Even in the midst of Israel’s war, Shatil’s Director of Arab-Israeli Environmental Activism, Zubaida Ezery, is busy helping Palestinian citizens of Israel confront environmental challenges in their communities. Under her leadership, Shatil, together with the Sheli Fund—a long-standing NIF initiative that supports environmental projects in Israel—is launching a program to help fledgling initiatives fuel environmental activism in Arab communities in Israel.

Following October 7th and the ensuing war, many social change projects, including the Shatil-Sheli initiative, were put on hold due to the need for NGOs and activists to respond to basic humanitarian needs. Meanwhile, Zubaida continued her research on environmental issues in Israel’s Palestinian community and maintained contact with organizations that could potentially participate in her programs.

Zubaida’s first wake-up call around environmental issues came in her twenties while she was working as a laboratory technician, analyzing and monitoring wastewater for water supply and sanitation authorities. She was “testing toxicity levels in the water,” she remembered, “I wondered whether the sanitation authorities were concerned about how regular contact with sewage materials might be affecting my health and that of my co-workers.”

After work at the laboratory, Zubaida did a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Life Sciences and a master’s degree in Environmental Health. It was there that her research led her to rural water treatment in West Bank Palestinian towns. “Up until then, I had no idea that there were people just over the border living with open sewage,” she said.

Zubaida learned that she “didn’t need to leave home” to find people—Negev Bedouin—living under similarly abject conditions to those of West Bank Palestinians. Born and raised in the northern mixed city of Akko, Zubaida was stunned to realize that “We are the same people, and speak the same language, and even live in relative geographical proximity; and yet I didn’t know the Negev Bedouin. It was a completely new world for me.”

Next month, the Sheli Fund will make a call for projects for the first time since the start of the war. They will work with initiatives run by Palestinian citizens of Israel who are also committed to learning and networking. From June 2024-February 2025, Shatil will provide selected participants with training on strategic planning, one-on-one consulting, and will match each group with an established environmental NGO mentor. Shatil will also foster support networks and potential partnerships among the projects in order to expand the circles of individuals and communities they reach.

When asked whether working on environmental issues right now feels detached from the reality in Israel, Zubaida said no: “I spoke with a variety of people in the field who said that especially in the face of new government budget reductions for Arab municipalities, this project funding is more precious than ever. With all of the heaviness of the war there is a real thirst for getting out there and doing something constructive.”