LIFE AND ENVIRONMENT
In contrast to the relatively high priority accorded to nature protection in Israel’s national consciousness, public awareness of environmental issues has lagged far behind most Western countries. While environmental groups organized throughout the Western world to influence environmental policy in the 1970s, the general public In Israel remained relatively indifferent to environmental issues. The citizenry only awakened to the need for environmental protection following the promulgation of Israel’s first environmental laws and regulations and after the establishment of Israel’s environmental administration.
Priorities and Goals
One of the major challenges of the Environmental Protection Service, in its formative years, was to raise public consciousness in order to make both the general public and decision makers understand that the environment is a legitimate issue which requires priority action. This central task was facilitated by the establishment, in 1975, of Life and Environment, the environmental umbrella organization for non-governmental organizations in Israel. The organization was founded and is still chaired by Josef Tamir, Israel’s most environmentally active parliamentarian to date, whose work on behalf of the environment has constituted a lifelong mission. The purpose of Life and Environment is to coordinate environmental activities among Israel’s environmental organizations and to avoid duplication of efforts. At the time of its establishment, Life and Environment included ten national bodies; today the number has risen to 19 (several are described on the following pages). Representatives of the various groups meet regularly to exchange information on specific environmental activities, to plan campaigns and to decide on areas needing priority action, but in most cases, each organization is free to promote environmental action in accordance to its particular interests and priorities.
Life and Environment’s major goals include: the representation of Israel’s environmental bodies, as a strong, united lobby group, at the level of the Knesset, government ministries and local authorities; the formulation of comprehensive solutions to environmental problems, on the national and local levels; the publication and dissemination of environmental information in order to arouse citizen action and involvement; and the representation of Israel’s environmental NGOs on the international front.
A major landmark on the path toward greater public participation in environmental struggles was a 1975 amendment to the Planning and Building Law, 1965. The amendment, initiated by MK Tamir, accorded Life and Environment statutory membership as a "public representative" at the National Planning and Building Board. This constituted the first time that a non-governmental body was afforded statutory representation at the top level of national planning. Moreover, it facilitated the integration of environmental considerations in land-use planning decisions, most notably in such areas as the protection of open space landscapes, preservation of agricultural lands and opposition to the establishment of the Voice of America transmission station in Israel’s Arava desert.
Past and ongoing campaigns in which Life and Environment is involved include: