Some years ago, my wife and I visited Japan. One of the many interesting places we visited was a hilltop monastery. We took a bus up to the monastery. When we had finished wandering around the monastery’s, for us, strange and exotic halls populated by a collection of scary-looking idols, we decided to walk back down. There was a long wait for the next bus, and we were ready to enjoy the hour’s easy stroll down to the main road with its frequent buses.
A few minutes after starting to walk down, I had the feeling that something was wrong. It took a few more minutes before it hit me – we were walking on a well-used road, a continual stream of cars was passing us on the way to the monastery, popular with worshippers and tourists alike, but there was not a scrap of litter anywhere. No bottles, no discarded tissues, no empty cigarette packets, not even a cigarette butt or two. This seemed so unlikely that we stopped looking at the beautiful views and started searching for signs that we were still on planet Earth. There were none. An hour later, we reached the bottom of the hill without having seen a single piece of rubbish.
I was reminded of this last week. Hosting a Japanese friend on a brief visit to Israel, we took a stroll along Rehovot high street. Rubbish everywhere. We did not have to search for it, we had to take care not to trip over it. Fortunately, my Japanese friend was excited to see our technological marvel, Iron Dome, blowing up incoming missiles from Gaza and he did not have time to see the shameful scene at his feet. Strange that we can keep our skies clean but cannot do the same for our streets.
Many years ago, the appearance of the spring poppies was a call to go out and pick as many as possible. The poppy seeds were lost, and this led to a decline in the next year’s poppies. Fearing that we might lose our incredible fields of red, the schools started teaching children from the youngest classes that poppy picking was bad, that our poppies were a protected species and it was their job to protect them.
The campaign was extremely successful. Parents, looking to pick some wildflowers, were shamed by their small children who passed on the message that we do not pick poppies.
Perhaps it is time for a new campaign – we do not throw rubbish out of our car window; we do not leave our beautiful picnic sites strewn with leftovers. Perhaps cigarette smokers, seeking an early death, could leave us a cleaner world by properly disposing of their butts and packets. Perhaps we could start in the schools, start with the kids.
It will not be easy. Old habits die hard. I have tried on several occasions to remonstrate with a casual litterer, caught tossing a cigarette packet to the ground. Welcome to Israel, I would say. The offender would look at me in puzzlement — but I’m an Israeli, I live here, they would reply. Oh, I say, I thought you were a tourist – only a pig fouls its own home. My message was rarely understood.