While we want to concentrate on Jerusalem, could you start with
a few general remarks about how you see our environmental and
The Israelis and Palestinians are two peoples, but living in one
ecosystem: electronic fences, checkpoints, watchdogs, or whatever,
will not stop the suspended particulates, carbon monoxide and other
pollutants, or mosqui¬toes overhead, or filter the toxics in
the groundwater. The question every¬where is how to proceed
with urban development while assuring that cities become
self-sustainable - in our development we are not abusing or
depleting the city - and its green lungs - as a living ecosystem.
We have only a certain amount of "environmental capital": water,
green-¬spaces, air and a healthy work environment. Each
environment has a "carrying capacity," which limits the load we can
impose on it. We overload at our peril. But because the downhill
slide may be gradual in terms of loss of green spaces, clean air,
drinkable water, and so on, we miss the fact that it is
How does this apply to Jerusalem?
Unfortunately, I have yet to see any attempt to regard Jerusalem in
terms of the integrity of its ecosystem - its "carrying capacity" -
and the human well-being of all its residents. Both Israelis and
Palestinians in Jerusalem are engaged in trying to acquire a larger
slice of the cake, but they should also be considering what sort of
cake will be left if ecological and environmental issues are not
Can you give some examples?
Yes. In transportation policy which is a major battleground
concerning environmental self-sustainability. If Malthus were alive
today, he would be talking about growth of motor vehicles. The
scenario is for a slide down the slippery slope towards Athens,
Mexico City or parts of Los Angeles, with traffic grid locks, air
pollution, urban sprawl, loss of green spaces, neigh¬borhood
destruction. These lead to pedestrian road deaths, human stress,
alienation, and serious health hazards.
Current social policy in Israel has been hijacked by the road
builders. The myth is: more roads equal better transportation. The
truth, which runs against what appears to be common sense, is that
more roads create bigger traffic jams. The myth, which is fueled by
powerful economic interests, is what explains the ever-widening gap
between investing resources into roads and private vehicles, on the
one hand, and in "infrastructure" and public transport on the
other. As for public transportation, "let it pay its own way."
Public transit is now for losers - the poor, the old and the
Building more roads has been shown to produce a traffic burden 10
per cent above their carrying capacity, creating traffic jams
reminiscent of trends in the U.s. in the 1950s. One indication of
this is the soaring death toll, mostly among pedestrians. In
Jerusalem last year, there was a 76% rise in deaths resulting from
a 95% increase in the chance of getting killed if hit. This is a
warning sign that we may be retrogressing into a Third-World urban
scenario. Look at Cairo now, compared to the 1960s.
If the trans-Israel highway is built, air pollution from the
coastal area will drift into the Judean hills - even with catalytic
converters. Israelis and Palestinians should be aware that they
breathe the same air: electronic fences will not include air
filters or electrostatic precipitators, and guard dogs will not
catch mosquitoes. We need a humane and environmentally¬
friendly transport system for the whole of Jerusalem. The
ultra-Orthodox who are out to close Jerusalem's Bar Ilan Street on
the Sabbath have a point. Why shouldn't the street be green on
Saturday? Our secular yuppies are living in an ecological time
warp. New York's Central Park is closed to cars over the weekend
for cyclists, joggers and family picnickers. It is a matter of
quality of life, not theology - or maybe there is a theology here
and we are miss¬ing the point.
Have you discussed all this with Palestinian ecologists?
Yes. Their understanding of self-sustainability and
carrying capacity is strong, but they apply it mainly to rural
problems: land, water and agricul¬ture, an environment that is
vanishing. But current transportation trends will mean that the
orchards and vineyards will be paved with asphalt.
What else is important?
Our health. Epidemiologists are discovering that asthma and
bronchitis are becoming more frequent in cities and there is a case
for a cause-effect relationship between these outcomes and the
volume of traffic. Lead in gaso¬line is bad for kids' brains,
and benzene in petrol is suspected as the cause for urban clusters
of leukemia. Jerusalem today has a lower rate of lung cancer than
Tel Aviv or Haifa, but this may change for the worse. The
destruction by fire in the Jerusalem Corridor forest will hasten
these changes for all of us.
Also there is the problem of waste. National policy is to truck
solid waste into four or five landfills or central collection
points. There are 400 dump sites now. The system may be flawed
because all these points leak and send toxics into the groundwater.
The whole ecosystem west of the Jordan shares interconnected
Environmentalists are mainly upper- or middle-class, and often
quite yuppie, nostalgic for "greener days," but there are micro
environmental hazards inside the workshop walls for blue-collar
workers. Too many workers, including the new underclass of imported
migrant workers in Jerusalem, in both the Jewish and Arab
neighborhoods, are exposed to dangerous physical hazards, toxic
gases, mists, fumes and dusts.
What other issues are currently urgent?
Preserving the city's "green lungs." Part of the magic of Jerusalem
was always its grand entrances from both west - the hills, and east
- the desert. Urban sprawl is destroying this. High-rise towers are
dominating Jerusalem's classical skyline. If this continues,
Jerusalem will have lost whatever beauty was created in this
century. The Jerusalem forest will grow back, but the effects of
vehicle traffic on green belts will not change.
Isn't there some romanticism and nostalgia here?
Not so. I said, this century. Jerusalem in the past several hundred
years was full of open sewers, a dirty and melancholy place full of
mosquitoes, flies, garbage, and filth, poor and unhealthy people
and high infant mor¬tality. But now we could be getting past
our high peak: many cities have a way of getting worse after their
population exceeds 600,000. We may now be at the beginning of a
slide downhill, as urban sprawl takes hold in the center of
Jerusalem. The political polarization - between Jew and Arab,
secular and religious - is diverting our attention away from these
What should be done?
I would like to see Jerusalem, the Israeli Government and the
Palestinian National Authority (PNA) all try to put together their
own strategies for an environmental covenant of rights and
obligations. Israelis and Palestinians have a common stake in a
shared environment. Both naturally strive to strengthen their hold
on what they consider to be theirs. But they must also ask how the
land is going to be used.
Israelis and Palestinians live in one ecosystem and this should be
planned for the benefit of all, in the whole country and in
Jerusalem. Both peoples should agree upon a covenant of
A final point: environmentalists see population increases,
environmen¬tal pressures and limited resources as the source
of political conflict. But sometimes it is the other way round.
Political conflict can be the cause of environmental destruction -
amidst relative plenty. It happened in Beirut and Sarajevo. Let us
hope it does not happen in Jerusalem.