When he started to work in planning, architect Yotam Avizohar came face-to-face with the fact that despite pronouncements to the contrary, the public in Israel is not taken into consideration by planners. A lifelong nature lover, he began volunteering with the Israel Bicycles Association and then coordinated planning projects there. “I didn’t have the training or the tools for the work I was doing,” says Yotam, who now directs the organization. “From Shatil I’ve learned community organizing; how to work with the media and with a board of directosr; how to lobby; build coalitions; organize a budget -– everything I need to know. In Shatil courses, I connect with other activists – which helps build collaborations, strengthen civil society, and increase solidarity. Shatil helped us grow from a local Tel Aviv organization to a national one with a country-wide agenda.” With Shatil’s guidance, the organization convinced Israel Railways to allow passengers to bring bicycles onto trains. The law to encourage bicycle transportation through the creation of bicycle lanes and economic incentives for people who ride to work has passed two readings in the Knesset. “Bicycles are a healthy, affordable, environmentally and socially sound alternative to private cars, but our work goes beyond bicycles to the creation of a vibrant civil society that takes responsibility; that doesn’t just react but initiates. In all this, Shatil is our mentor, our guide.”
Unrestrained development and explosive population growth have created a crisis of natural resources in Israel. The water supply is dwindling, the air is polluted, green open spaces are shrinking and public health is at risk. Despite an increase in public awareness, national policies and local practices are dangerously negligent.
Launched in 1995, Shatil’s Environmental Justice Project brings greater activism and solidarity to Israel’s environmental movement and ushers in a new, more professional era of strategic action through:
- Gathering forces to address chronic, unaddressed environmental problems
- Providing consulting and training to more than 40 grassroots and national organizations
- Broadening the pool of environmental leaders and activists from Israel’s geographic and social peripheries
Impacting National Policies
Shatil’s Environmental Justice Project convened a broad-based network of environmental and social organizations to work together to protect Israel for the present and future generations by lobbying against the government’s planning reform bill, which would place control over Israel’s public spaces in the hands of the wealthy and politically connected.
After achieving numerous successes in 2010 and 2011, such as strengthening safeguards to ensure preservation of the coast and open spaces and promoting transparency in the planning process, the Shatil-led Forum for Responsible Planning, initiated months of demonstrations, petitions, letters, e-mails, Facebook campaigning, and lobby visits that succeeded in postponing the Knesset vote on the planning reform bill, giving activists more time to educate the public about its dangerous social and environmental implications. Click here to see the dynamic new website of Forum for Responsible Planning. For more information on the Forum for Responsible Planning, see our previous updates here.
In December 2010, the deadliest forest fire in Israel’s history struck the Carmel area south of Haifa. Shatil worked extensively in the aftermath of the fire to help provide adequate assistance and resource to the affected area. Additionally, Shatil sought to ensure that the help would go equally to all affected areas, regardless of whether they were of Arab or Jewish majority. Shatil is currently working to ensure that a similar disaster does not occur in the future by raising awareness of the dangerous chemical plants in the area and lobbying for greater protection of them.
Shatil and the Heschel Center launched the first-ever training course for 20 members of seven environmental protection committees in the Negev. Topics covered included how to understand their mandate; work as a committee; promote issues such as environmental justice, sustainable economic development, public space preservation, and more.
Shatil recently embarked on a ground-breaking Local Economic Sustainable Development (LSED) project in the Negev. Though fundamentally economically-focused, this project also has major environmental corollaries. Most recently, nearly 100 activists attended a Shatil and Heschel Center-sponsored conference on promoting both sustainable economic development in the Negev; the project was launched at a major international conference in the Negev in June 2012.
Shatil’s Coalition to Stop the Coal Power Station in Ashkelon recently succeeded in committing the government to only run the station as a gas plant with coal as a backup. Despite this, the Coalition’s work is still not finished. The Coalition continues to lobby the government to ensure that the decision to use the coal backup only is only made in absolute emergency situations.
Finally, in its traditional role of guiding organizations, Shatil is helping several environmental organizations – including Green Course and El Amal— to think and plan strategically and to take steps to actualize goals. With our help, Green Course is becoming an organization that is not just student- but also community-based, enlarging its foundational support and therefore its potential for impact. Green Course and several other environmental organizations participated in Shatil’s training Working with the Community for Environmental Organizations, which provided knowledge and tools for strengthening community involvement and recruiting broad public support for the organizations’ work. Shatil is also helping other environmental organizations in greening Arab villages, saving the beaches, advocating for the clean up of streams, and ensuring both the ecological and pluralistic integrity of the town of Harish in government planning policies.
Shatil also coordinates two environmental fellowship programs, The Greenhouse for Sustainable Development Initiatives in the Negev, in partnership with the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, and the Porter Environmental Internship program. Click here to learn more about them and our other fellowships.