On Sukkot eve I watched a moving film on TV (Thank God for Channel One!), telling the story of Azaria Alon, who, in 1951, together with Prof. Amotz Zehavi, founded the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI). I knew him personally, and as a matter of fact, every Israeli who listened to the radio on Shabbat knew him, because for decades, he had a slot close to 10AM, where he told us the latest news about our environment, fauna and flora.
Alon, a recipient of the Israel Prize for his lifelong accomplishments in preserving the environment, passed away this year. In the film, produced just months before his death, he is shown joining his young successors in fighting against the scheme of greedy real estate moguls to destroy the last remaining pieces of nature.
Fifty years ago, he led one of the most impressive – and successful – public campaigns in the history of Israel. For decades, people were picking the wild flowers freely, and some species became endangered. I remember how as a kid in Pardes Hana we used to go to Givat HaKalaniot (Anemone Hill) and graze the colorful carpet mercilessly. From year to year there were less of these beautiful flowers, but we didn’t care.
Until Azaria Alon made us stop that assault on our environment. Together with his partners at SPNI and the Nature Authority he launched a campaign titled “Tse LaNof Ach Al Tiktof” (Go out to the nature but don’t pick the flowers). Thanks to an aggressive educational effort in elementary schools, kids started coming home demanding that their parents stop picking the wild flowers. The parents, on the other hand, when they bought Blue Band margarine in the supermarket, got as a bonus a picture of one of the flowers they were not supposed to pick. Needless to say, Azaria Alon himself took these pictures in his numerous field trips. Within few years, this suicidal trend. which endangered the future of nature in Israel, was stopped completely.
Oy Azaria, how desperately we miss you today, when once again the Israelis seem to be moving blindly towards a calamity, with no one in your caliber rising to stop them. Is there anyone here who doesn’t understand that the alternative to a two-state solution is one, bi-national state, where Israel either loses its Jewish nature or its democracy? And yet, like 50 years ago, when the knowledge that we were risking the future of our environment didn’t stop our blind assault on the flowers, so today, the knowledge that we are losing Jewish and democratic Israel doesn’t move us to do something to reverse the fatal trend.
In the film, Azaria recalled the days after the Six Day War, when he supported the idea of Greater Israel. Later, he came to grips with the demographic reality, and accepted the necessity of partitioning the land. In the film he explained that between 1948 and 1967 he couldn’t go to Judea and Samaria, but they were deep in his heart. “I’ll miss them, and its painful, but there is no other choice”.
As a sworn optimist, I still believe that Israelis are not suicidal, and that at the last moment, there will be an awakening. However, without Azaria Alon or his contemporary equal who could turn a dormant awareness to danger into action, it seems difficult.