Each year, Israeli environmental advocates present the prestigious Green Globe Awards to support and promote environmentally friendly projects. However, besides praising projects that are doing good, the Green Globe Awards Ceremony is also an opportunity to highlight environmentally harmful initiatives. And so, each year the Black Globe Award is presented to an organization whose work is deemed to be environmentally and socially detrimental.
This year’s award was presented on June 17th to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization for its plans to establish ten new towns for Jewish residents in the Negev periphery. The Settlement Division claims the plan will create new socio-economically stronger communities. However, there is significant evidence that this would occur at the expense of the residents of existing Negev towns such as Arad, Dimona, and Yerucham.
Similar past initiatives have shown that construction of new settlements adjacent to urban areas results in the transfer of wealthier residents to the new suburban communities, further weakening neglected regions. The plan also requires construction of additional infrastructure and roads, which will fragment a pristine environmental region that is an important local recreational area and a popular tourist site. Furthermore, the plan ignores the residents of six Bedouin communities living in the region.
Avi Dabush, SHATIL’s Project Coordinator and a resident of the Negev believes that the future growth of existing Negev communities is put at risk by the Ten Towns Project. “They should take the money and make investments that won’t hurt Bedouin and the other people who will lose from this; people in Arad, Dimona, and Yerucham. Bring the effort inside and make the cities strong. From an environmental perspective, if you are making new structures and infrastructures, you are taking away open spaces in the desert and ruining it.”
Since 2011, SHATIL has played a prominent role both establishing and coordinating the Coalition to Reinforce Existing Negev Communities, a broad network of NGOs and civil society organizations such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adam Teva V’din, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Green Course, as well as grassroots activists who have highlighted the harm that this plan would pose to the region.
Instead of creating new communities, members of the Coalition believe that the government should invest in existing towns. They are working to increase local resident’s influence with planning committees and to bring national attention to the plan’s implications.
The decision to bestow this dubious honor is part of the strategy to shed light on the issue. This is especially important as Israel’s National Planning Committee is due to vote on approval of a number of settlements planned within the program in the coming weeks. The coalition is now gearing up to engage in a sustained campaign to block, or at least limit, the settlements approved.