water is the single most endangered natural resource in Israel and the rest of the Middle East. That shortage - exacerbated by political issues in the region - complicates efforts to protect water resources. The economic and geopolitical ramifications of the crisis reverberate well past the negotiating tables.

Yet with quantity increasingly threatened, callous disregard of the few remaining resources has compounded the problem. Municipal and industrial waste contaminates more than half of Israel's drinking wells. Those same contaminants are threatening the National Water Carrier, which pumps water from the Sea of Galilee to cities around the nation.

The situation facing Israel's rivers, seas and gulfs is equally dismal. Most of the twenty rivers flowing through Israel's Coastal Plain are so polluted that swimming, boating and fishing are prohibited. The Gulf of Eilat and its magnificent coral reefs are rapidly being destroyed by pollution and unrestricted tourism.
Water Resources Initiatives

Despite the dire situation, technological strategies for desalinization and
recycling resources - albeit costly and time-consuming - offer a tenable
long-term solution. They also underscore the urgency of GEF's current work
to safeguard Israel's remaining potable, agricultural and recreational water
resources. Priorities for GEF include:
  • Safeguarding water resources and promoting conservation of water
  • Restoring rivers and underground reservoirs and preserving natural ecosystems
  • Preventing marine and gulf pollution

Some of GEF's recent grantees in the field of water resources include:

Citizens For the Environment in the Galilee (CFE)
CFE is a non-profit environmental organization founded in 1990 by Jews and
Arabs residing in the Western Galilee. CFE's activities focus on protecting
the quality of the region's air and water, and the preservation of its natural
landscape. CFE's vision is to benefit both the environment and the local
population by protecting the Western Galilee's unique water resources and the
excellent quality of its water. This is done by activating dozens of volunteers
in various fields such as: monitoring and following hazards; using the media to
raise public awareness, influencing the authorities and scientific research.

Campaign to Save the Eilat Gulf
Sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), Save
the Gulf calls for immediate intervention and long-term planning to preserve
and protect one of the world's most unique reef systems. Together with a
coalition of environmental organizations, SPNI launched in 2001 a nation-wide
campaign to raise awareness about the crisis and to begin advocating for
legislative intervention. The result was a governmental descision to remove marine agriculture from the Eilat Gulf, the coalition is now folowing the implimentation of this important descision.


As part of our overall strategy GEF believes that creating environmentally knowledgeable citizens starts with educating our youth. In 1998, we partnered with the Heschel Center and The Karev Program for Educational Involvement to create The Green Network. The Green Network works towards:
  • Expanding environmental action in schools
  • Empowering teachers and principals for change
  • Empowering students for change
  • Creating community

Today over 100 schools are part of The Green Network. Many of the schools are located in underprivileged and peripheral areas, including the Arab sector. As, environmental concerns are shared by all sectors in Israeli society, Green Network activities provide fertile ground for cooperative efforts. Schools from different sectors often work together on issues of mutual concern.

Green Network programs have a wide impact, not only influencing the children, but also the families of these children, and the communities surrounding the schools. Many programs initiated by the network have been adopted by schools and communities nationwide. Eco-activism, which was virtually unheard of in the educational system before the Network began, is now widespread in many schools. Each year the Network receives more and more request from schools across the country to be part of this success.

Movement/Capacity Building

Recognizing the importance of grassroots activism for the environmental movement, GEF through the Sheli Fund, has made hundreds of small grants to organizations working on the local level. These grants, alongside capacity building tools supplied by GEF, often make the difference between success and failure. The activists involved often become a source of renewal for Israels environmental movement. Many of them start from a position of not in my backyard, and move on to play growing roles on Israels environmental scene. On an organizational level, some Sheli grantees, empowered by the GEF Sheli program, assume over the years regional or national responsibilities, and move on to become GEF grantees.

On a national level, GEF grants take a strategic approach aimed at promoting environmental justice and strengthening the environmental movement. Grants take advantage of opportunities for raising awareness and promoting solutions in the fields of water, air, open space, energy, public heath, transportation and recycling. These efforts have resulted in increased public awareness, which in turn has created the pressure for increased environmental legislation, enforcement, and the growing desire for an improved quality of life. Over the last 6 years, GEF supported organizations have had an impact on the course of urban development, the location of polluting industries, the clean-up of these industries as well as access to opens space and issue of land usage, to name just a few. Many organizations, supported by GEF have worked together to address issues jointly, forming effective coalitions and a professional environmental movement. GEF at times plays a pro-active role, working with organizations, foundations and contributors, as well as the government in pursuing an environmental issue in need of a comprehensive approach. Each year, GEF receives many more applications than it is able to fund.

Capacity Building- Both local and national grantees, through a number of NGOs are provided with assistance in the areas of: organizational development, resource development, publicity, advocacy, leadership, legal aid, as well as access to specific professional resources relevant to environmental issues. Furthermore, GEF provides opportunities for these organizations to meet in a variety frameworks, create networking opportunities and encouraging organizations to form coalitions and work cooperatively in order to increase their effectiveness. Through our internet site we provide information about environmental efforts in Israel to the general public s and offer access to capacity building tools for empowering environmental organizations.