Environment and Regional Sustainability Forum

Years of Activity: 2009 - 2012

Research Status:

Not Active

In recent years it has been increasingly recognized that the world is on the verge of a global environmental and climatic crisis whose signs are already apparent and that there is an urgent need to act to prevent it. In Israel, the environmental movement has intensified its activity, research on the subject has increased substantially, the concept of environmental justice has taken hold, environment-related legislation is increasing, and there is public discussion of sustainability and of sustainable development.

But despite this welcome activity, far-reaching changes in thinking and behavior are needed in several areas. It is especially important to develop a new approach and new ideas regarding cross-border environmental issues and regional sustainability and to extend them so they include the Palestinians areas, which are an inseparable part of Israel’s environment, as well as the region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the entire Mediterranean.
To that end, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute has developed a combined work program. Below are the main projects that were part of the program in 2009–2011.

• Environmental History
Group heads: Carmit Lubanov and Dr. David Schorr

Environmental history is the history of the reciprocal relations between mankind and the environment. How have cultures and societies been shaped by their environments, and how have they shaped those environments? What was the attitude toward nature and the environment in humankind’s intellectual, political, and cultural life throughout history?
The participants included scholars from a variety of research disciplines, including historical geography, landscape architecture, history of maritime civilizations, law and environment, history of ideas, social history of Islamic countries, and geomorphology and change in the Israeli landscape. The aim of including representatives of various disciplines was to create a broad theoretical and methodological basis for the discussion of questions at the heart of the global environmental historical discourse and to help in examining the relations and connections between the environment and political, social, and cultural developments in the course of human history, throughout the world and in our region.
The reading materials for each meeting represented the approaches of leading scholars in various subdisciplines, such as water, the history of forests, and the development of the environmental movement. They were the basis for discussion of the various approaches, methodologies, and controversies in each discipline. Special attention was paid to studying the applicability of insights from world literature to Israel and the region.
In its second year, the group focused on the aspect of environmental justice, under the rubric “History, Justice, Environment.” The group aimed to put together a reader, for students, scholars, and the public, that would include important articles in the discipline.

• The History of Water
Group Heads: Prof. Eran Feitelson, Dr. Maya Doani, and Dr. Asaf Zeltser
Coordinator: Shahar Sadeh

Water is a limited resource and crosses national boundaries. Thus, the history of humankind is a long tradition of managing water systems and struggles for control over them. The history of water developed as a discipline only in recent decades.
Group members presented historical research on water in the geographical space of Eretz Israel and Palestine and mapped new directions of research. They focused on the study of the modern era, starting in the nineteenth century, because that is when rapid processes of change took place that made the local arena exceptionally important in comparison with other countries in the world.
The group comprised twenty members from various disciplines and included historians, geographers, jurists, water experts, and nature researchers. This research discipline is inherently interdisciplinary; group members dealt with such issues as the development of technology for transporting water, legislating and institutionalizing the use of water, ideological influences on the exploitation of water, and aquatic nature reserves.

• Israeli and Palestinian Students for Regional Sustainability and a Shared Environment
Coordinators: Dr. Sarah Osacky-Lazar and Nicole Harari

This group of twenty-four students and environmental activists – half of them Israeli and half Palestinian – met to study environmental problems that affect both societies. The group conducted excursions in Israel – in Galilee, the Triangle, and the Sharon – and in the Palestinian Authority – Jericho and its environs – and heard from experts about the problems of water, pollution, environmental hazards, and projects for preserving and protecting the environment.
This program was held in conjunction with the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University and was supported by the Leonard Cohen Foundation for Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Peace. Two of the participants took part in a TED-style summary conference and described their experiences in the program.

• Group of Experts: Environment and Regional Sustainability
Group head: Dr. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar
Coordinator: Shahar Sadeh

This group studied the main theories in the discipline of sustainability and examined their local and regional relevance and their meaning in this context. The group comprised 25 leading Israeli experts, from the academic world and from government, in disciplines related to the environment and sustainability. They discussed ways to develop the idea of cross-border sustainability and to formulate an agreed-upon approach regarding the needs and challenges of such sustainability.
In 2009 the group held a series of meetings with Palestinian experts aimed at extending the discussion and regional cooperation. The group worked on creating a shared environmental vision and preparing proposals for implementable projects related to the cross-border environment – topics that have the potential to help in the process of bridging political disputes.

• Cross-Border Alternative Energy
Director: Dr. Yitzhak Berzin
Coordinator: Shahar Sadeh

This group was a joint project of energy experts from Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority to identify and locate alternative energy sources, with an emphasis on regional cooperation.
Data were collected from three sites where a method was tried of covering hothouses with a thin film that produced cheaper energy. The experiments were conducted in Jordan, in the Palestinian village of Beitunia in the West Bank, and in Kafr Kara in Israel. The data showed great potential for improving yields in these hothouses and also for the local farmer’s production of excess energy. Because the next stage requires a sizable investment in a large-scale commercial experiment, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, as a not-for-profit institution, will not participate.
The experts in science and environment in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan cooperated very closely, and at every stage of the project there were exchanges of information, mutual learning, workshops, and individual meetings. At the end of the project the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute held a summary conference in which the three partners participated. The conference followed the TED model.