December 12, 2005 Daniel E. Orenstein and Steven P. Hamburg’s recent oped in the Jerusalem Report (November 28, 2005 [please note: This site is current under reconstruction.]) is drawing critical attention to the proposed development of the Negev. "The JNF’s Assault on the Negev” (reprinted below) challenges the Jewish National Fund's (JNF-USA) proposal to populate Israel’s "last great reserve,” according to Orenstein and
Orenstein, a graduate student in Brown’s Environmental Studies Program, and
Orenstein and Hamburg's oped criticizes the JNF-USA’s approach to population expansion into the Negev as compared to the Keren Kayemet Leyisrael (KKL), JNF-USA’s counterpart in Israel. Orenstein and Hamburg describe the Negev's environmental value:
"Yet while the
Through this piece, Orenstein and
[This oped is copyright by The Jerusalem Report and reprinted with permission.” The Watson Institute expresses its gratitude to the Jerusalem Report for permission to reprint this on our website.]
"The JNF’s Assault on the
By Daniel Orenstein and Steven Hamburg
As it appeared in the Jerusalem Report on November 28, 2005.
The bulldozers are coming! The Jewish National Fund in the , which has spent the last decade or so marketing itself as a premier Zionist environmental organization, is revving the engines. It has targeted the Negev—'s last great natural reserve—or development.
Calling the desert region "almost untouched" and "a massive land reserve waiting to be developed," JNF-USA's "Blueprint Negev" calls for bringing a half million people to 25 new low-density communities in the area. JNF-USA president Ron Lauder likens the proposed effort to the conquest of the American West, expressing what he calls "'s Manifest Destiny."
In fact, the JNF-USA and its president are referring to a region where the army controls 50 percent of the land for military training. The "untouched"
Yet while the
But, rather than revel in the Negev like the Hebrew prophets, who repeatedly sought solitude there, the JNF-USA vision resurrects David Ben-Gurion's naive and defunct view of the
The JNF-USA proposal essentially bypasses Keren Kayemet Leyisrael (KKL), JNF-USA's counterpart in . Due to the arduous work of environmental groups, KKL has environmental oversight in the form of a sustainability committee. KKL projects must comply with planning and environmental laws, and—after court cases and public demonstrations—KKL is increasingly sensitive to the need to live up to its environmental responsibilities.
The projects outlined in JNF-USA's "Blueprint Negev" have not been reviewed or endorsed by the KKL directorate or sustainability committee. Rather, JNF-USA is implementing the project through a third organization—Tnu'at Or. This organization is aimed solely at creating new Jewish communities in the Negev and
Rather than establishing superfluous new communities, the JNF-USA should redouble past efforts to support existing communities—development towns, Beduin towns, kibbutzim. Each could benefit from new neighborhoods to supplement their population base. It is self-evident that expanding existing communities rather than establishing new ones reduces both environmental impact and capital costs.
As for accountability, JNF-USA has two options. Either its leadership can realign itself and its projects with KKL, sponsoring only efforts that have gone through transparent decision-making in . Or the JNF-USA should open its own decision process to the same environmental oversight as KKL. This means not only giving its plans to outside reviewers for appraisal, but also having professional and public committees with the power to veto project proposals based on their environmental, social and political implications.
Daniel Orenstein is a PhD candidate and Steven Hamburg is Ittleson Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at
The Jerusalem Report, November 28, 2005 issue.
(Photo: Daniel E. Orenstein [left] and Steven P. Hamburg [right] during a MEEF Project meeting at the Watson Institute.)