Getting Warm, warmer… Hot! The beginning of the most important protests of the 21st century – An Israeli perspective by Matai Ben Aharon, Israel

2018 and 2019 will be marked in history as the beginning of a global uprising of the people against the lack of satisfying action by all of us regarding the climate emergency our world is facing.

During this past year came out two of the most dramatic reports regarding climate change and environmental destruction. The first, comprised by the International Panel on climate change (IPCC) – IPCC Global Warming Special Report 2018, states clearly that we have only 11 years to drastically change our ways and halve our global emissions in order not to cross the dangerous 1.5c which means spinning out of climate control. The second report the IPBES Global Assessment – warns us from a mass wildlife extinction – 1 million species are at immediate risk.

In the past few months, millions of the world’s youth and children took the streets to protest for their future – the last strike was organized last month and took place in more than 160 cities around the world, and involved more than 1.5 million children protesters who struck school for their future. What started as a one girl climate strike with Greta Thunberg in front of the Swedish parliament in 2018, became “The biggest lesson children are teaching grownups by not going to school”.


Greta Thunberg addressing the world at the COP 24 in Katowice – 2018

But youth and children are not alone going out to the streets or making an important stance.
During the past year, Alexandra Ocasio Cortes (AOC) from House Democrats, alongside many others in the USA, has proposed a “radical” emergency plan called the Green New Deal (GND). The plan has started an important worldwide debate of the necessity of emergency actions, especially after Trump’s administration pulling out of its obligation of the Paris Agreement.

Moreover, 2018 has marked the beginning of one of the most powerful non-violent civil disobedience movements in the world. Extinction Rebellion or XR, as activists call the movement, was formed by social and environmental scientists and activists from all over the UK who felt that not enough is done to stop the climate crisis we are facing.
They constructed advanced protest methods, holding 3 basic and powerful Demands, and 10 Principles and Values that are used as guidelines for the becoming global movement.

The first Demands are:

1. Tell the truth – Governments must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

2. Act Now – Governments must act now to halt the biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

3. Beyond Politics – Governments must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.   

The 10 Principles and Values of the movement can be found here.



The symbol of the movement, the Hourglass – symbolizes that we are running out of time. The name is derived from the term the 6 mass extinction we are facing. Sounds radical to you?

The protests started in November 2018 and continued during the year until a climactic two weeks protests held across the UK, where activists gathered in different parts of London (among other places of Britain), made traffic jams, glued themselves to curves, doors and monuments, held civil assembly’s and talks, made protest art and marched all over the city. In these two weeks protests, more than 1,100 people were arrested, something “never seen” by the UK police.
One of the persons arrested was a leading climate lawyer and diplomat, Farhana Yamin, who glued herself to big oil company headquarters Shell. As one of the leaders of the Paris Agreement (2015) negotiations, she felt that not enough was being done while countries are not even following their climate targets, signed during the agreement.


XR activists listening to speeches while blocking the road junction of Oxford Circus in the busy shopping district in central London on April 18, 2019, during the fourth day of an environmental protest by the Extinction Rebellion group.

The protests had large media coverage and at once the whole world heard of XR. The great protest and media coverage made unprecedented public awareness and not two weeks from the end of that wave the British parliament has declared a Climate Emergency, being the first government in the world to do so. The Irish parliament followed a few days later. 


The great accomplishments made by the UK activists, resolving in the parliaments’ climate emergency declarations are only the beginning of a more wide and global action planned for the fall of 2019 and onwards. Hundreds of XR groups are forming all over the world. While we speak representatives from 40 countries are meeting to coordinate and strategize for future action.

Local perspective – Israel:

Israel is part of those 40 countries. Just last week, the first official XR IL meeting was held in the Pele (Meaning wonder) volunteering commune in Tel Aviv, where some 200 people came to organize, meet each other and hear more elaborately about the movement.

I came a few hours prior the meeting, and the place was already filled with people hanging banners, cutting veggies for a modest yet rich buffet, cleaning the place, hanging cables and setting the stage.
It had a semi-festive feeling seeing all those people working with great energy and fun, yet, one could feel an underlying tension in the air. Maybe because of years of hard work, fighting battles that never end, and with little action done by the world. Maybe because of knowing what lies ahead and the fear of not succeeding.

I have come early to interview Mor Gilboa, who, just a few weeks ago, decided to end his 8-year job as the CEO of the most influential environmental activist NGO in Israel – Green Course.

Green Course CEO Mor Gilboa retiring after 8 years: “Solidarity is the Key”

During the April XR protests, Mor had decided to fly to London to learn from first hand about the movement and shared his experiences through the media and with the local XR activists’ group that was forming.
Being the CEO of Green Course for the past 8 years, Mor has led many important environmental and social battles. Some of these battles are still raging until today – such as the long-lasting battle to keep the “new” found Gas on the offshores of Israel in the ground, a battle that signifies the core of the climate justice and XR’s demands.
Especially in Israel, where we have more available sunny days than most countries in the world, we produce only 3 – 5 % of our energy from solar power (the lowest rate in the OECD). Not only that, the country is continuing its offshore Gas projects with big corporations such as Nobel Energy and giving permits for the continued search for more, while today, a unit of energy that comes from solar is cheaper than any other fossil fuel alternative including gas.

Mor’s way of leading the environmental and social activism in Israel, as he told me, started as a child and adolescence wanting to be a journalist investigating social injustices. Before the army, he went to a year of volunteering as part of the blue shirt youth movement “Hnoar Haoved Ve Halomed” (The working and studying youth) in Kibbutz Erez on the Gaza border. He went there mostly because he was deeply in love with a fellow participant of the commune and less out of idealism, though it was also a meaningful time for him from that point of view as well.

After his military service as a medic and a clinic operator, he studied a B.A. in sociology and Philosophy and an M.A. in Business Management. In those days, he reflects: “That was the time I developed my critical thinking”. Until his 30’s Mor was working as a manager at a University prep school “Kidom” and was not politically involved as he imagined he would be in his teens.

A turn in his life came when his life partner told him that he was missing his life purpose, And made him come to an LGBTQ group guides seminar. This event changed Mor’s life in many ways: “for the first time of my life, I felt a part of a community and understood my gay identity in a deep sense… I wanted to give back to the community and help fellow friends in need”.

During that time, while living in Tel Aviv, he also found the power of civic engagement, through leading a renovation of a symbolical monumental area in the centre of Tel Aviv – enlisting civilians for a campaign and working with the municipality at what ended as a great success and a civil win as the municipality decided to take his plan to action.

All this made him shift from his comfort zone and he went for a search of his next step in life.

It was in that time, the early summer of 2011 when he was appointed CEO of Green Course. It was a special time to start his new job, in correlation with the great 2011 protest for social justice in Israel and all around the world that was then in their pick. The protest in Israel drove more than 500 thousand Israelis to the streets in the biggest protest in its history.

Mor and Green Course where highly involved, leading the environmental justice camp and campaign at those protests at what became a first major outcry and against capital rule in the energy sector and the offshore gas drilling: “All social and environmental issues are interconnected” says Mor, “This is what we learned back in 2011 and what XR says today. “Solidarity between campaign is the key to the winning of the protest, both at the global perspective and the local one in Israel”.

XR’s science says we need 3.5% of the population to be mobilized in order to reach its target and a “tipping point” in public awareness, that about 280 thousand citizens, not a small number by any means, but we saw its possible in 2011 and today the stakes are higher – “Solidarity between campaign is the key” as Mor said.

Over 400 thousand Israelis in the biggest protest for social justice during the summer of 2011


Today, especially with the late anti-democratic laws forwarded by the Israeli right winged coalition, a few NGO’s including you, have protested under the slogan of Democracy = Environment Justice. Though right winged environmental activists say that this statement is politically based only and that it divides and restrains the global effort and unity of the struggle. In their case it is also possible at non-democratic regimes surrounding Israel such as Egypt surpassing Israel with Solar Projects and some of the Gulf counties reducing their dependency on fossil fuels with the 2030 plans. What do you think about that?


“There great examples of non-democratic leaders who made big environmental changes, one example is Chemi Lerner the Mayor of the Brazilian city of Curitiba – but after he went the changes didn’t last because of lack of education and public awareness to his action, and all that he did went into regression. Democracy enables a deep inclusion of resilient values who long last a onetime action or decision.

To see Trump’s, Bolsonero’s and other populist regimes such as in Israel, Hungary or Poland who are becoming less and less democratic, and corelate their climate denial action and statements, alleged corruption and up front, no transparency and balance between political institutions, you can start seeing why democracy is so important.”

Question: What is the most important action XR IL (we) needs to take in your opinion? What are the greatest challenges and the most important role of XR IL in achieving its targets?


“First of all, we need to be innovative and to make innovative protest like in the UK.
What I found especially interesting was that contrary to my own belief and the environmental action to date in Israel, XR was able to make the protest less anthropocentric and was able to deliver a holistic message of human being a part of a larger extinction happening to all forms of life on earth. And that message works.

Here in Israel, we need to process and channel our anger and disappointment to the replacement of our political system. We need to break the glass selling of silencing the climate crisis taking place, we need to change our economic, neo-liberal, privatizing policy that hurts us and the environment. Climate action is not enough in that case, we need to make the connections between injustices and work together. Whether it’s the long-lasting Ethiopian protest, the strive for ending the Israeli occupation or the Palestinian right to self-determination, social justice at large. The protest needs to be a civilian protest and the climate protest needs to be part of it. This is how the UK protests worked. It is a protest that talks about human rights and inclusiveness. XR USA has made radical inclusiveness as part of the 3 basic demands made by XR UK.

We too, need to make demands that are connected to local reality. We need to be progressive and to make the scope of the protest big enough for all the powers repressed by the regime to fit in the struggle.”

Green Course and XR IL activists being arrested for civil disobedience action in
Nobel Energy offices, April 2019.

Near the end of the interview, I wanted to hear what brings Mor hope –

“What I can say is that we are changing and progressing all the time. We did not need the last IPCC report to know what’s happening, we know these facts for a long time already. Look at the youth coming out to the streets, the climate march in Israel… It gives me hope to know that we are on the right side of history, that we are pioneering against despair through action, the saying is true where there is action there is hope. And on the personal level, after 8 years of hard stressful work and a bunch of new white hairs I can say that I’m energized and happy to do what I’m doing”.

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