Israeli environmental policy in perspective

The world’s various nations have long worked together to try and protect the environment that we all share. For the most part, this has been effective in taking steps forward towards a cleaner and happier world. Some nations, however, experience greater issues in facing environmental problems. Israel, as one of the smallest countries and fastest industrializers in the world, is one such nation.

Israel suffers from a problem called geographical precipitation variance – in layman’s terms, it rains in vastly different amounts in different parts of the country. This has made securing clean water, both for agriculture and for drinking, a challenge. Israel’s initial method of dealing with this problem was to develop a series of pipelines, eventually leading to the massive ‘National Water Carrier’ that brings a vast majority of the drinking water from Lake Kinneret to the drier south. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned project has actually caused more problems for the environment of Israel – as the amount of water required increases, water harvested from marshlands and lakes causes damage to the local flora and fauna.

The oceans and seas of the world are at greater risk from environmental damage than ever – and in Israel, where the Dead Sea borders the eastern side of the country, this is so obvious it’s becoming more noticeable by the day. The Dead Sea is receding at speeds unseen in recent years, due in part to the diversion of the main tributary in the Jordan River. The current method being utilized to halt this process is collaborative between Jordan and Israel and plans to link the Dead Sea and the Red Sea with a pipeline that will allow the Dead Sea’s levels to stabilize.

Another problem Israel has faced stems from their high levels of industry, which allow toxic runoff and contaminants to seep into the groundwater – these pollutants range from fuels to chlorides to organic toxins and have steadily decreased the drinkability of the water in Israel’s Coastal Aquifer.

For this reason, Israel has become one of the world’s leading producers of research in the field of water conservation and reclamation – their desire to stabilize their country’s water access has led to reuse of the vast majority of Israel’s agricultural water. Their environmental policies have shaped this research, for better or worse, and such research has become useful around the world.

Issues with water aren’t the only environmental problems for the people of Israel – a more landlocked problem comes from the country’s dense population, increasing at the impressive rate of 2% a year. With nearly 8.5 million citizens at last estimate, the small nation’s cities are quickly becoming crowded and their rural areas unsustainable – the symptoms of this crisis are problems like invasive weeds that choke out native plants, polluted beaches, even polluted air that can increase chances of disease and infection.

It doesn’t help that, with all of these people driving and living in urban areas, Israel is generally unconcerned with the air quality – some statistics put the rises in respiratory illness between 1980 and 2002 at 5% to 17%. Of course, this isn’t to say they don’t do anything at all, but attempts to clean the air continue to prove less effective than those overseas and abroad.

Some methods used by Israel to cut down on air pollution include the use of cleaner burning fuels in their power plants and suggesting more efficient vehicles for their citizens to drive – but in a nation where 65% of solid waste was disposed of by burning in 2010, it’s been difficult to move forward with an effective environmental policy.

In time, Israel will recover – but from a global perspective, we can only hope that the time will come when all nations of the world work together to move forward towards a brighter and more sustainable future.

About the Author
Rachel Brenner is a Professor of Jewish Studies. Her research focuses on Jewish Literature and has published dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.