The Mideast’s Environmental ‘Prophet’

The Mideast’s Environmental ‘Prophet’

Can young people in the region come together around ‘green’ issues? The woman behind the Green Prophet website thinks so.

Jerusalem — A multicultural, borderless Middle East, not unlike the European Union, with Israel and its Arab neighbors brought together not by enmity but by a deep concern for the environment. From Beirut to Jerusalem to Cairo, the people of the Middle East joined by the need for clean air and water, regional issues that transcend nationalities and political ideologies.

It’s a noble, if slightly Quixotic, vision, but perhaps not a surprising one from the woman behind an increasingly popular website with the lofty name, Green Prophet.

“It might sound naïve but I think it’s achievable” within 20 years, said Karin Kloosterman, who in 2008 launched Green Prophet, a news website dedicated to environmental and ecological issues that affect some 20 countries across the Middle East.

“My true vision is to access the young global elite in the region and get their minds working, accessing information and thinking up new ideas for green projects to save the environment for the future,” said the Canadian-born Kloosterman, who moved to Israel just over a decade ago and lives in Jaffa.

So far, she seems to be on track. With some 200,000 unique users each month from the U.S., Europe and the immediate region, Green Prophet offers up innovative reports on clean technology and interesting takes on travel, nature, urban living, fashion, design, lifestyle and religion, all from a greener perspective.

With a team of 15 writers, a mix of Jews, Christians and Muslims from across the Middle East and beyond, Green Prophet has quickly found itself at the forefront of the movement to challenge cultural and religious taboos surrounding green living. It has even succeeded in addressing the constraints that prevent Israel from being part of any non-political regional debate.

“I know it sounds optimistic, but we all share the same water and air and think about the future; maybe right now we [Israelis] do not have great relations with the Lebanese or Palestinians, but we share so many of the same environmental problems as they do,” Kloosterman pointed out. She added, “Israel might even be able to offer some solutions to the [environmental] problems in the Middle East.”

Kloosterman has her supporters. “The site is excellent even though it only comments and reports and does not affect government or local policies,” said Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who is responsible for the city’s environment and planning portfolio.

“We are all in the same region and the website treats the Middle East as one place, even though there is a conflict going and we do not officially talk to each other,” continued Tsur, who last year was voted as one of the country’s top 10 leading environmentalists. “Of course there is always the million-dollar question of who is reading the site and drawing conclusions. Are people getting ideas from it? Or is it only those already interested in environmental issues?”

According to Kloosterman, most of her readers are young, educated and affluent, with some history of study abroad. She said realize “there are so many other problems around in the Middle East, not just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

In Israel, she observed, most people are “very attuned to nature. They love to watch sunsets and go traveling in the desert. They appreciate nature in a way that’s more profound in some ways than Canadians raised in the north where I am from — maybe because they have so little land and appreciate every inch.”

However, Kloosterman is quick to point out that there are widespread environmental failures here: the business community is not accountable, the government encourages too much paperwork and the army produces a lot of waste.

“Some basic environmental approaches, such as recycling, are still missing here too,” she said. But “Israelis are catching up fast and last I heard there will be a law so people will have to separate dry waste from wet, and all the recyclables will be separated at the source.

“Give Israelis a few more years and socially they will be up to speed if not surpassing Europeans and Americans,” said Kloosterman, pointing out too that the Torah is loaded with green wisdom.

When Kloosterman established the Green Prophet three years ago, her main goal was to create a site where North American Jews could find out about environmental issues affecting Israel. However within months of putting some $10,000 of her own money into the project, she realized that the site did not have to be limited to coverage of Israel.

“There was almost no environmental discourse in the Middle East and certainly no discussions that included Israel,” said Kloosterman. As a result, she refocused her goal to “show that there is a sense of sanity here and not everything has to be about politics.”

Kloosterman admitted that now that Green Prophet is open to writers from as far afield as Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, some visitors to the site balk that it features stories from Israel.

“I’ve had people contact me from Saudi Arabia wanting to include me in an event and suddenly, out of the blue, the idea is just dropped,” she said. “There have been others who have simply said, ‘We can’t work with you because there is too much focus on Israel.’”

However, she also pointed out there are some who realize that environmental issues should and must transcend borders, politics and religion.

“My writers do not get paid very much but I think they share the same vision as me,” Kloosterman said. The site, she said, is funded mainly by advertisers and just about breaks even. “We help to promote local writers who really understand what is going on in their countries, as opposed to international journalists who just fly into the Middle East looking for the most sensational stories.”