Turn Gaza border area into model of sustainable development, green organization urges

Advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din presents roadmap for rebuilding more greenly, as government set to approve framework for 5-year plan to rehabilitate southern border communities

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

View of the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, southern Israel, seen on October 15, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90)
View of the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, southern Israel, seen on October 15, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

With the government set Sunday to approve a framework for a five-year strategic plan to rehabilitate and develop the damaged Gaza border area, the environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din has presented proposals to turn the area into a national beacon for sustainable development.

In a paper shared with government officials, it calls for strengthening the economy of the region — renamed Hevel Tekuma, English for “revival zone” — by providing for sustainable agriculture with the produce to be marketed heavily in Israel; the integration of strict green building codes to ensure new construction is adapted for climate change in the desert environment; and a locally based, circular waste system in which one person’s waste is another’s resource and where waste that cannot be recycled is used to provide energy for the area.

The region was heavily damaged after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on October 7, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in barbaric circumstances, torching homes, vehicles, and other property, and kidnapping some 240 people to the Hamas-controlled enclave.

Environmental harm has since been compounded by the presence and movement of heavy Israeli army vehicles and equipment.

The vast majority of Gaza border residents have been evacuated and are living in temporary accommodation such as hotels.

The area, within seven kilometers (4.3 miles) of the Gaza border, previously called Otef Aza or the Gaza envelope, comprises the city of Sderot and the regional councils of Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon, Sdot Negev, and Shaar Hanegev. These provide services to dozens of mainly rural communities.

A convoy of military vehicles seen near the Gaza border on October 15, 2023, as Israel prepares a ground invasion into Gaza as part of Operation Iron Swords. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Rebuilding will be a mammoth task.

On agriculture, Adam Teva V’Din proposes giving special status to Gaza border area farming by ensuring that produce forms part of government procurement plans (worth tens of millions of shekels) and labeling it to encourage Israelis to buy it — a move that could increase sales by tens of percent, it says.

The group argues that local produce is fresher and, when produced without harmful chemicals, healthier. Recent studies show that it can also cut costs by a tenth. Furthermore, sustainably farmed export produce sells for more overseas.

Israeli soldiers stand next to a burning field near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, October 24, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The war against Hamas has exposed the vulnerability of Israel’s dependence on natural gas — a fossil fuel. The Tamar gas platform was closed during the early days of hostilities due to fear of attack, and the government has approved the import of more diesel and coal and even allowed the state oil company — the Europe Asia Pipeline Company — to offload more oil from tankers at its Red Sea port in Eilat, in the south, so long as it is for Israel’s use.

Adam Teva V’Din says the region, once rebuilt, should be equipped with solar energy and storage. This would make it harder for an enemy to bring the country to an energy standstill by destroying a few large installations. It would also reduce the need to build expensive and polluting power plants, lower electricity costs for industry and households, and cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Illustrative: The Tamar gas field. (NewMed Energy/Delek Drilling)

But to ensure a move to renewables, the government must initiate projects, make private investment in solar panels more attractive, give tax exemptions to local authorities, and upgrade the electricity grid to make sure there is capacity to absorb more solar energy, the organization says.

Funds could be used from the sovereign wealth fund that was created to redirect some of the profits made by private gas companies for the benefit of future generations.

The report notes that as industry will still need to use natural gas, efforts need to be made to ensure that all factories are connected to the gas supply.

The document draws attention to the sensitivity of this dry area in an era of climate change and proposes strengthening the current statutory requirements for green buildings for both private and public buildings to better prepare the population for a warmer climate and to lower running costs for items such as air conditioning.

It also stressed the importance of involving the communities in every step of planning, to give them a sense of control, in a country where “shared planning and development are almost nonexistent.”

Cars burned during an infiltration by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip, sit on the side of a road a day after the attack, near the southern city of Sderot on October 8, 2023. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

Disposing of waste from the extensive damage wreaked on property on October 7 — buildings, their contents, vehicles, and more — will require several steps, starting with surveying and separating the different kinds of scrap, the organization recommended.

Metal should be sent for recycling. Other materials could be sold. The rest could be shredded onsite and used as a layer beneath new roads and paths. This would save having to quarry new materials.

Shredded waste could also be fed into gasification facilities that turn it into energy.

Adam Teva V’Din recommended that the entire public transportation system in the revived Tekuma area be electric, with many charging stations.

Some of these recommendations have found their way into the framework document set to be approved by the government on Sunday.

Last month, the government announced it was setting up a directorate called the Tekuma Administration to be directed by former IDF Brig.-Gen. Moshe Edri.

The five-year plan is to be fully fleshed out within 120 days and then be presented to the government for final approval.

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