When thinking about the Israeli army (or any other army, for that matter) becoming more “green” or environmentally conscious, skepticism is unfortunately the first thing that comes to mind. Military activity is nasty business, leaving detrimental traces on human relationships, governmental spending, and the environment – to name a few.
Which is why a recent article by Batsheva Sobelman in the LA Times about the Israeli army going green definitely got us standing at attention.
Sobelman’s article, which refers to specific experiences of individual soldiers, explains the specific impact of the IDF on the Israeli environment. Fifty percent of the Negev is fire zones, with the IDF practicing occasionally in an additional 20 percent overlap area in the Negev. Translation: there’s army activity going on all over that desert.
So what does that mean for the environment?
Sobelman explains that: “In the desert, water management is key. The top ground layer, a crust a few millimeters deep, is made of a small part of fine soil and around 70% microscopic, photosynthesizing algae. The layer seals and the water runs off it and into the desert channels, feeding the entire ecosystem.” And so whenever tanks, groups of cadets, or even individual soldiers disrupt the top ground layer – this has negative impacts on the environment. Nothing is able to grow in the ruts impressed into the top layer and as a result the life systems structured around them die as well. Of course, this is only one of many environmental hazards caused by the IDF.
And what is the IDF doing about this, you might ask?
Not nearly enough, but they’ve gotten started. IDF officers now receive environmental training, which includes learning about various desert ecosystems. The army is also trying to contain training to areas that have already been effected so as not to inflict much further damage. In other areas, park rangers comb over the top layer of the soil with rakes in order to restore original levels.
Regev Manor, a young instructor from Israel’s Nature and Natural Parks Authority who sometimes leads cadets through their IDF environmental training, said to the soldiers he was training at the end of a 7 kilometer trail: “Respect yourselves and the environment too and your soldiers will respect you the more for it. Pass this on to your soldiers as officers, and that’s a good start.”
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a good place to start, but it sounds like there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Want to read about positive green things happening in the Negev? Read more:: REAL(ly) Affordable and Sustainable Housing Hits the Negev, Brightsource Launches Solar Energy Plant in the Negev, Water & the Bedouin: Sharing the Resources, and Neot Semadar: An Eco Village in the Southern Negev