For the past week I have been hiking through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – the US national parks in the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Sedona, Arizona, as well. The beauty is outstanding, breathtaking, and a remarkable example of what nature has to offer to us. But what is even more striking as an Israeli visiting these places is that their pristine nature is cared for and preserved. Millions of people visit these places every year and yet they are completely clean – there is no garbage left anywhere. Even the smokers, small in number, know not to leave their cigarette butts on the ground. It is so amazing to see such large numbers of people who make the effort to care for the beauty of this natural environment.
Why can’t this be the way we care for our open spaces in Israel? The Jewish National Fund is overflowing with money, as reported in the news, yet the forests are filthy.
Israelis love to picnic and, bring half of their homes with them. We love to barbecue outdoors – and then leave the burnt remains on the ground next to where we fed ourselves.
Why are our forests so much dirtier after we leave them than when we came in? I picnicked in Zion National Park and in Bryce Canyon National Park. The picnic grounds were spotless, even though they are used by hundreds of thousands of people. The picnic tables were so clean that there was no need to put a table cloth on them. The areas around the garbage cans were totally clean as well.
Why does the US National Parks Service know how to purchase receptacles for garbage that are closed and that animals don’t know how to open while the JNF and National Parks and Reserves Authority do not? Why do the millions of people who visit these parks know how to open the garbage cans, place the garbage inside and then close them without littering all around them? Why is every garbage can in Israel’s national parks and nature reserves overflowing with trash and food all of the time while in the US national parks you can’t find a trace of waste left behind? I often vacation at the beach near Moshav Dor. It is one of the nicest beaches in Israel, and one of the cleanest. Yet every time I reach into the sand next to my chair I come up with shells of sunflowers seeds and cigarette butts – it is totally disgusting. I don’t understand how we dare to treat our land with such a lack of love and so much disrespect.
Israel is our land, the land that we continue to pay a very high price to have and to love. We have shed so much blood on the soil of our land to keep it and to protect it. Yet how do we treat our beloved land? I can say the same thing to our Palestinian neighbors.
They too are fighting and dying for their beloved Palestine, yet when one travels across the land it is depressing to see how badly it is treated and how polluted it is with human waste. I see Israelis and Palestinians equally trashing the land that we are both fighting for.
Back in the mid 1980s I joined the newly established “Ne’amanei Nikayon” – the “clean guard” of the newly established Environmental Protection Ministry. I was given forms to fill out and submit when I witnessed people littering. I thought it was a great program. I was an active participant and sent in reports to be followed up by the ministry. I often encountered people who would throw their soft drink cans, ice cream wrappers or worse on the ground and I would ask them to pick it up and put it in a nearby trash can – sometimes just a few meters away. More often than not, they would refuse. I was even physically accosted several times in the process. I would always comment that we should have more respect and care for this land that we claim we love so much. I was almost always answered with a snide and nasty remark.
The US is so vast. The US national parks are protected lands covering millions of acres of precious land. Millions of tourists from the US and from all over the world travel to see the miracles of this planet. The conservation of this wondrous array of habitats is carefully planned and executed to protect the natural wonders. The interaction between humans and nature is complex and great care must be taken so that we humans do not destroy what is there.
Our environment in the Land of Israel is so fragile, the land so densely populated, and blessed with so many species of flora and fauna. The natural beauty of our land is stupendous, with so much diversity in such a small geographic area. Our land is filled with history and spiritual values – even centimeter is precious. The Land of Israel/ Palestine should be treated by all of us, Israelis and Palestinians, as the natural treasure that it truly is.
With the coming of the New Year, it is my personal wish that we all take much more seriously our love of the land and begin to treat our home with much more care. Our open spaces are limited and development can take place without the need to destroy what little we have. As they say, we are sojourners on the land – temporary visitors, here for a very short time. Surely we can leave the land, when we leave this life, in better condition than we found it. This would be the best demonstration of how much we love our land.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.