People who have known me pre-aliyah have sometimes asked why I don’t comment upon the subject with which I have longstanding and intimate knowledge of more often? Since it is springtime, I think it is time to address that topic in some detail and offer some insights that may prove useful to others.
For almost 20 years, I worked for the American government in environmental law. In shorthand, we sued polluters. I was on the ground floor of the environmental movement and was working on the first Earth Day in 1970 by cleaning up the land surrounding the George Washington Memorial Parkway. From 1980 onward until I retired from the government in 1998, I saw more disgusting abuse of our land, water, air and soil than I ever imagined I would. From cleaning up trash and unrecycled aluminum cans on the Parkway to seeing thousands of acres of once-pristine land turned into festering, seeping chemical dumps filled with carcinogens and deadly compounds is quite a shock to the system. What shocks me more is that today, even with all the knowledge acquired since the various environmental laws were put on the books in the early 1970s, not much has changed. Not in the US and certainly not in Israel.
Israel enacted a “Water Law” in 1950, so one can clearly see they intended to protect their resources, most notably, their most precious one; however, this intention collided with the formation of the new state and the increase in population as well as industry — never a good combination. What followed were years of abuse, ignorance, hubris and downright fraud regarding Israel’s resources. The Water Law unequivocally states that it is against the law to put anything into Israel’s waterways, streams, rivers and seas. The waters are meant for all to use, not abuse. Using the threat to pollute Israeli waterways is also not something which can be tolerated. Every time the Palestinians dump untreated waste sewage into the Mediterranean Sea, they are committing a serious crime under Israeli law — not to mention creating a national health hazard with summer upon us. Blaming Israel for their lack of electricity so that the sewage plants may be operated is absurd. The half-billion dollars the Palestinians currently owe the Israeli Electric Company in overdue electric bills says it all. Illegally helping one’s self to the water without paying for it is also against the law. So is dumping anything into pristine groundwater acquifers.
I tried to lay out the challenges facing Israelis in one of my books which dealt with the pollution in Namal Kishon and its effects on the naval commandos; but the environmental protection system appears rigged to fail. Pharmaceutical manufacturers still dump their waste products down storm sewers in Netanya. Never mind that Israel will one day have fish that are all males and thereby, not re-producing; people drink this water. Israel Military Industries has had factories all over the State. They do not produce flowers and sunshine at these facilities. Once they close a factory, they do not remove the hazardous materials used in their production processes; but instead, they bury them or dump them into nearby streams. Israel’s “out of sight, out of mind” thinking is a deadly game to play. Building the largest military complex on the bones of Ramat Hovav is begging for trouble in the form of cancers and illnesses too numerous to list here. These are our soldiers — our relatives and spouses and loved ones and friends that will be stationed there.
It is high time to consider the environment as a non-renewable resource. Several years of drought should have made people realize they can’t depend on record rainfalls each winter any longer. Nor should desalination plants be the only answer. There is only so much water in the Mediterranean and even less in the Kinneret. Israel does not need to grow her own bananas. They can be imported. The water wasted on growing such tropical plants is scandalous. Native plants draw less water and require less care and fertilizer. These are the kinds of things that everyone should be cognizant of; but more importantly, everyone should start asking the Environment Ministry what they are actually doing to protect the land, water and air for future generations. If you don’t like their answer, do something about it.