Build back better, together

Remember the days of your childhood, when a visit to Israel felt like witnessing a miracle? Oranges, grapevines and wheat thriving in the heart of the desert, pristine water flowing in creeks, even a tiger or two roaming freely — a natural spectacle set among sand dunes, lush forests, coral reefs and snowy mountains. Houses adorned with solar panels for heating water epitomized a life of abundance, sustenance and happiness, a true miracle that seemed unstoppable.

And indeed, we haven’t stopped since. 

Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

As more factories, shops and houses emerged, they slowly eroded the wonder that once defined Israel. The roads multiplied, traffic jams clogged the country, buildings rose, waste mountains grew and air pollution tainted the pure air. The once clean creeks now bear murky waters. Our tigers are extinct, and the coral reefs are struggling to survive. Little Israel no longer resembles a miracle; instead, she mirrors the challenges of the modern world, exacerbated by internal tensions and external conflicts that reached a climax on Oct. 7. 

And yet amidst these crises lies the potential for resilience. Israel may have lost some of the best of her sons and daughters, but she hasn’t lost the ability to create miracles. Israel can rise stronger, united and more sustainable. Even beset from without and from within, Israel can start over today and build a better future — not just for the country today, but for its future generations and the entire world. 

This high-tech nation possesses the innovation and the technological capabilities needed to confront the world’s critical challenges addressed in the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Endorsed in 2015 by 193 U.N. member states, including Israel, the SDGs encapsulate 17 crucial challenges humanity must confront by 2030. These encompass economic, social and environmental issues, including food, water, health, education, energy, transportation, waste, poverty, industry and more. 

The scale of these challenges might seem colossal, but then imagine a place where innovation meets sustainability on an unprecedented scale. Imagine a landscape adorned with solar roofs for electricity and hot water, an entire ecosystem powered solely by renewable energy, generating zero emissions, and bathing in clean air. Imagine a transportation network where every quietly humming mode of travel is electric, charged with solar energy. Imagine a burgeoning industry creating jobs around the development of batteries for electric transportation, not relying on lithium but harnessing the power of sodium from the Dead Sea. Imagine a place where organic waste isn’t discarded but transformed into a valuable energy source. Wastewater isn’t a problem — it’s a resource too, treated on-site and repurposed to fertilize the soil. Imagine lush forests that don’t provide shade and absorb carbon, but also produce edible protein. 

The truth is you do not have to imagine these things, because these solutions are not some futuristic dreams. They are all existing Israeli technologies and solutions, ready to be integrated tomorrow into the post-Oct. 7 reconstruction. 

We have a golden opportunity on our hands. Israel has the technology, the innovation and the solutions to kick-start a sustainable revolution, and it is not just about roads and houses: it’s about the revitalization of kibbutzim, villages, Bedouin communities and cities that suffered destruction in the southern and northern regions during the Iron Swords conflict. Our focus should be on fostering sustainable development in these areas. 

Systemwide transformation on this scale requires significant capital, and that’s where Israel’s unique history plays a pivotal role. Seventy five years ago — in the face of desolation and war and even more internal disagreement than we have managed to forget and then remember — the Israeli people showcased an unmatched resilience, and the global Jewish community mobilized institutional and philanthropic funds to establish the very foundations of the country at pace with the dramatic increase of the population. A miracle. 

It’s true that philanthropy can’t replace governmental or commercial investment, but it can bridge crucial gaps — and prevent irreversible damage. Political and commercial investments in unsustainable infrastructures due to their lower cost today would be a trap for generations. Philanthropic funding would ultimately need to be diverted to repairs where initial smart planning would have been more cost effective. 

Today, while the government struggles to meet security and rapid recovery needs, Jewish philanthropy, as it has in the past, can play a crucial, catalytic role in ensuring that the development will be sustainable. Investments made today in sustainable infrastructure will generate long-term fiscal benefits and allow the creation of additional revenues for the state and additional capital for future philanthropic goals; but in addition to the tangible benefits of improved quality of life and environmental-social resilience, this is an opportunity to position Israel as a global leader in the international market of the future, exporting expertise on confronting global challenges, bolstering the economy, and creating a model for the world to follow. Recognizing these considerations, the Knesset’s Resolution 1127 of Dec. 10, 2023 outlines a multiyear strategic planning framework for the safe and sustainable recovery of the Tekuma region, which comprises the wider Gaza envelope. 

In the face of the climate crisis, a seven-year window remains to achieve the SDGs. Just as Joseph filled Egypt’s grain storehouses in seven years, saving Egypt and the wider region from a global food crisis, Israel can meet the SDGs within a seven-year time frame, fostering resilience for itself and the world. 

We have a vision, solutions, proof-of-concept and a government decision on a sustainable development intention. Now we need your help to restore the miracle. Are you in?

Yael Gini is CEO of SDG Israel.

CORRECTION: The original date given for Knesset Resolution 1127 (Oct. 12, 2023) was incorrect.