The city of Jerusalem is steeped in history, stretching back to before the Bible’s King David ruled the city. Today it is a major center for the three major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity, who all hold Jerusalem near and dear.
But whether you are on a spiritual quest, pilgrimage, or have decided to make Jerusalem your home, there is no denying its importance from a historical, religious, cultural and political point of view. But the city needs a vision.
That vision, at least in the green sense, is now being inspired by Naomi Tsur, a new deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who heads planning, environment and preservation. She has been working as an activist for 13 years spearheading campaigns to keep Jerusalem of Gold, green, and was recently elected to the new position in politics.
Fighting suburban development
As the urban branches director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and founder of Sustainable Jerusalem, Tsur has fought tooth and nail to prevent a destructive suburban building project, the Safdie Plan, from creating a collar of highway and infrastructure around Jerusalem’s outlying pristine forests.
“Israel has an acute water crisis and land use crisis,” she tells ISRAEL21c. “Israel cannot afford any more suburbs.”
She considers this one of her main achievements, along with helping other activists form coalitions, and her inexhaustible work greening the streets of Jerusalem.
Tsur came to Israel from England in 1966. Since 1996, the 58-year-old grandmother of four has infused her spirit and green ideals into the whole green movement in Israel. She is now at the core of Israel’s green movement, and one of the country’s most well known environmental advocates. Her focus on Jerusalem is particularly important, given the city’s significance to people everywhere.
As founder of Sustainable Jerusalem, Tsur has helped organize 75 green groups together under one umbrella. Through it, she’s taught other activists how to lobby in the government, and how to hone in on specific issues worth fighting for.
Greening from the inside out
Now on the other side – the government – she tells ISRAEL21c, that for the next five years she will be working from the inside out. City council meetings will be open to the public — a first — for discussing green issues.
Some of the projects she’ll be organizing include establishing an environmental lobby. “There is nothing more universal than local issues,” says Tsur, pointing out that when it comes to environmental issues, people usually want to look at the big picture. “That’s the funny contradiction,” she says.
Tsur will also be mapping Jerusalem’s trees, and will continue building the Green Map of Jerusalem, which she started a few years ago. Although much of her work is local, it serves as an example of what can be done and how to change the system. Her impact radiates out through to the entire country, and arguably the entire Middle East.
“Ensuring a sustainable environment in Israel is a pre-condition for sustainable peace, and a sustainable economy,” she says. “If from the realm of civil society you perceive environmental sustainability as an essential goal, then it has to be essential for whoever holds the reigns of the government, doing from the inside what I did on the outside.
“It’s not as simple as it looks,” she adds. As an activist, “We spoke with one voice, and now within the municipality I am one voice of many.”