As a geography Master’s student at Beer Sheva’s Ben-Gurion University, this semester I took a class in environmental law and policy with Alon Tal (we profiled him here). Our final project was to work on a green plan for Rahat, an Israeli Bedouin city that suffers from serious issues of garbage control, shade, green spaces and environmental awareness.
The Jerusalem Post’s Ehud Zion Waldoks covered our final meeting. As a member of the open spaces team, I went on a field trip to Rahat with Ahmad Amrani (left) who is trying to green the city. Rahat is not the first Bedouin locale to take on the environment; Darijat is Israel’s first solar village.
While many cities suffer from a lack of open space, Rahat actually has too much. Big, dusty, garbage-strewn expanses stretch along neighborhood borders. Some have been appropriated by families who built homes or shiks, shed-like structures for hosting guests. In one space, the city has been planning a giant sports complex for 10 years. While the municipality waits for funding, Rahat residents have put up a shantytown on the site.
Meanwhile, inside the neighborhoods open space is at a bare minimum. In one of them, a preschool’s garden (right) is nearly completely off limits to the children because the lot is filled with trash and even a dead cat. The sidewalks aren’t shaded. Homes are walled off with bare concrete blocks to preserve modesty of the women.
Our team (left) proposed working on a small plan for one neighborhood. We wanted to increase the sense of community for the approx. 700 people who lived in Neighborhood 22, a small wedge east of the city center. Our plan was to clear the area’s rightful open space of any invasions that weren’t for residential use; in 22, this was two shiks. We also advocated rezoning small neglected corners of housing lots in the neighborhood’s center and turning them into pocket-like parks.
I don’t know how seriously the Rahat municipality is taking our proposals; on the one hand, they came to the meeting, but on the other it takes a lot of money and willpower to clear through the bureaucratic hurdles involved in changing the very fabric of a city. Best of luck to Mr. Amrani.
If you’d like to see another side of Rahat, check out a log of a bike trip I took there earlier this year at TheTruthHerzl.com.
All photos by Daniella Cheslow. Top photo published first in the Jerusalem Post.