Photo courtesy of Shatil Staff
“Advancing climate equality requires collective energy, wisdom, experience, curiosity, passion, and obligation.” –Shira Eytan, Shatil Director of Learning and Professional Development
Amidst the massive mobilization of civic forces in Israel working to prevent the current government’s judicial overhaul, Shatil is still focused on a picture that goes beyond the borders of Israel: climate.
Last month, Shatil created a platform for social change and environmental NGOs and activists to address the current challenges in a seminar on Climate, Society, and Democracy. The main objective of the seminar was translating the connections between protecting our democratic infrastructures, our environment, and Israel’s most vulnerable populations into coordinated action.
The climate crisis bears far-reaching economic, social, and health-related ramifications for Israel and the region. This is a result of the effects of desertification, the dearth of potable water, and rising sea levels. These developments pose a particular risk to people who live in poverty. They would struggle to survive extreme weather swings, deleterious health effects, food and water insecurity, and livelihood instability.
Without an independent Supreme Court, corporations would be free to ignore existing legislation such as the Clean Air Law (2008). This law and other regulatory measures maintain air quality and oversee practice of polluting factories while ensuring potable water supplies. In January, 400 Israeli environmental experts sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, warning him of the disastrous effects that the judicial overhaul would have on the environment. He did not respond.
The seminar, which Shatil ran in partnership with NIF grantees Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Heschel Center for Sustainability, and Life and the Environment, sought to familiarize environmental and social change NGOs with one another and to jumpstart collaboration. The day opened with a series of structured exercises for participants to get acquainted with the other organizations and their initiatives.
Presentations by field experts brought participants up to speed on the status of local and regional climate change. The Arava Institute for Regional Studies’ International Development Director, Dr. David Lehrer, showed, for example, that according to the World Health Organization, 95% of water in Gaza is not potable and that Israel provides 95% of Palestinian West Bank electricity. Climate activist and director of the One Climate group, Yaara Peretz, warned of the dire consequences of a government plan to build 3,000 dunams (741 acres) of residential neighborhoods and a huge industrial zone in the West Bank ecological corridor Wadi Raba. The construction would destroy the homes of dozens of animals unique to the region. Grantee Standing Together’s (Omdim Beyachad-Waqaf Maan) Organizing Development Coordinator, Itamar Avneri, wrapped up the presentations with a description of the NGO’s new community organization training model. The training provides tools for building and sustaining activist groups, strategizing and implementing campaigns, and procuring local government support.
According to participant feedback, the small-group brainstorming sessions following the presentations were particularly helpful. One participant shared: “It’s good to know that there are partners out there. I really value the wisdom and experience of the many professionals I met. “
Others spoke of the seminar as a launching pad for continued collaborative activism. “It was an excellent day, and it is clear to me that this comprehensive seminar is just the beginning.” Also, “I feel that we have taken a step forward and have developed a multi-dimensional view of reality;“ and “I’ve made interesting connections – It’s important to keep meeting.“
Some participants were simply grateful for the sorely needed injection of positivity they got from the day: “The seminar was a golden opportunity to deepen the understanding of the important connections between society, environment, and democracy. I had a huge smile on my face all day.“