Bustan is a non-denominational, multi-cultural, independent NGO that focuses on the intersection between health and environment in Israel’s Negev desert region. Founded in 1999 by Devorah Brous, the organization is in the process of undergoing some wide ranging changes. Key amongst those is Devorah’s passing the helm of leadership to Raed Almickawi, an Israeli Bedouin from the village of Tel Sheva (Israel’s first government planned Bedouin Village). Bustan’s activities are also going to be run out of their newly opened Green Technology Center in Beer Sheva. This Center’s mandate is to promote sustainable resource use in an area of the country that can be best described as Israel’s toxic toilet. The main beneficiaries of Bustan’s work will continue to be Bedouin villages that are off the grid as well as on the grid villages wishing to reduce their dependence on non-renewable resources. Bustan uses state of the art technology, resulting in affordable and easily replicable tools for sustainable resource use. Their work has attracted international attention and their new Center already boasts a cast of volunteers from several countries including South Korea, West Ghana, the US etc.
Devorah and Raed are pleased with their success but they do concede that this happened despite their old skool Web site. That’s how I met them – they called me to consult on the production of their new Web site, which they hope will be more user and search engine friendly. I couldn’t help but be moved by the scope of their work – environmental issues affect everyone regardless or race, creed or political orientation. Sure, they kind of exude this hippie vibe, and I hate all things hippie-esque, but they are just too damned effective to be real hippies – well at least the kind I loathe. Heck, Raed with his fancy glasses and neat-o jeans, would not look out of place at any Tel-Aviv high-tech startup! But I digress…
Bustan stands at the congruence of community development, social justice and environmental consciousness. The Israeli government and North American Jewish philanthropists have a big hard on for Negev development. Bustan reminds us all that such development ought not come at the expense of a sustainable future for both the land and its inhabitants. Right now, residents of the Negev are suffering from the effects of unenlightened development – Bedouins are reporting diminished sperm counts, Russian kids are experiencing increased cardio pulmonary disease and cancer rates are higher across the board. Of course, the correlation between development and disease hasn’t been conclusively proven – but come on, I’m not stupid. When you have people living amidst toxic sludge, shit’s going to happen. Bustan is encouraging the use of alternative resource use in that exact part of Israel that is being wantonly exploited for its resources. These are issues that ought to be of concern to anyone who cares about the continued viability of Israel. And let’s not even discuss the geo-political, let alone environmental implications of undue reliance on and addiction to oil…
Stay tuned for the launch of Bustan’s new Web site – and if you are in Israel you can attend any of Bustan’s activities. The Green Technology Center’s official opening is on September 6th, 2007 in Beer Sheva. Visit Bustan.org for further details! The open house will be very serious of course, featuring presentations by all kinds of very serious activist types – including Devorah who will recount the lessons she’s learnt from her 13 years of hard core, frontline activism – but it will also be fun and will include yummy organic food and traditional Bedouin music.
The center will feature films and workshops and seminars, and anyone interested in attending or even giving a lecture can simply contact Bustan at [email protected]. The center features an outdoor and roof top garden utilizing water recycled from sewage (grey water system – neat!). The garden will give Bustan the opportunity to discuss and implement Shmita-related issues (talk about sustainable development!). They also offer occasional Negev Unplugged tours giving you a real view of Bedouin culture. I mean, what the hell? Raed just told me he’s never been on a friggin camel, unlike pretty much every kid on birthright and every American tourist on a “Genuine Bedouin Experience!” Anyhow – go check them out!
And before you write that comment… I know you’re about to – Bustan is an organization that deserves our support. Bustan deserves the Israeli government’s support. Western countries are spending billions on research aimed at diminishing their reliance on carbon-based energy resources. Israeli Bedouins, loyal citizens who serve in the IDF, are allowing themselves to serve as research subjects into the implementation of the sorts of tools and technologies that will serve exactly those goals. This transcends politics and serves everyone’s best interest. So there.
Oh and I wanted to thank Devorah and Raed and Mike Dacks (Canadian/Israeli lawyer and Bustan Green guide) for taking the time to shoot the shit with me.