The long road home, or… permits, please! // Giora (Gio) Israel

The process of getting a permit for last year’s Midburn event was complex and nerve wracking, to say the least. We got through it thanks to the inspiring resourcefulness of our external relations team, the spirit of our volunteers on the ground and behind the scenes, but especially thanks to the power of the our incredible community. We came together at the moment of truth to make sure Midburn happened – as a true regional burn, here in Israel, huge (double the previous size and second largest in the world!) and fully embracing the ten principles. Given that last year’s theme was transcendence, anyone who experienced the mobilization of the community, the cooperation and the focused effort that went into those critical days couldn’t help but sense the general elation when we finally got the approval and the gates of our city opened.


Midburn 2015 went smoothly and left us all with a great sense of satisfaction, the community having proved itself once again. There were no police interventions or safety incidents (by the way, Midburn 2014 was also surprisingly free of any such events). The community respected the principle of civic responsibility. Our vigilant rangers, medical clinic and the incredible force behind it (a fully volunteer, senior medical team, far surpassing the official requirements), the hard work of all parties involved in the event and the cooperation of the legal authorities – all of these contributed to Midburn being one of the safest – and maybe even sanest – places to be in Israel for those few hot summer days.


At the end of last year’s event, our immediate takeaway from the licensing process was to make two significant decisions. The first was to begin the process as early as possible to allow for enough time for all the necessary assessments and communication with the authorities. The second was to create a team for strategic relations, that among other responsibilities (fundraising, government relations, external relations, etc.) would directly engage with the authorities and work to strengthen Midburn’s standing in the Israeli cultural landscape.


Over the past few months, much work has been done in several areas that are critical to Midburn’s very existence:


The licensing process. After a lessons learned report was compiled by the Midburn Association and the licensing authorities of the Israel Police, a joint meeting was held in early December of last year with all relevant licensing authorities (police, fire, medical). At the meeting, Midburn 2015 was reviewed and a project plan was jointly established for this year’s event. The meeting was overseen by Negev Precinct Commander, Brig. Gen. Amnon Alkalai (the highest ranking authority in the Negev). Since this meeting, the licensing process has been underway, with field trips, license applications, conditions, negotiating those conditions… and the most critical part of the process is upon us now – but we’ll get back to that later.

The Regional Council. Midburn is held within the Ramat Negev Regional Council. The council is a full partner in the long road to Midburn, and we make a great effort throughout the year to maintain strong ties. It’s estimated that Midburn brought around 3 million NIS to local businesses in the Southern region and is also one of the leading cultural events in the country in terms of attracting tourism from abroad. This year, a dedicated team has been established with the goal of strengthening ties with residents and businesses in the Regional Council, and to encourage the Midburn production team and of course the community of participants to make their necessary purchases for the event at local businesses. Currently, the team is in discussions with members of Kibbutz Sde Boker to look into the possibility of creating frameworks that will allow residents of the kibbutz as well as the nearby college to benefit from the event (Midburn is held on kibbutz land).


The Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) and environmental protection. We are in constant contact with relevant parties at the NPA. Our “footprint minimization” department, MATAR, is working to uphold the principle of “Leave No Trace” and to raise environmental awareness within the community and at the event itself. This year’s Midburn will be the first event of its kind in Israel to be fully powered by biodiesel-fueled generators. Over the past year, various social initiatives have emerged from within the Midburn community, including many that surround the maintenance and restoration of the natural environment in Israel – everything from cleaning up beaches to planting trees to offset the carbon emissions produced by our event. Last week, we had our first working meeting with the environmental protection committee of the local council, and we are in close contact with the relevant players in the region to ensure that everything we do respects the space we are using. MATAR will be working hard this year to emphasize the environmental aspects of Midburn and how we should be leaving the site after the event.


Location. Finding a location for an event the scale of Midburn is a huge challenge. Our basic requirements – the amount of space (thousands of square meters), the necessary distance from nearby communities, the need for reasonable access routes, our consideration for natural resources and the military approval required to use certain areas – significantly restrict the number of possible locations. After Midburn 2015, it was clear that going forward we would eventually need to find a permanent home to accommodate our expanding community and allow for future growth of the event while minimizing our environmental impact. Despite continued efforts over the past few years, we are still making repeated attempts to find an ideal location. We have reviewed several alternatives in recent months, have been communicating directly with the IDF and its Planning Directorate, and have considered suggestions received by the local council and the NPA, but unfortunately have not found a space appropriate for our permanent location. For this reason, Midburn will return this year to the same location the event was held last year. We will return after making the adjustments we know are necessary after last year’s experience (for example, more intensive preparation and different organization surrounding the access roads, city layout and positioning within the space). A week ago, a committee was established to focus on locating a permanent space for our future events, working in conjunction with the Regional Council, the local environmental protection committee and the NPA. We’re hope that IDF representatives will join the initiative as well.


Relations with the South. In recent months, we’ve met with the mayors of southern Israeli cities Yeruham, Arad and Dimona, as well as representatives of Kibbutz Sde Boker. We do this to further strengthen our relationship with the southern region and to promote the annual cooperation that occurs between our community and theirs (not only in commercial terms but also cultural and artistic). The Midburn Association’s mission speaks of “promoting and creating experiential spaces based on participation, that inspire and motivate social, environmental and cultural development.” We believe that our role as burners is to have a positive influence wherever we go as a community. That of course starts with the region and local residents who have chosen to graciously accommodate us.


Government relations. We have started getting in touch with the relevant offices and authorities. For example, we are in touch with the Ministry of Tourism (which also supported Midburn last year throughout the licensing process) as Midburn is a major tourist attraction, a unique offering that brings to hundreds of quality visitors to Israel, with no need for marketing a substantial economic impact. We are also talking with the Ministry of Culture as well as the Israel Lands Administration.

As mentioned above, the upcoming days and weeks will represent a pivotal point in the months-long marathon process towards making Midburn a reality. Naturally, the final conditions are given to us only once all our city plans are submitted. We in constant contact with the police and the other authorities as we work to settle the licensing conditions for this year.

The main challenge when it comes to obtaining the license from the police for Midburn lies in the fact that there is no corresponding “item” in the law for an event like ours. An item is the classification that must be associated with an event when organizers approach the police licensing department to get a permit to hold the event. To illustrate this, Midburn entered under a certain item (7.7-H) meant to cover mass events held outdoors, but this item is designed mainly for more traditional cultural events – namely, a concert in the park where there is an artist on stage and we as an audience consume the content. In Midburn’s case, the content comes from the participants themselves, so it’s essential to break down any barriers between the “audience” and the “performers.” This situation and many similar aspects of our event require us to request exemptions from many of the licensing conditions for our item. This in itself is not an especially unusual process, but it requires a lot of communication from our side and thorough explanations of each issue involved in order to be reviewed for approval.


At the same time, we are working to get the authorities to recognize a dedicated license item designed for Midburn, but this is an extended process that won’t be over before the upcoming event. In addition, the impression of Midburn as an inherently free-spirited, permissive event poses a challenge and forces us to repeatedly emphasize the significant values that are much more relevant than “a bunch of hippies in the desert,” the values that make up the bigger, truer picture of the community and the event. This is a process that primarily involves building trust, working relationships and sharing and resharing the unique story of Midburn as a creative community, along with the many significant positive traces we leave behind us.

Dealing with licensing is complex and unglamorous – everyone involved in the process is doing it out of a genuine sense of purpose. It’s a roller coaster filled with surprises, where every decision carries weight, and the weight of responsibility is felt at every turn. The only candle that lights our way is our belief in our mission, in the mighty power of this community and in the understanding that each and every member of the community is taking part in this communal effort. We do have complete confidence in the licensing system of the Israel Police, we see them as a partner throughout this process, and we hope that the system has internalized the nature of our event and that full cooperation from our end will enable its timely approval. As always, we aren’t operating in a void; only through a concerted effort from the community and our ability to truly see each other there, on the Playa, will we be able navigate this magnificent ship home together, safe and sound. We will keep everyone posted.

* Giora is the head of Strategic Relations and Fundraising department for Midburn Association.


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