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Israel’s Environmental Debacle

01 September 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Once one gets past the anti-Israel blabble and demonstrations at the world environmental conference in Johannesburg, we need to take an objective look at Israel’s environmental issues.  As in most developing countries, the environment is not high on the priorities list, and even less so when a society finds itself in perpetual conflict with its neighbors.  This however is no excuse for negligence. 

The metropolitan centers in the Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Haifa regions and the coast in general suffer from air pollution.  The Haifa area in particular is known for its high incidence of lung cancer and emphysema due to oil refineries and petrochemical plants.  The Kishon River empties into the bay which is so filthy from chemical waste that one endangers his life just by touching its waters.  To scrape the riverbed would stir up a chemical monster and further pollute the Mediterranean shoreline where the river meets the sea.  Most rivers flowing to the sea are quite a mess, including the Tel Aviv Yarkon which became infamous when Australian athletes fell in due to a bridge collapse during the Maccabiah games in 1997.  The victims suffered as much from chemical poisoning as they did from drowning.  Four died and many were injured, much of it from the deadly composition of the water.

Israel’s abuse of its own water resources borders on the disastrous.  The Sea of Galilee, mountain and coastal aquifers are severely depleted.  Recycling plants have been built only to run out of money for pipes to bring the water back into urban or agricultural use.  Over the years hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water have been dumped into the Mediterranean due to this idiocy.  Today there are plans for desalinization plants to be established on the coastline.  With an acute water emergency and irreparable damage done to parts of the coastal aquifer, the politicians have finally woken up.

Not many years ago Israel was an eyesore to the average western tourist as trash and litter were scattered about.  The anti-litter campaign has been at least partially successful.  So has the forestation and reservoir projects carried out by the Jewish National Fund to push the desert back.  There are landfill programs but they are only as good as the garbage thrown in them, and if one takes a close look there is far too much plastic, not exactly biodegradable element.

Recycling takes a serious infrastructure, which began with paper and cartons and now is making a modest beginning for plastic and glass bottles.   Scrubbers are being put on smokestacks, but much too slowly.

Generally, there is far too much coastal development as the shoreline is over urbanized.  Only the Negev highlands of Beersheva are available for major development of over a million new residents and this needs to be done with consideration for ecological factors, especially in a semi-arid zone.  It is far from certain this will be the case.

It is true Zionist zeal and vision built the country but if one does not work in tandem with ‘mother nature’ and not against her, the Jewish people may find itself with an unlivable homeland, holy as it may be.

For the vast majority of the ecological mess, we only have ourselves to blame.

(Tomorrow:  Arab – Israeli cooperation (or lack of) in environmental issues.)