How I Became A ‘Green Zionist’
Tue, 08/16/2011
Special To The Jewish Week
The author in a solar energy field.
The author in a solar energy field.

When I think about growing up in the suburbs of New York City, I remember blue and white Yom Ha’Atzmaut cupcakes and Israel advocacy seminars. I was raised with a joyful love of Israel that is inherently part of who I am.

Starting college at Colgate University last August was a breath of fresh air. My friends, peers, and professors did not all think like I did. My Zionism was challenged, and rightfully so: just loving Israel was not enough anymore. I wanted to speak up for Israel, but I quickly found that politics put everyone around me on the defense. I needed to find a way to show my pride in Israel, and to protect and defend her at the same time.

As a freshman I developed an interest in environmental studies. I became a recycling buff and joined a group that promotes sustainability in the local community. Discussions with my father transitioned from politics to photovoltaics. Now I was juggling my passion for Zionism with my new enthusiasm for the environment, and it became increasingly important for me to find a way to link the two.

A disagreement with a friend helped me understand that the causes are intricately connected. I’d spent the day teaching school children about why they shouldn’t drink from disposable plastic bottles. That evening I had dinner with my friend, who, lo and behold, was drinking from a plastic bottle. Halfway through my lecture on the evils of plastic, he stopped me. “Don’t you think there are bigger things to worry about? I thought you cared about Israel.” I got quiet, embarrassed at his affront. But it was his prying questions that helped me tie the issues together.

“I do care about Israel,” I said. “Think about it. Billions of gallons of oil are used each year to produce, transport, and dispose of plastic bottles. It binds us to oil-rich, politically corrupt, anti-Israel countries. If we lessen our dependence on oil, just imagine the possibilities for the way politics would play out. Can you imagine an Israel that doesn’t rely on oil?”

With a nod, he threw out the bottle. I smiled. That was when I became a “Green Zionist.”

Green Zionism is a movement dedicated to the development and protection of a Jewish state in Israel through environmentalism. The chalutzim (pioneers) who worked the land and built Israel from the ground up set a precedent for caring about the environment. We have a responsibility to protect and further this legacy for future generations, the way they did for us. Growing up in Jewish day school I heard countless stories about chalutzim who transformed Israel’s landscape by planting trees throughout the country. They were seriously cool adventurers, and I wanted to be like them. For me, being a Green Zionist is the modern-day equivalent to being a chalutzah. I believe that if the original pioneers were in charge of Israel’s contemporary energy needs, they would support expanding the solar industry in Israel.

Going solar will lead Israel towards energy independence. Three times already this year, the natural gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel has been sabotaged. Gas pipes being blown up in Egypt are only one example. Why should we empower countries that would rather see a world map devoid of Israel by paying them to supply us with gas and oil?

Solar energy empowers Israel by bringing money directly into the economy. It makes jobs for thousands of Israelis, and it brings people to the sparsely populated Negev and Arava deserts. PV solar panels have zero CO2 emissions and use no water. For a country that is 60 percent desert, it makes perfect sense to use the land to make Israel the first carbon neutral country in the world.

People who oppose solar energy in Israel argue that natural gas is a better answer to Israel’s energy needs. The Israeli government even has a cap on how many megawatts (MW) of electricity can be supplied through solar (1500 MW). Even though gas is technically cheaper, the external costs must be weighed, too. PV panels, unlike gas, are clean and emission-free. You can’t put a price tag on the health of Israel’s citizens or on the atmosphere. Further, the sun is a free and unlimited resource. Renewable solar (once again, unlike gas) promises energy security for generations to come.

For all of these reasons I chose to pursue an internship this summer with Arava Power Company, Israel’s leading solar energy enterprise. I started my internship the week before APC launched Israel’s first commercial solar field. Celebrating the inauguration of APC’s 5 MW photovoltaic display on Kibbutz Ketura was inspiring.

This summer I am part of a team that believes in solar energy because we love Israel and want to sustain her far into the future, and every day I spend here reinforces my conviction that Green Zionism is both relevant and deeply important to the security and welfare of our Jewish homeland in Israel.

Arielle Sperling is a rising sophomore at Colgate University. She is a graduate of The Jewish Week/Avi Chai Foundation Write On For Israel advocacy fellowship. Arielle is spending her summer in Herzliyah as Arava Power Company’s Communications Intern. She can be reached at ariellesperling@gmail.com.