Israel’s nonprofit and nonpartisan organization Green Course (GC) is a dynamic grassroots activist organization working on the frontlines to influence elected decision makers in Israel to create public sustainable environmental and social policy, to increase the circles of influence by widening participation, to support social-environmental justice by preventing government authorities, private corporations and the public from harming nature resources and the environmental and social systems of Israel for generations to come.
Green Course is made of hundreds of volunteer activists. Most of them are students from all around the country who believe in active participation and in the importance of taking personal responsibility in shaping society, protecting the environment and continuously working towards a better Israel.
I had the opportunity to interview climate hero Elad Hochman, their Executive Director, about his background and their vital work.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: When and why did you decide to focus on the environment?
Elad Hochman: I’ve had a deep connection with Israel’s nature and history since a very young age. I served as a senior guide in the IDF school of medicine. After finishing my service, I founded “Derech Eretz Tours”, guiding trips for individuals and groups in Israel, in order to teach them more about this incredible place.
The first time I gave a speech in the Knesset I was holding the Bible. I read straight from the book. I described the impressive wildlife and plant-life in the Land of Israel. There is no other place on earth where the lion meets the bear. It’s a connection of continents. There are thousands of species here, the only other place similar to it is the Amazon Forest, in an area several dozen times larger than Israel.
My connection to this place is based on the nature of the land and Judaism. It’s the reason I studied both environmental science and Jewish history. It’s also the reason I’m a tour guide and choose to work in projects like Masa or Taglit.
Which of Green Course’s achievements are you most proud of?
In 2017, I had just finished a leadership seminar in Northern Israel with a friend from Green Course. We started driving south and stopped at an intersection overlooking Haifa Bay. It was dark. We looked at each other, as we suddenly noticed the oil refinery’s giant torch was lit. Residents of the area know that torch very well. It’s a sign that an error is causing excessive emissions and pollution. At that moment we understood that we had to shut the place down. And that became our mission.
The following day I began planning how to shut down the polluting factories and refineries that are likely responsible for the area having one of the highest cancer morbidity rates due to industrial operations and fossil-fuel refining. Five years later, the Israeli government signed a decision to remove the factories from the area within a decade.
No one believed it was possible.
When I started working at GC there were plans to double and even triple the polluting operations in the area. We completely turned it around. It’s a great achievement.
Q: Is that GC’s greatest achievement?
A: Over the years, we were partners in many achievements for the green movement in Israel. We prevented the construction of a new fossil-fuel power plant. We stopped destructive construction in the Jerusalem Mountains. We took part in planning the laws for the protection of swimming beaches, as well as the clean air act – the most important environmental law in Israel meant to minimize air pollution emitted by factories and to protect public health. We prevented construction on Palmahim Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Israel. We founded Israel’s first community forest garden. The plans for the high-speed train route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem were decided by a minister, based on our struggle. We took part in tens of successful struggles, that were game-changers for Israel’s reality.
Q: What is GC’s work concept?
A: It’s important to remember that GC battles with giants. We’re a small player in comparison to refineries, BAZAN Group, or companies that want to conduct unconventional drilling in Israel. And this is definitely true in terms of finance. On the other hand, we’re a field organization of people who know how to work and cooperate with decision makers. This is something we didn’t use to do in the distant past, and I’m glad that now we have the option to be part of the conversation and have an impact on decision-making one way or the other.
Our work concept is to bring the residents directly affected by environmental injustices to the center of the decision-making process. To open doors and break barriers. The fact that we can bring together a mom who can’t take her daughter to the playground and the CEO of the Ministry of Energy, for example, is a game-changer. The minister of environmental protection, Idit Silman, asked to meet with GC and got a meeting with Yavne residents who suffer from air-pollution on a day-to-day basis, she understood firsthand the destructive effect of the factories in the area. The result of that meeting was the immediate assembly of an air quality monitor. This couldn’t have happened otherwise.
At first, decision makers underestimated the knowledge of citizens because they’re not professionals. We managed to change that paradigm, we use our power both in field-action and in front of decision makers, unlike other organizations.
Nowadays, GC must grow in order to deal with the threats in the environmental realm – the climate crisis and the ecological crisis are hurting more and more populations in Israel, alongside nature and wildlife. We look at GC as the organization in charge of building the climate movement’s power, it starts with supporting the Youth for Climate movement, who nowadays also take part in national service and volunteer-year programs in the organization. It continues with building leaders and supporting climate struggles. We must expand to as many campuses in Israel as possible.
It’s critical in order to make space for young people in decision-making tables on topics that regard their future. Recently we launched a pilot program to qualify and support local ‘Communities of Struggle’. We developed online education programs on how to make a change.
Q: What’s your advice for people who would like to start fighting for planet earth?
A: First of all, join GC! Beyond that, never underestimate yourselves, don’t hesitate to contact professionals, whether it’s civil organizations, your city hall or even the state. Your knowledge is worthy of being a part of decision-making. Once you remember that, your first partner for the journey will arrive quickly.
Before you start your path in climate activism you might need guidance. That’s why GC developed an online education program on how to make a change, ‘The Place’ is an interactive platform for activists to learn viable tools in community organizing, campaigning, and much more.
Another point is planning. Once you plan an action, your worries will subside. An action could even be writing a letter, or asking a question, it becomes easier than you’d think. Once we understand that we have a right to ask and speak up, things roll in the right direction. Just start hiking, I promise you’ll end up somewhere good.
Q: What does GC want to achieve in the future?
A: In the environmental aspect, first and foremost, we want a binding climate law to be passed; with the goal of achieving 50% renewable energy, and a reduction of 50% in emissions by 2030. In regards to the ecological crisis, Israel is currently missing in the list of countries that have passed laws for the protection of its rich biodiversity.
These days we’re doing meaningful work with the community to plan a biodiversity protection law and promote it. Israel is also lagging behind in the establishment of nature reserves, particularly in the realm of marine conservation.
We have a clear goal of advancing the recognition of additional inland and marine reserves, in order to protect the Israeli nature that we love so deeply.
As time goes on, climate change is harming more and more communities throughout Israel. Disadvantaged populations and their municipalities are being harmed in the most devastating way. GC is demanding that the government shapes operative plans to aid municipalities in coping with climate change and natural disasters, in order to save lives. Finally, we want to see the polluting refineries and factories in Haifa Bay shut down by 2030, as has been promised in government decision 1231, which GC promoted for the past 10 years.
On an organizational level, GC aspires to double, triple, and even quadruple its activity over the next few years. That means establishing student collectives in every university and college in Israel, developing more tools to help our ‘Communities of Struggle’, and more.
The climate crisis is here, it’s intensifying, and sadly it’s hurting more and more populations, who are fighting for their health and basic rights.
Q: How can people help?
A: We understand that not everyone has the time to go out and contribute through hands-on activism, by holding a sign or planning a protest. However, anyone can be a part of Green Course and its community. Signing up to our newsletter allows you to get informed and involved. Following us on social media, signing a petition, or taking part in an email campaign all help us put pressure on decision makers. Check us out at www.green.org.il/en/green-course-us!