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8. Israel's Urban Environment,

The Politics of Neglect

As part of its obligations to the United Nations after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, Israel's Parliament held an open plenary session about the country's environmental situation. The summer recess of 1973 was rapidly approaching. It was the end of a golden era for Israel. The trauma of the Yom Kippur War was only a few months away but completely unimaginable. Most of the nation was still intoxicated by the 1967 six-day military triumph and the stunning territorial acquisi-tions it delivered. Israel's economy continued to soar. Morale was high. Yet at least one government leader was deeply concerned.

Yigael Alon was one of the most eminent heroes of Israel's War of Independence. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died of a heart attack in 1969, Alon and Moshe Dayan were the front runners to replace him. (Even though only 3 percent of voters surveyed supported Golda Meir relative to Dayan and Alon, to avoid a power struggle she ultimately be-came Mapai's consensus compromise candidate for prime minister.[1]) But Yigael Alon remained a formidable figure in the government and was generally considered among the country's most erudite Sabra leaders. Having atended Oxford and Harvard, Alon managed to stay abreast of global trends, despite his immersion in parochial Israeli politics. This in-cluded an abiding interest in the environment. His early attitude toward development was representative of the 1950s and 1960s: Build every-where and preferably horizontally.[2] By 1973, though, he was deeply concerned about pollution and had taken the time to learn about the subject.

As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Alon had almost single-handedly pushed the government to confront the pollution prob-lem. It was only natural that he offer the official government view of the

country's environmental situation. His presentation to the Knesset was remarkable for its thoroughness and thoughtfulness. The laundry list of environmental hazards presented in his speech reflected the scope and severity of Israel's environmental problems at the time:

  • During the two previous decades, Israel's population grew five times and its GNP increased by 11 percent per year, which was the largest relative increase in the world. The population density rose from 43 people per kilometer to 152 people per kilometer.

  • Most of the nonperennial rivers in Israel, in particular those near the coast, were polluted by sewage.

  • Large quantities of wastes were flowing each year to the Kinneret, including industrial effluents and agricultural runoff from the Galilee's settlements.

  • Forty percent of the world's oil was transported across the Mediterranean despite its small size, leading to massive destruction.

  • During the preceding decade, chemical production grew by 160 per cent and production of detergents by 100 percent. Israel showed the third highest increase in coal and fuel use in the world.

  • During the same period, agricultural land use increased 5 percent while use of nitrate fertilizers grew 40 percent.

  • Annual energy consumption was growing at a rate of 10 to 12 percent.

  • Solid waste was growing rapidly—in the central Dan region alone, the average quantities increased between 5 and 6 percent annually. Only 15 percent of the trash was disposed of properly from a sanitary and environmental standpoint.[3]

The only thing that Alon skipped over in his remarks to the Parliament was air pollution. In a 1971 national conference, “Humans in a Hostile Environment,” twenty-one separate papers were presented on the subject. Conferees reported dismal news: Higher concentrations of ambient sulfur dioxide were already recorded in Israel than in the United States or England, and lead was rapidly approaching the levels found in these in-dustrialized nations;[4] estimates at the time suggested that emissions were increasing at a rate of 7 to 12 percent a year, depending on the pollutant and area of the country.[5]

Israel's environmental crisis had arrived. The trouble was that only a handful of people knew it. The small but dedicated group of civil servants who were trying to do something about it were, like most Israeli pioneers, an unconventional lot. Their efforts were mostly frustrated, at times pitiful,

and on occasion inspiring. Frequently they lacked even the most basic data for decision making. Their tiny budgets reflected their government's priorities and the strength of the current against which they invariably swam. Yet without their contribution, Israel's environment would have suffered far greater injury.


Israel's environmental woes were not due to lack of planning. Rather, they may have been the result of an excessive adherence to a well-conceived master plan that had run its course. The father of the plan was a charis-matic architect named Ariyeh Sharon[6] (no relation to Prime Minister Ariel “Arik” Sharon). In August 1948 Sharon began overseeing a team of 150 planning professionals that produced a comprehensive twenty-year blueprint for the new State. It was a gifted group who were trained in Europe but whose wings had been clipped by British snobbery and bias during the Mandate period. Once the State was established, however, these professionals came into their own.[7]

Sharon began his work at the Labor and Construction Ministry and later moved to the all-powerful Prime Minister's Office. He completed the project in two years, and it was published in 1951.[8] During the course of the plan's preparation, Israel's population had doubled, with ad hoc immigrant camps heavily concentrated in the coastal region. Sharon was well aware that the exigencies brought on by this astonishing growth posed a threat to the viability of a long-term master plan.[9] He offered his vision as an antidote to the chaos and improvisation that characterized Israel's first two years. For the next twenty years it was followed fastidiously, even though it did not enjoy binding statutory authority.

The plan was based on a twenty-year projection of a population of 2.65 million people (a tripling of the 1948 population), a prediction that proved prescient. Despite an ideological commitment to agriculture, the plan was pragmatic and assumed that the vast majority of Israelis (77 percent) would remain in cities. Its goal was to settle them in some four hundred new settlements and towns, far away from the coastal strip between Tel Aviv and Haifa, which was home to 82 percent of the local population in 1948.

The next two decades witnessed a remarkable explosion of economic growth, as the Sharon map became a reality. With a clear macrostrategy de-lineated for physical development, the enormous energy and resolve of the

new State could be focused on thousands of simultaneous microchallenges.[10] The results left many landmarks that today appear almost as ancestral parts of Israeli geography: the port in Ashdod, the National Water Carrier, and Beer Sheva, as the capital of the Negev. Israel's borders were dotted with new development towns and agricultural settlements, filled for the most part by immigrants who had little say about where they landed. The early planners' and political leaders' agoraphobic obsession to fill up the country's many empty corners (lest the world take the land away from them) found an out-let in the plan.[11]

Although the transformation fell somewhat short of Sharon's ambi-tious objectives, the pre-State trends were initially reversed. The per-centage of the population in the Tel Aviv district dropped from 43 to 34 percent, while the Negev increased from 0.8 percent to 6.9 percent.[12] The trouble was that the planning establishment quickly became locked into Sharon's notion of dispersed and scattered settlements, which rapid development soon made obsolete. When the plan was updated during the 1960s to meet the needs of a nation with four million people, there were no conceptual adjustments. By then, what had been an underpopulated country in 1948 was already beginning to fill up. The unattractive devel-opment towns could not satisfy their inhabitants, and Tel Aviv became the uncontested destination for upwardly mobile Israelis. Planners, how-ever, were not inclined to make Tel Aviv a modern, high-rise metropoli-tan area, thus setting the stage for today's Dan Region megalopolis that some people call Nashdod (that is, containing the sprawl that runs from Netanya to Ashdod).

In retrospect, the environmental balance sheet Ariyeh Sharon and his team of planners left behind is a mixed one. Their vision opened up peripheral and marginal areas for settlement. By dispersing the country's population, they temporarily eased pressure on the crowded coastal region. In making agricultural production a paramount priority, they actually preserved enormous quantities of open spaces.[13] In addition, the Sharon plan put the first nature reserves on the map and squelched the potential for profligate real estate speculation.[14] But it also set in motion planning paradigms that became problematic as the population doubled again and again. The dissonance between, on the one hand, citizens' desire to live in big cities and, on the other hand, national policies that pushed them to settle in the periphery was ultimately resolved democratically. The people won. But a calculated neglect of urban infrastructures in the three large cities, while their populations spiraled upward, served as a

backdrop for many of the nuisances and hazards that came to mar the quality of city life for Israel's urban majority.


As it left the starting blocks in its historic sprint for development, the young State found that it stumbled on a number of environmental hur-dles. Solid waste was among the first urban problems encountered. For Tel Aviv residents the problem was particularly acute. When the debris finally settled from the War of Independence, they felt that their garbage could no longer be ignored. The city's municipal dump, located near Mikveh Yisrael School, produced an odor that nauseated its neighbors. One of the new housing projects was built one hundred meters from the site, and residents could not tolerate the flies (because of the warm climate, it was estimated at the time that twenty-six generations of flies could breed during a single year in Israel[15]). Residents filed suit against the city for creating a nui-sance. The problem was not unique to Tel Aviv. After ten years of national independence, only three cities (Jerusalem, Bat Yam, and Haifa) bothered to cover their garbage dumps with soil or ash in a sanitary fashion.

The Ministry of Health was asked to find an alternative site. The com-mittee run by sanitation experts Aaron Amrani and Hillel Shuval picked a rural location near a deserted Arab village southeast of the city; this area became known as “Hiriyah.” The site was selected because it was far from the city, with no neighbors, and seemed to pose little problem hydrologi-cally. (The proliferation of Ramat Gan and the vulnerability of the perme-able Coastal Aquifer were still unanticipated.) The city changed not only the routes of its garbage trucks but also its disposal techniques.

Because of the relatively high proportion of vegetables and fruits in the diet, Israel's trash has always had an unusually high organic content. The average moisture in household garbage during the 1960s was 60 percent during the dry season and 70 percent during winter.[16] Given the technolo-gies of the time, incineration was an unattractive treatment option. On the other hand, the Ministries of Health and Agriculture agreed that com-posting offered a sensible alternative to imported fertilizers. In the 1950s, only 16 percent of Israel's trash was deemed noncompostable. This meant that the country's refuse had the potential for providing 25 percent of its national fertilizer needs.[17] After Amrani took a fact-finding trip to Europe with the head of Tel Aviv's sanitation department, they returned as com-posting converts.[18]


In response to the Ministry's exhortations, in 1953 Tel Aviv set up a garbage-screening plant on the old Mikveh Yisrael site. It was the first fully mechanized composting facility of its type in Israel and could process a thousand cubic meters of garbage a day. As soon as this facility proved feasible, three more compost facilities opened in Tel Aviv, and similar plants went into operation in Jerusalem and Ramla. Haifa's Dano Biostabilizers Company began to process sixty tons of garbage, converting one-third of the city's trash into compost.[19]

The pièce de résistance was the 1.2-million-dollar, five-hundred-ton-per-day facility at the new Hiriyah garbage dump site. Today Hiriyah is an incongruous “Mount Trashmore,” towering above the coastal plain's mid-dle-class neighborhoods and greeting visitors after they land at Ben-Gurion Airport. Although it stopped receiving garbage in 1998, it remains a symbol of Israel's failure to confront its solid-waste problem during the country's first fifty years.[20] Ironically, it started as a promising ecological innovation;[21] when it opened, it may have been the largest composting production plant in the world.[22] It produced a black, odorless humus that was sold for five dol-lars a cubic meter. The City of Tel Aviv was also able to pay the Dorr-Oliver company a subsidy of seventy-five cents per ton of raw garbage handled, from the savings accrued because of reductions in trash burial.[23]

The waste conversion plants were not without their problems, and many were quickly closed.[24] Nevertheless, many other facilities ran smoothly. By the end of the 1960s, composting reached its zenith. Sixty percent of Israeli trash was buried (half in sanitary landfills and half in open dumps). The remaining 40 percent was composted as an organic fer-tilizing agent, used primarily by the citrus industry.[25] Yet as the Israeli synthetic fertilizer industry expanded and dumping prices dropped, the fa-cilities began to close, one by one. Squeezed by inadequate budgets, cities often opted for the cheapest disposal method: burial or burning.

Israel's solid-waste woes were not limited to disposal. Cities were spending as much as 20 percent of their budget on cleaning up. And yet a chronic problem of insufficient garbage receptacles in apartment buildings across the country remained unsolved.[26] Conventional trash cans in pub-lic areas could hide bombs and constituted a security threat. Litter became an increasing nuisance, in particular in tourist areas that fell between the cracks of municipal jurisdictions. With Israel's generic litter law lacking any specific enforcement mechanism and no serious manpower to clean up public areas outside of cities, garbage became ubiquitous. For instance, in 1969 the shores of Lake Kinneret were so filled with rubbish that the Nature Reserves Authority was forced to step in and organize a cleanup.


Shlomo Bahalul, who supervised the operations, reported conditions so putrid that many of the men on the cleanup crew vomited.[27]


Air pollution is hardly a new issue. Two thousand years ago, talmudic law stipulated that tanneries be sited at a certain minimum distance and down-wind from residential areas.[28] Moses Maimonides, the great rabbi and commentator of the Middle Ages, compared the disparity between urban and desert air to turbid versus clear waters.[29] Yet during Israel's first decade, air quality was largely unaddressed. There were very few cars, so the mobile sources that are so problematic today were not a factor. A few factories, such as Haifa's Nesher Cement plant, however, already posed a hazard. Except for the Ministry of Health's Haifa bureau, which estab-lished a public committee to take photographs and meteorological meas-urements, there is little record of formal government air pollution control activities.[30] This changed after Shimon Kanovich drafted and pushed through an Abatement of Nuisances Law, prohibiting unreasonable air pollution (and unreasonable noise and odors).

Kanovich remains something of an enigma, even today. For twenty-five years he was simply a competent German pediatrician, who, like many of his contemporaries, fled the Nazis. His discomfort with the dirt and disor-der of the Middle East was typical of immigrants from his cultural milieu. Previously active in the Zionist movement, Kanovich took a nominal in-terest in Tel Aviv civic affairs.[31] He was in no way associated with the hik-ers and biologists at the SPNI, nor was he the product of a grassroots en-vironmental group. Kanovich simply seemed to suffer from pollution.

When he was elected as a representative of the centrist Progressive Party to the Knesset, he decided to do something about it. Encouraged by his fellow faction member Minister of Justice Pinhas Rosen, he drew up a simple law that made pollution a crime.[32] The brief Knesset debate during which he presented his law gives a sense of his motives, charm, and naïveté. After detailing the effect of noise and air pollution on the public's mental health, physical well-being, and appetite, Kanovich responded to a heckler and admitted to being a smoker “and enjoying it very much.”[33]

Despite his jocular presentation, Kanovich's actual proposal was ex-tremely intolerant. Noise nuisances were defined as any noise that annoyed three people or more.[34] Under the original bill a citizen could go to jail for three years if convicted of a second offense![35] After sub-stantial revisions (the sentence for violations was lowered to six months'

imprisonment) the law passed unanimously.[36] Within a year after the law's passage, Kanovich died of a heart attack, but his law would con-tinue to serve as a catalyst for environmentally concerned citizens.

Israel's police force was asked to enforce the statute. Lacking confidence in their technical ability to address air pollution from stationary sources (factories), they went after the country's fleet of diesel vehicles, whose dirty emissions were easy to spot. Within a few days, the police had is-sued several thousand fines, primarily to truck drivers and buses who were emitting clearly visible dark black smoke. Not only were the courts not ready for the deluge, but the truck drivers revolted. In 1962 they staged a two-day strike in protest, and the Ministry of Transportation took their side. The police were called off the campaign, and a set of reg-ulations was enacted that took the bite out of the law. The regulations gave air pollution violators forty-eight hours from the time of their ci-tation to tune their vehicle up and meet a new sixty-Hartridge-unit standard.[37]

Alexander Donagi at the Ministry of Health was charged with over-seeing air pollution control. By the mid-1960s he was extremely discouraged:

Despite the good intention, the practical implementation turned the law into a sham. Very quickly the vehicle owners learned to adjust their engines for “the test,” and when they left the garage, they readjusted the engine to its previous setting, emitting smoke, in order to gain greater power by burning additional fuel.[38]

Periodically a ministerial committee met to discuss the issue of air emis-sions, but they retained a policy of leniency toward drivers. Technical com-mittees were formed, but they lacked a clear mandate.[39]

Regarding industry, the Ministry of Health was thrust into the role of enforcer. With only one air pollution officer, their capabilities in this re-gard were limited. Once again, the local sanitary engineers from the cities were called into service.[40] These personnel had no trouble identifying pol-luting factories. The problem was providing constructive support to help the factories reduce the pollution at the source.

Unfortunately the most basic regulatory tool was missing: quantitative standards to define maximum ambient concentrations of pollutants. Such criteria set an enforceable ceiling above which pollution is unacceptable. Without objective criteria, planners have no basis for imposing restraints on industrial development, and enforcement becomes a subjective (and

losing) proposition. Hillel Oppenheimer, a professor at the Technion, suf-fered greatly from the poor air quality in his city. He finally decided he had had enough. In 1965 he approached Yitzhak Zamir, a young professor of administrative law at Hebrew University, to represent him. Oppenheimer wanted to demand the promulgation of standards to expedite enforcement of the Kanovich law. Zamir offered his services pro bono and filed a peti-tion in Israel's Supreme Court.[41]

The court agreed, ruling that too many years had gone by without a legally binding definition of unreasonable pollution. The Knesset had clearly intended more expeditious implementation from the Ministers of Health and the Interior.[42] In 1971 the Ministers finally signed ambient air quality standards into law.[43] (Years later, after service as Attorney General, Zamir would sit on Israel's Supreme Court and rely on the Oppenheimer precedent to force promulgation of recycling regulations.[44])

If Kanovich had a successor in the Knesset, it was Josef Tamir (see Figure 20), who served four terms there, from 1965 until 1981. As a mem-ber of the Liberal Party, he was affiliated with the right-wing Gahal and later the Likud bloc. During his parliamentary career his primary loyalties seemed to be to the environment, dispelling the notion that ecology was primarily a left-wing issue. As its chair, he changed the name of the Knesset's “Interior Committee” to “Interior and Environment,” pushed environment-related legislation, held hearings, and generally served as the environmental community's best friend in the legislature.[45] This eccen-tricity was tolerated by his peers because of his cordial disposition and ob-vious sincerity.

Tamir's background was in city government, both as an administrator and later as a Tel Aviv City Council member. He was a great believer in strengthening local environmental controls. The environmental in-adequacy of municipalities grew more evident with each passing year. It was easy for the central authorities to heap high expectations upon Israeli cities without offering them the professional or financial tools to solve their problems. Things got steadily worse, and by the 1970s air pollution had reached intolerable levels in the Haifa area. Once again, with inadequate personnel, the Ministry of Health opted to pass the buck to the local governments. Minister Victor Shem-Tov's answer on the Knesset rostrum to a 1971 parliamentary query from Tamir is instructive.

Tamir had appealed to the Minister of Health, who was responsible for preventing a repeat of the air pollution episodes that had recently suffo-cated the Haifa suburb of Kiriyat Benyamin. Shem-Tov answered

evasively, “The solution to the problem of air pollution in the State in general, and in Haifa in particular, will be found when the local authori-ties get organized, in accordance with their responsibility, to implement all required steps to spare their residents from these nuisances and haz-ards. The Ministry of Health will lend a hand.”[46] And so the Kanovich law became a symbol of legislative lip service rather than an actual tool for con-trolling air and noise pollution.[47] But with time, this would change.


No law was more important from an environmental perspective than Israel's Planning and Building Law, which passed the Knesset in July 1965 after twelve years of preparation. It was an original Israeli statute that re-placed the 1936 Town Planning Ordinance.[48] By Israeli standards, the law's two hundred provisions were positively prolix. The law institutionalized Israel's three-tier planning system: The National Planning Council deter-mines policy and general zoning for sundry activities, from roads to garbage disposal. The six regional planning committees translate the na-tional plans into specific land allocations and oversee the zoning decisions of the sixty-eight local committees in their jurisdictions. The Ministry of the Interior runs the system, and its Planning Administration drafts the specific national and regional master plans.[49]

Although the word “environment” was not specifically mentioned in the statute, certain innovations had direct implications. For a government bureaucracy that harbored a healthy Eastern European suspicion of public involvement, the law was remarkably democratic. It attempted to make the planning process transparent. The law provides that plans submitted to planning committees be published in newspapers (including an Arabic newspaper for projects that might affect Arab communities); the public is empowered to file formal objections to projects that might affect them. And, finally, the Israeli government had to comply with its own zoning constraints in its many construction projects—or so the law implied.

The establishment of Tel Aviv's Reading D power station was un-doubtedly the single most controversial air quality issue of Israel's first thirty years. The extent of the public opposition to the project was more surprising than the ultimate outcome of the debate. The case, for the first time, highlighted air pollution and its effect on the urban quality of life. It also showed the vulnerability of the democratic character of the new planning law.


By the 1960s, the surge in electricity consumption (14 percent per year[50]) surpassed even the growth in the country's population and gross national product. In 1962 Israel's Electric Company announced that Tel Aviv's thirty-six-megawatt British plant, named for Lord Reading, would soon be inadequate. Given existing trends, there would be power shortages by 1970.[51] The company began to plan the expansion of the plant in the sand dunes north of the city, converting it into a five-hundred-megawatt facility.[52] Things had changed, though, since the original Reading power station was built in 1936. The greater Tel Aviv–Jaffa region was now home to 391,000 people. Neighborhoods had already crossed the Yarkon River in the north and approached the plant.[53] The Reading Station was perceived as the single greatest air pollution hazard in the city.[54]

Like all of the regional committees, Tel Aviv's Regional Planning and Building Committee was primarily composed of government representa-tives. Yet they were attuned to public sentiment and were willing to flex the new muscles given them under the Planning and Building Law. Decisions were supposed to be made on the basis of their best professional judgment rather than on political dictates from above. On January 16, 1967, the Electric Company formally submitted its plans, but not before beginning work on the foundations of the new plant.[55] It took less than two months for the committee to reject the building permit request. There would be no approval until the Electric Company could deliver the bless-ings of the Ministry of Health, verifying the absence of additional public-health risks. Josef Tamir convened hearings on the issue in the Knesset's Public Services Committee and discovered broad-based opposition to the new Reading plant.[56]

The Ministry of Development, responsible for energy infrastructure, did the bidding of the Electric Company. After all, the government owned the utility outright, and the Ministry was responsible for guar-anteeing a reliable energy supply. Along with lawyers at the Ministry of Justice, it drew up a one-page law designed to streamline construction and avoid the irritating hurdle posed by the Tel Aviv Regional Committee. The law stated that “the Government was authorized, according to a proposal by the Israel Electric Company, to approve a building plan and the operation of an electric power station in the Tel Aviv area…”[57] Once approved, the plant would not be subject to Israel's Planning and Building Law.[58]

The proposed law raised a hue and cry among the public, and two hun-dred thousand people signed a petition opposing the Tel Aviv site for the plant.[59] The government argued that the facility would be cleaner than

the existing Reading A plant (which it would close down) and committed itself to meeting any standards set by the Ministry of Health. In particu-lar, great stock was placed in tall stacks that could send the plume far be-yond Greater Tel Aviv.

The Knesset deliberations surrounding the proposal were not only the longest environmental debate in Israeli parliamentary history but also the most heated. No fewer than seventy-one recorded hecklers, from every political party, interrupted speeches to protest the project. There were re-ally only two objections raised by the speakers: The government was sell-ing out the health of Tel Aviv's public for the extra eighteen million lirot it would cost to build the power plant in an alternative southern site, far from residential areas.[60] Furthermore, the government was undermining the democratic character of the planning process that was supposed to “make citizens' rights equal to those of the government in matters con-cerning planning and building in this land.”[61]

The opposition tried to keep the matter apolitical and avoid a factional vote. As maverick parliamentarian Uri Avneri quipped, “This is not a po-litical matter. … Does the nose belong to a particular faction? Does the Labor Party have a different kind of nose than the Gahal (Likud) faction?” Menahem Begin interjected that “the nose” was not at issue but “the lungs,” and Avneri responded that lungs should be nonpolitical as well. But it was to no avail. Considering that the broad-based national unity gov-ernment, which was formed in the wake of the Six-Day War, was still in power, it was a surprisingly close vote. (An across-the-board unity gov-ernment can usually expect to pass legislation at will.) The bill passed, 32–28.[62] It raced through committee, and just six days later, on August 8, 1967, became law. Two years later, Reading D was up and running.[63]

In response to the government's commitment to abide by any condi-tions it stipulated, the Ministry of Health invited three international ex-perts to visit Israel and offer their opinion. The “Brasser Report” was named for the World Health Organization expert who chaired the team. The recommendations of the group rejected tall stacks as a long-term panacea. Rather, the experts preferred to reduce sulfur dioxide by burning low-sulfur fuel. This grade of fuel was still not available in Israel, so a tall stack and sulfur dioxide removal equipment for the flue gas were recom-mended in the interim.[64] The government's commitment to Tel Aviv's en-vironmental health, however, was predictably ephemeral. The Ministry of Development countered by inviting a report from an opposing expert committee, headed by a former president of the American Electric Power Company. The authors of the “Sporn Report” were confident that 150

meter-high stacks would alleviate any problems and recommended that low-sulfur fuel be kept on hand only for emergencies.[65]

Ultimately the Ministries of the Interior and Health set five conditions for plant operation, including a 150-meter smokestack and the closing of the Reading A plant.[66] The case set a lax technological precedent for the fu-ture. It would take decades before low-sulfur fuel was burned in Tel Aviv. During the 1970s, “scrubbers” became a proven technology for reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by 99 percent. In 1989 Israel Electric Company officials were happy to wait another decade or two before investing in them.[67]

The impact of the plant on Tel Aviv is a subject of debate. In his mem-oirs, Josef Tamir calls the Reading smokestack “a symbol of Tel Aviv's disgrace,” charging that three tons of soot are released every day.[68] The sulfur dioxide emissions were probably higher, reaching 130 tons per day. Yet at the same time, ambient sulfur dioxide levels in Tel Aviv remained far below national standards.[69] From a narrow, local perspective, the “solu-tion to pollution” is dilution: In 1969 Israel had no compunction about tak-ing advantage of the Mediterranean's western sea breezes and exporting its sulfur dioxide emissions eastward into Jordan and the West Bank.

The real fallout from the Reading Power Station was political. Israel's planning process did not seem quite as robust and democratic when it was so easily circumvented. The chimneys of the Tel Aviv Power Plant Law still cast a traumatic shadow. In 1991, for example, environmental leaders would think twice before supporting a proposed law to cancel the Jordan River hydroelectric facility, notwithstanding the plant having received the required approvals of the planning committees (see Chapter 5). Such a law might have produced an immediate environmental victory, but in the long term, site-specific legislation could be a double-edged sword.

The second political lesson was no less discouraging. The Israeli public and a fair number of politicians had finally been roused and had put to-gether a serious fight to stop a polluting facility in the heart of Tel Aviv. An alternative site was available. But their voice was lost amidst the govern-ment's insatiable roar for the fastest, least expensive development possible.

The unsung hero in the story was the Tel Aviv Regional Planning Committee, whose members showed unusual ecological sensitivity and fortitude under considerable government pressure. Much more typically, planning committees either ignored environmental concerns entirely or glossed over them.

One of hundreds of examples was the 1973 request by the Frutarom Company for a building permit in Haifa Bay. To this day Frutarom makes

PVC plastic, whose production involves a host of pernicious by-products, including vinyl chloride, a virulent liver carcinogen. The company has al-ways been perceived as environmentally lackadaisical and for years was linked to a number of pollution problems in Haifa Bay.[70] The approval of the company's request was sufficiently outrageous to jar the usually staid Ministry of Health from its typical complacency. Citing mercury levels in nearby fish that were four times the accepted standards, Dr. Eliezer Matan called the decision “scandalous.” He charged that any committee that would approve a request from a polluter known to be dangerous, in con-travention of three professional opinions, was “beneath contempt.”[71]

Through most of the 1950s and 1960s, Israel's public health was prob-ably not inordinately affected by high pollution concentrations. Although there were modest increases in cancer incidence during the 1960s, and women had relatively high levels of lung cancer,[72] these could be attrib-uted to high smoking rates. Still, the first, isolated signs of environmental health impacts on the population were starting to surface. There was much coughing in Haifa, dysentery was common nationwide, cities were noisy and dirty. Much like Casey Jones's proverbial train, they signaled trouble ahead. Government agencies were well aware of the long-term implica-tions of pollution. Yet planning committees, the Water Commissioners, local governments, and even the Ministry of Health's sanitation depart-ment were helpless to slow the pace of the degradation.


Despite her self-deprecating descriptions, Prime Minister Golda Meir was much more than just another chain-smoking grandmother. Her wide range of interests, however, did not include the natural world and ecology. (The only real reference her autobiography makes to the natural world in-volves childhood fears that associated the wetlands around her home in Pinsk with the coming of Cossacks.[73]) When Josef Tamir came to speak with her about pollution and the importance of establishing a government ministry to address it, she listened politely. Then she dismissively directed him to speak with the Director General of her office.

In March 1973, Meir flew off to America to meet with President Nixon. It provided a rare window of environmental opportunity. During the Prime Minister's stay in Washington, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Yigael Alon chaired cabinet meetings. This was dur-ing a time of rising global environmental consciousness. A year earlier, Israel had sent a high-level, twelve-person delegation to Stockholm for the

United Nations' historic Conference on the Human Environment.[74] The June 1972 meeting of 113 nations served as a turning point for interna-tional environmental cooperation and led to the founding of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Although Foreign Minister Abba Eban received the headlines in the Israeli press, some of the partici-pants mostly remember him popping into plenary sessions to hear a few minutes of discussion before running back to his hotel to continue dictat-ing a book to his secretary. But when he made his presentation, Israel's most facile English orator did not disappoint.[75] In his speech to the dele-gates Eban eloquently voiced Israel's concern that humanity now existed “on water and soil polluted by poisons.” Even though the Conference pre-ceded the Arab oil boycott by sixteen months, he presciently emphasized dwindling petroleum resources.[76] Stockholm also served as an interna-tional ecological debut for Uri Marinov, a young environmentalist. The delegation relied on him to represent Israel in the conference's smaller, more technical discussions.

Marinov was by then a rising star who had hitched his professional fate to environmentalism. Like many idealistic young Israelis, for his military service he joined the Nahal—the Pioneer Fighting Youth Corps, which mixed military service with the establishment of kibbutzim in sensitive border regions. After high school, Marinov and his friends founded Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza Strip, where he remained as a member for six years.[77]

In 1956 a U.S. news crew from CBS television came to Israel. Reporter Edward R. Murrow was doing a portrait of Israel, while his colleague Howard K. Smith was profiling Egypt. Morrow was captivated by his young host and ultimately joined him at the top of the kibbutz watchtower for a prolonged interview. A national American television audience watched the apparently guileless Marinov steal the show, talking about his dreams of living in peace with his neighbors. It looked very good alongside young Egyptians who called for “throwing Israel into the sea.” A star was born. The United Jewish Appeal drafted Marinov for a U.S. speaking tour, and he appeared in follow-up television interviews after the Sinai Campaign. Later he would spend several years in the States and complete a degree in veterinary medicine and master's training at Iowa State University, with the idea of returning to the kibbutz.[78]

But it was hard to keep the ambitious Marinov down on the farm. Upon returning from his studies he took a position as a physiology researcher at the Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. It did not take him long to realize that he might never amount to much as a scientist.

Marinov began to look elsewhere, taking a job as head of the life sciences branch of the government's National Council for Research and Development, which preceded the Ministry of Science. The environment was still not on his agenda.

When Hillel Shuval (by then a Hebrew University environmental sci-ence professor) headed a water research committee for the council, Marinov began to sense an opportunity. Marinov expanded the branch's environmental research agenda and started an air quality committee.[79] In 1970 he began circulating a newsletter, The Biosphera. For twenty-seven years it would be Israel's only continuous publication about environmen-tal affairs.

In 1971 Yigael Alon began to explore a government response to Israel's pollution problem. Marinov had a head start on the issue. So Alon brought Marinov's operation together with representatives of the government, the JNF, the NRA, and the SPNI to create a National Biospheric and Environmental Quality Committee (called by its Hebrew acronym VIBAS).[80] Marinov was to coordinate ten subcommittees and their inter-national representation.[81] Marinov had his ticket to Stockholm.

The thirty-member committee was a valuable academic forum, and VIBAS published some of the most trenchant, media-specific environ-mental reports ever issued in Israel. The trouble was the absence of oper-ational focus or function.[82] After receiving a report about the severity of the pollution in Lake Kinneret, Alon created an additional forum com-posed of Directors General from government ministries.[83] The forum was to meet regularly and coordinate environmental policy. It was headed by Tsvi Turlow, the brilliant but impulsive Director General of the Ministry of Justice. Its members were very busy people whose primary loyalties lay with their respective ministries' other priorities; it was not an effective framework for implementing environmental policy.

Inspired by the spirit of the historic 1972 UN environmental confer-ence, from which he had recently returned, Marinov lobbied to promote an ambitious regulatory vision. But he found considerable resistance to a full-blown environmental ministry. Ministries with vested interests in related areas, such as the Ministry of the Interior, openly expressed territorial anxiety.[84] Surprisingly, SPNI General Secretary Azariah Alon also op-posed full ministerial status. He feared that a Ministry of the Environment would quickly become marginalized. Instead, he proposed an Environmental Commission.[85] Not discouraged, Marinov drafted and cir-culated a proposal for an Environmental Protection Authority that would primarily serve in an advisory capacity.[86]


Yigael Alon was supportive. When Maurice Strong, the Director of the newly formed United Nations Environment Programme, visited Israel, Alon met with him and assured him that Israel was going to take the en-vironment seriously; he lobbied Strong to make contamination of the Mediterranean an international priority.[87] Soon thereafter, Alon asked Josef Tamir what he thought of the Environmental Protection Authority idea and who he thought should head it. Alon had narrowed his list of can-didates down to two: Avraham Yoffe and Uri Marinov. Tamir felt that General Yoffe was not cut out for the kind of bureaucratic minutiae asso-ciated with modern environmental regulation and supported the young veterinarian.[88]

And so it came to be that on March 20, 1973, while Golda Meir was away charming her American hosts, Yigael Alon snuck Marinov's proposal past her and got Cabinet approval for an Environmental Protection Service.[89] Despite a few snickers from peers at his enthusiasm, Tamir had little problem in galvanizing support for the Service in the Knesset even before Meir returned from the United States.[90]

Alon called Marinov into his office to inform him of his future. Marinov knew that the SPNI had made inquiries about the new bureau-cracy with the idea of sending one of its cronies to run it. Typically blunt, Alon told him that he had looked all over for a better candidate but could not find anyone appropriate.[91] With three years of experience, Marinov may well have been the most qualified person in the country for the job. He was certainly the most energetic. It would take all of Marinov's con-siderable stamina, cunning, and obstinacy to complete the tedious, two-decade-long process of building an environmental bureaucracy.


The Environmental Protection Service (EPS) got off to a slow start. Based as a small department in the Prime Minister's Office, it had an amorphous mandate to coordinate government activity between the different ministries and to act as an adviser to the government. But Israel's bu-reaucracy was a scattered, cacophonous orchestra that saw no need for a conductor. If this were not bad enough, the 1973 Yom Kippur War neu-tralized the country for six months. With the budget cuts required after the war, the projected staff of eighteen was cut in half.[92] Later, Marinov could smile recalling how he wangled an extra employee out of the Ministry of Finance by not counting himself, already a paid civil servant.[93] But the new agency's survival was hardly assured.


The Prime Minister's Office was distracted by the political vicissitudes and controversies surrounding the less than triumphant military results. Its top managers seemed to have forgotten about their new department, and in April 1974 Marinov began to take advantage of the situation. Rather than publish formal job descriptions, he looked around for the kind of people he wanted in the EPS. If someone qualified turned up, especially with environmental training from abroad, he built a job around the per-son. This ad hoc approach created a multidisciplinary style and an interna-tional orientation that became EPS trademarks.[94]

Another defining characteristic at the EPS was its declared emphasis on prevention. Environmental planning was considered the most promising way to avoid future follies. The strategy was to penetrate the planning sys-tem from within, rather than to assume an external adversarial posture.[95] So in addition to hiring scientific experts, Marinov began seeking out ad-visers to the planning committees, often sneaking them in as consultants when he could not offer them formal civil service status.

The original EPS workers fondly remember the esprit de corps at the new agency. They did not seem to mind the indignities that were epito-mized by the floor drain in Marinov's office, which he covered with a rug.[96]“All we had going for us was our brains and our common desire to clean up the environment, working together,” recalls Richard Laster, the EPS's first attorney. They managed to have fun. Most of the original staff retain pleas-ant memories of piling on minibuses for field trips to see the ecological re-ality beyond the walls of their Jerusalem offices (see Figure 21). Despite the protestations of his office manager, Marinov purposely would set a route that brought the staff home late, having found that meaningful discussions never really started until darkness settled in.[97]

As he became more influenced by the culture of 1970s environmental-ism, Marinov struck an unlikely figure as a government manager. He pre-ferred to take the steps rather than the elevator, to save energy. Even when his status later entitled him to a large government Volvo, he bewildered his driver by insisting on an economy car. Most of all, Marinov read up and became knowledgeable about a range of issues. He was even invited to serve as an international consultant on environmental planning issues. This enhanced his status among his workers as not just a boss but a zeal-ous environmental leader.

Morale was high, but there was also a feeling of frustration. The formal mandate granted the Environmental Protection Service by the govern-ment was in fact extremely narrow. At the same time, no agency was more aware of the severity of Israel's environmental problems or more ambitious

about solving them. Soon after the Service set up shop, Marinov called a meeting of all ministries involved in environmental activities. They listened to his suggestions, but not one representative showed up for the next meeting he scheduled.[98] The Ministry of Health was already in-volved in issues of air, water quality, and sanitation. Justifiably, its staff members were not enthusiastic about the perceived duplication when their own ranks were so thin. They did little to make it easy for the newcomers.

Marinov's original strategy for the Service was a highly idealistic one. Because the environment is affected by the activities of almost any gov-ernment ministry, the EPS was to assist each agency in integrating its own appropriate environmental policy. Israel's highly territorial govern-ment culture, however, was not accommodating and made a mockery out of the EPS's well-meaning efforts. Marinov's frustration is reflected in his 1975 letter to the EPS newsletter, The Biosphera: “As an advisory body, the Service finds itself advising ministries that aren't interested in getting advice.”[99]

One of the few allies that Marinov could find in the government was Haim Kuberski, who had been Director General of the Ministry of the Interior for some time. Rising through the ranks of the National Religious political apparatus and the Ministry of Education, he became the power be-hind party chairman Dr. Yosef Burg. Kuberski had attended the Stockholm conference and had an appreciation for ecological issues. Afterward he con-tinued to run the Director General's committee on the environment. When Marinov suggested that the EPS leave the Prime Minister's office and move to Interior, Kuberski was receptive. In the fall of 1975 the gov-ernment approved the move.[100]

Once the talented but motley crew arrived on the third floor at the Ministry of the Interior headquarters, it was clear that they had little in common with their hosts. In those days, the Ministry of the Interior was a haven for politicos and cronies from the National Religious Party. Its staff held a well-deserved reputation for having the most unimaginative clerks in Israel's civil service. Their work ethic was not stalwart. The EPS professionals were almost uniformly secular, openly enthusiastic, each with two or three university degrees, and indifferent to government office closing times. The Service shared a floor with the projection room of Israel's censorship bureau. In late afternoons, the religious elders came to view, maybe enjoy, and then slash the most prurient sections of the 1970s' raciest films. They were surprised to find the EPS staff still working.

The cultural mismatch was epitomized in the decision by the EPS staffers to paint the hallway once they moved into their new home. They

received free advice (although they paid for the paint) from the Tamboor Paint Company and insisted on doing the work themselves. The Ministry of the Interior workers would walk through and shake their heads at the staff's peculiar behavior, so unbecoming of government bureaucrats, not to mention the melange of colors they were using. Attorney Laster saw sym-bolism in the act. “Painting the hallway, like the idea for traveling the country in a minibus, was to stay the power of bureaucratic arteriosclero-sis. It enabled us to keep a young image and fight off the bureaucratic aging process.”[101]

The contrasting mentalities between the environmentalists and their hosts at the Ministry of the Interior never really grew closer during the thirteen years that the EPS stayed in the painted hallway. Looking back, Marinov remembers the late Director General Kuberski with great fond-ness, giving him credit for many of the EPS's achievements.[102] If he deserves such credit, it did not come easily. All of the EPS workers can remember the constant shouting between the two as the upstart cru-sader pushed his establishment boss another step further. “Any environ-mental document has to sit in Kuberski's office for a good few weeks to ‘get used to the temperature on the first floor’ before he'll take a look at it,” was a common sentiment of workers. But Kuberski cared about Israel's environment and gave the Service the foot in the door it so desperately sought in the realm of physical planning.


Marinov joined the National Planning Council, which set the strategies for so much of the country's physical and economic development. Although technically he held only advisory status, he immediately set out to utilize the forum to promote environmental interests. Eventually he found funds to pay environmental advisers to counsel the six Regional Planning Committees. Although the EPS had talked a great deal about environmen-tal impact statements and even proposed a pilot framework, none had ac-tually ever been prepared.

When the “post-Reading” generation of power plants came up for dis-cussions, it was decided to locate the next one in the Hadera coastal region. Marinov had his test case. The EPS took a moderate position, which was to be the trademark of Marinov's environmental management strategy. Sensing that direct confrontation would produce few environmental victo-ries, for tactical reasons his EPS rarely opposed development outright.[103] Marinov's tendency to accommodate industry and his willingness to compromise

up front were the subject of criticism both throughout his public service career in the 1970s and 1980s and especially during the 1990s as a somewhat nondiscriminating consultant for the private sector. Defenders of this pragmatism cite the overwhelming absence of environmental con-sciousness or precedent in Israel at the time. With no real statutory au-thorities, the young environmentalists could rely only on moral suasion and Marinov's own powers of persuasion.[104] Accordingly, the EPS did not object to the establishment of a coal-fired plant in Israel, arguing that it could be built with sound environmental controls.[105] At the same time, Marinov demanded that an environmental impact statement (EIS) accom-pany the Israel Electric Company's proposal.

The decision to require an EIS in this case proved to be a crucial prece-dent. Marinov fought to bring the deliberations from the Regional Planning Committee to the National Council, where he had more allies and leverage. (The previous power station built in Ashdod had been ap-proved by a regional committee, on the basis of a decision that was only two pages long, containing only half a page of environmental provisions.) Predictably the Electric Company lobbied against the venue, arguing that the National Council was not a professional body, having members who represented youth and women's organizations.[106] Yet Kuberski, who chaired the Council, backed the environmental demands, and the utility acquiesced. In May 1976 the impact statement was submitted to the EPS for approval. It was based on a questionnaire drafted by the EPS staff, and it showed that the site proposed by the Electric Company was actually less appropriate than the alternative site next to the Hadera Stream, which was favored by ecologists.[107]

Six years later, the Minister of the Interior signed formal regulations into force that required environmental impact statements for a variety of large projects. The regulations also empowered planning committees or ministry representatives who sat on them to request an EIS for a proj-ect.[108] In theory, if for any reason impact statements deviated from the guidelines set by the Ministry, the planning authorities were duty-bound to suspend discussions concerning project approval. By 1985 the EPS plan-ning department could boast forty separate impact statements that it was either reviewing or whose preparation it was overseeing.[109] By 1997 the regulations had given rise to 236 such statements.[110]

The Israeli environmental impact statement was by no means state-of-the-art. It did not require alternative analysis (including a no-action option), a crucial tool for evaluating the actual benefits of a project. It ignored indirect or social impacts. It left the responsibility for drafting

the document in the developers' hands, occasioning an optimistic bias in Israeli environmental evaluations. Most of all, many problematic types of projects, such as superhighways, were not on the mandatory-EIS list. Indeed, only a small fraction of the seven thousand plans going through Israel's planning system each year are evaluated via impact statements.[111] Yet the framework was a marked improvement, and in many important cases impact statements succeeded in getting planning agencies (and developers) to stop, think, and sometimes modify buil-ding plans.


Because of the National Planning Council's ostensible openness to envi-ronmental ideas, the EPS focused much of its energies on effecting change through national outline schemes and planning policies.[112] This hardly guaranteed success. For instance, solid waste and recycling had been picked by Marinov as a flagship issue, perhaps because these areas seemed a niche that the environmental service could easily occupy. A steering committee chaired by the Chief Engineer of the Ministry of Health, who was respon-sible for overseeing solid waste, oversaw the preparation of National Master Plan (TAMA) No. 16 for Disposal of Garbage. The forum was dom-inated by Green members. The EPS expert, Dr. Mordechai Lapidot, joined the other Interior representatives as well as the SPNI's Azariah Alon on the committee.[113] The master plan drafted reflected their environmental thinking.

Between 1973 and 1976 the steering committee gathered information. Their research showed that each Israeli produced a kilogram of trash every day. Israel's garbage continued to be very “wet” even during the summer months. Roughly 50 percent of the waste stream was in this biodegradable group; paper made up less than 20 percent of the trash, synthetic plastics 13 percent, and metals and glass together no more than 6 percent.[114]

The waste management strategy selected by the committee involved consolidating the hundreds of existing dumps into two national landfill sites and thirty smaller disposal areas. These would be fed by a series of transfer stations in local municipalities. Burial was in no way envisioned as the preferred treatment strategy. Rather, the plan was based on inte-grated waste management, which included recycling and incinerating ma-terials after they had been sorted by sanitation workers.[115]

Drafting a master plan and implementing it were two totally different matters. Only in January 1986, ten years later, did the National Planning

and Building Council approve Master Plan No. 16. For it to become legally binding, the approval of the Cabinet was required. This stage dragged on until 1989. The sixteen years that elapsed from the time information gath-ering was begun to the day that the Cabinet approved the plan under-mined the relevance of the strategy.[116] For example, when the original waste inventory took place, disposable diapers were unavailable. During the years that followed, the recycling and reuse sector had gone from bad to worse. With the exception of paper (about a quarter of which was recy-cled at the American-Israeli Hadera Paper Factories), everything was buried. During the 1970s, practically all beverage containers had been re-turnable, with consumers rewarded with the return of their deposit fee. By the 1980s, plastic ruled, and only a small fraction of wine and beer bottles were accepted for reuse or recycling. Israel's solid-waste habits and the ac-tual burial sites in no way corresponded to the plan that eventually was approved by the government.

With no legal basis for pressuring municipalities to take an environ-mental high road, these all found the cheapest possible way to bury their trash. (Only the small Haifa suburb of Tivon had a policy of separation and recycling, and that was due to an idiosyncratic mayor.) The result was a na-tionwide pathology of foul smells, groundwater pollution, and seasonal fires (spontaneous summer combustion as well as premeditated blazes). The conflagrations gave rise to horrible odors and emissions of deadly diox-ins.[117] The Hiriyah garbage dump was designated only as an emergency site under the Master Plan, but by the 1970s it assumed the role of a dubious Tel Aviv landmark. The birds attracted to the garbage threatened the safety of flights landing at Ben-Gurion Airport.[118] The mountain of trash threat-ened to topple onto the adjacent highways, which it eventually did during the winter rains of 1997.[119] Recycling and composting had missed the boat.

Disposal of hazardous waste was another part of the national strategy that got lost.[120] When the steering committee began its work, there was no facility anywhere in the country to receive toxic residues. It was assumed that these would be either buried in regular landfills or discharged into the sewage system. The results of thirty years of unaccounted dumping are still largely unknown, and construction crews increasingly stumble onto unpleasant toxic surprises buried in the ground.[121] Orphan sites in which hazardous chemicals were buried during those years periodically make an appearance. One prominent example of the phenomenon is a site in Beer Sheva north of the Machteshim chemical factory where the Dead Sea Bromine factory buried its wastes before it moved to the Ramat Hovav in-dustrial complex.[122] For more than a decade, no one has been willing to pay

for the cleanup of the abandoned acid and waste pits. It remains cordoned off, an eyesore that blocks development of an important area of the future metropolis and endangers train and sewage routes.[123],[124] The impact on the groundwater will probably not be benign.

Initially it seemed encouraging that a response to an impending hazardous-waste crisis would not have to wait for the formal approval res-olution of the entire solid-waste strategy. In November 1979 the Ramat Hovav hazardous-waste disposal facility opened its doors to receive the country's toxic residuals. The site, located twelve kilometers south of Beer Sheva, was selected because of its isolation, favorable wind direction, and apparent freedom from hydrological vulnerability.[125] It was part of an in-dustrial complex to which most of Beer Sheva's most-polluting industries were moved. The concept, promoted by the government planners, was to establish Ramat Hovav as a national treatment center for neutralizing and recycling chemicals prior to burial. The complex was run by a private cor-poration, and there were no clear laws defining acceptable treatment processes. It quickly became a dumping ground for a perilous cocktail of poisons.

The place was run negligently. Wastes often did not undergo pretreat-ment before arriving. Storage was improper, and toxic residues frequently went unlabeled. There was no serious monitoring of chemical composi-tion. Barrels grew rusty, and reactive materials were often stored together near cyanide deposits. It was a time bomb waiting to go off, and it did. On April 2, 1982, the site caught fire, and a toxic plume wafted over the city of Beer Sheva. The Ministry of Health immediately sought and received a court order to close the Ramat Hovav facility.[126]

An interministerial committee went back to the drawing board. Running a hazardous facility properly is not a profitable enterprise unless high prices are charged for disposal. It was therefore decided to vest the op-eration of the facility in the hands of a government corporation. To this end, the Mivneh Tasiyah (Industrial Building) Company was established in 1984 as a government subsidiary[127] and charged with constructing a neutralization facility and running the plant. The government was less ex-peditious about a six-million-dollar investment in a hazardous-waste treatment plant.[128] Finally in 1986 work began on such a facility, using French technology.

In 1987 twelve thousand tons of toxic materials arrived at the newly upgraded facility for disposal. By 1988 the amount had reached forty-four thousand tons, but it was thought to be only half the actual amount of the hazardous wastes generated in Israel.[129] The problem was partly

legal. Until 1990 there was no law requiring that hazardous wastes be sent to Ramat Hovav at all.[130] After such a regulation was passed, management again proved shoddy. A 1991 government committee branded Ramat Hovav's operation as criminally negligent.[131] Throughout the entire Ramat Hovav debacle, the Environmental Protection Service tried to play the role of watchdog. But its bark was feeble indeed as Israel stumbled along a never-ending series of toxic blunders.[132]


Without a national network of local staff members, the Environmental Protection Service, like everyone else, turned to the municipalities. To its credit, some financial assistance was part of the EPS package. In 1976 the EPS announced its intention to start fifteen environmental protection units in cities with populations greater than eighty thousand people.[133] After an initial year of full subsidy, half of the local environmental officials' salaries were paid by the municipal government and half by the Ministry of the Interior.[134] Persuading towns to join the system was not always easy.[135] Amram Pruginin, an ebullient environmental geographer, was brought on board to oversee the initiative. As the Ministry of the Interior controls the municipal budgets in Israel, larger cities proved receptive.

The local environmental coordinators were supposed to be the EPS's “soldiers in the field.” They would answer the complaints, measure the noise, run the educational programs in the schools, and, of course, repre-sent the environmental interest before local planning committees. In the hands of the right person, a local unit's activities translated into impres-sive environmental progress.

For others, environmental regulation proved a bit too ambitious. Many units could not field staff with the required technical qualifications. In ad-dition, municipal employees knew who their boss was and avoided taking on the mayor about contentious issues surrounding pollution. Over time, the units became an entrenched part of the city hall bureaucracy. Exigency soon became ideology. Even after the Ministry of the Environment was created and its independent regional offices were available to replace the local units, the central government continued to subsidize them.

The rationale was simple. Most environmental nuisances were local in nature. Throughout his long career as a public servant, Marinov would advocate the view that a central government had no business overseeing emissions from a neighborhood bakery or noise from a particularly rau-cous discotheque. Just as city government provides education, welfare, or

even health care, it was the appropriate level of government to provide en-vironmental services. Citizens should not have to travel to distant towns to solve their immediate environmental problems, the argument went.[136]

While many minor nuisances received attention, the meager profes-sional qualifications of available local staff hindered many of the units' ability to tackle the most troublesome issues. Often, a pollution source was located beyond the geographic boundaries of an affected municipality, or the technical issues involved exceeded local enforcement capabilities. It was clear that the units were not a panacea. In 1978 Marinov called enforcement “the weak link in the wide chain of environmental man-agement.”[137] The local soldiers were no substitute for a centralized, independent, regulatory presence.

Two developments during the 1980s allowed the EPS to depart from its institutional personality of adviser and assume the role of “regulator.” The first was the establishment of a marine pollution prevention unit. The sec-ond was a series of emissions controls imposed on major air polluters in the Haifa region. Although neither effort solved all of the related prob-lems, they confirmed Marinov's analysis and showed what could happen when the enforcement link was tightened.


By the end of the 1970s both of Israel's seas were in trouble. When UNEP's new Regional Seas Program picked the Mediterranean as its first target for international cooperation in 1974, it was fortuitous. From an environmen-tal perspective, it is hard to think of a more deserving candidate. Moreover, politically the Mediterranean had the additional advantage of bridging the concerns of first-world European countries with those of developing na-tions in North Africa, who held equal stakes in an imperiled resource. Israel, of course, was right in the middle.

A small, enclosed body of water, the Mediterranean Sea requires close to one hundred years for its waters to be fully circulated and replen-ished.[138] With 460 million tons of crude oil crossing the Sea each year and 80 percent of the sewage from coastal regions flowing into it with little or no treatment, conditions were appalling.[139] Release of ballast waters posed a chronic problem. (Ballasts are used for washing the cargo tanks of oil tankers and providing additional weight to empty vessels in transit so that they can sit at an optimal depth in the water.) It was not just fish that suf-fered from Mediterranean oil pollution. During the 1960s and 1970s the stains on Israeli beaches from the tarry petroleum residues reached disgusting

levels. After swimming, bathers had to scour the soles of their feet in kerosene to remove the gooey black gobs of petroleum wastes.

When the United Nations convened a conference in Barcelona in 1975, all of the Mediterranean nations sent delegates, with the exception of reclusive Albania. The resulting convention and its five operational proto-cols created a Mediterranean Action Program[140] and one of the first coor-dinated regional environmental regulatory efforts.[141] During a period of unprecedented diplomatic isolation, Israel was delighted that its participa-tion was not only tolerated but welcome. The Barcelona convention proto-cols called on the parties to enact stringent laws banning oil releases and limiting dumping and land-based sewage discharges; the Israeli govern-ment was amenable.[142]

Passing statutes in and of itself was not enough. Like Kanovich's Abatement of Nuisances Law, however, the UN-mandated laws remained a symbol of well-meaning legislation that floundered, without a commit-ment to implementation. As is so often the case, the key to implementa-tion was money. Marinov teamed up with Adir Shapira, who had replaced General Yoffe at the helm of the Nature Reserves Authority, to raise the funds. It made sense to begin with the Gulf of Aqaba at Eilat, where the aquatic ecosystem was especially vulnerable and damage to the coral reef was already evident.

During the 1970s, when the Suez Canal was closed, Iranian crude oil heading for Europe was delivered to Eilat and piped north to Israel's Mediterranean ports.[143] The Eilat-Ashkelon Oil Pipeline Company (or “Katza,” according to the Hebrew acronym) continued to operate even after the fall of the Shah and the loss of the Iranian connection. (Israel is the only country to import oil via the Gulf—the city of Aqaba receives its Iraqi fuel by truck.) The Katza oil jetties are located directly north of the Coral Beach Nature Reserve and loom as a potential menace to the sensi-tive aquatic systems. They receive the 2.5 million tons of oil from the Sinai's Abu Rodeis oil fields that Egypt sells Israel each year under the 1978 Camp David agreements.[144] It probably was not a pure sense of civic duty, but rather some subtle regulatory arm twisting, that motivated Katza to assent to Marinov and Shapira's request to bankroll a marine pro-tection unit to be run by NRA rangers. Work began, but the team lacked full legal authority.

When Israel decided to ratify “Marpol,” an international marine treaty, as well as the Barcelona oil pollution protocol in 1979,[145] it required a major re-vision in the 1936 Oil in Navigable Waters Ordinance.[146] Again, the big ques-tion was money. Funding mechanisms were left out of the original draft of

the amendments. The all-powerful Ministry of Finance was always stingy when it came to environmental matters. It was also zealous about controlling tax revenues, so the very idea of a specially designated fund for marine pro-tection would have been laughed out of their dim corridors. But to the delight of environmentalists, when a new oil pollution prevention law passed in 1980, it contained an independent Marine Pollution Prevention Fund, paid for by shipping fees and fines.[147] Seemingly miraculously the provision had slipped past the watchful eye of the government economists. Actually this de-velopment was the result of well-timed legislative manipulations.[148]

When Yuval Cohen returned to Israel after completing his doctorate in marine biology abroad, he came to Marinov to consult with him about em-ployment opportunities. Marinov recognized Cohen's energy and mana-gerial potential and suggested that he oversee the EPS's marine protection efforts. Dissatisfied with the latitude the Nature Reserves Authority gave its rangers, in July 1983 Cohen brought the operation “in house” and opened a Marine Pollution Prevention Department.[149] Suddenly the EPS had a clear regulatory mandate and the personnel to carry it out.

The results were dramatic. Under the 1983 regulations, the Port Authority collected surcharges from all ships calling at Israeli ports and oil terminals and sent them to the Marine Pollution Prevention Fund.[150] In its first year the fees generated $420,000 for the Fund, an astronomical sum by the very modest standards of the EPS.[151] Revenues steadily grew as the Fund doubled in size.[152] The money made it possible to put Jerusalem at-torney Yehudah Raveh on retainer to represent the EPS in actions against marine polluters. Raveh already provided prosecution services for the Nature Reserve Authority, empowered by a special authorization from the Attorney General. Private firms presumably were more responsive to gov-ernment clients than the overworked lawyers in the State Attorney's office.

By 1987 the Fund was generating $650,000 a year. The money paid for oil spill control equipment, jeeps, and eventually a small patrol boat. The fund also bankrolled the salaries of six inspectors. It was money well spent.[153] By 1987 the team conducted six hundred annual inspections of vessels, most of which showed compliance with international limitations on discharge of oil sources.[154] Ship captains grew accustomed to the plucky Israeli inspectors poking about and reviewing “oil records” to see whether or not ballast or oily bilge waters had been released before the ships reached the port's reception facilities (by 1988, Israel retrieved 25,000 tons of oil annually from “deballasting” facilities at its three ports).[155] Violations were categorized as strict liability. It did not matter whether captains were aware of oil leaks; if they were caught releasing oil, they

were guilty. The law also did not distinguish between large and small dis-charges. Yacht captains were prosecuted for tossing French-fry oil over-board in the same way that an oil tanker captain would be for unleashing an ecological catastrophe.[156] The enforcement system was self-supporting. According to the law, fines were fed back into the Marine Pollution Prevention Fund.

Ultimately it is not the number of inspections that serves as the bottom line for assessing ecological progress but the actual quality of the marine environment. At least one parameter showed stunning success. The Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute monitored the concen-trations of tar on Israel's Mediterranean beaches between 1975 and 1987. They found that levels plummeted, from 3.6 kilograms per front meter to 20 grams—nearly a two-hundredfold drop![157] The decrease was partially due to the reduced oil transport to Europe following the revolution in Iran.[158] No less important, though, was the international environmental regime and Israel's own uncompromising enforcement posture. During a period when pollution parameters all showed dramatic increases, the tar level was an important anomaly. Sound environmental policies made a difference.


The other area where the EPS began to flex its newfound muscles was in controlling air pollution from factories. Just as the Service went after the “big boys” in getting environmental impact statements started, it began ambitiously in the air pollution business as well.[159] Marinov and his legal advisor, Ruth Rotenberg, targeted Haifa's Electric Power Station, Oil Refineries (see Figure 23), and Nesher Cement plant. It was no simple task.

The Kanovich law empowered the Ministers of Health and the Interior to jointly issue emissions permits, which came to be called “personal de-crees.”[160] Despite the law's clear directive, for twenty years neither min-istry had much interest in the issue of air pollution. Fewer than a handful of decrees had ever been issued. The first was a 1972 order to Haifa's Nesher Cement factory requiring installation of electrostatic precipita-tors.[161] This step was taken only after the State Comptroller's report char-acterized the dust particles from the factory as the “principal polluter in the Nesher locality.”[162] When that order didn't help, Haifa-based Technion professor Antonio Feranio went to the Supreme Court and argued that residents in the Nesher community had been struggling for fifteen years to get the plant to clean up its act.[163] The Court's favorable decision left the ministers no choice.


As the EPS settled into its new identity at the Ministry of the Interior, it latched onto any authorities its minister had. Suddenly air pollution control was no longer an orphan. The trouble was that both potential par-ents seemed to wake up to their responsibilities simultaneously, and a custody battle ensued. The Ministry of Health continued to resent the competition, even though their Sanitation Department was primarily fo-cused on sewage and drinking water quality.

In 1980, for example, despite the existing auto emissions standards under the Kanovich law, the Minister of Health promulgated his own sep-arate regulations for vehicular pollution under the Public Health Ordinance based on less-than-precise visual assessments made by inspec-tors.[164] Only Ministry of Health personnel were authorized to enforce the new “Ringleman” emissions standard.[165] Although the EPS and the Sanitation Department staff quibbled over which vehicle emissions crite-rion was more appropriate, they both seemed to miss the point. The black smoke they were trying to measure came from diesel-powered trucks and buses—only 10 percent of the country's fleet. The steady buildup in emis-sions of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from gasoline-burning auto-mobiles was harder to see and smell. Unfortunately, controlling these gases was primarily the province of the Ministry of Transportation, which was for the most part apathetic to the issue.

In 1981 Marinov found a way to bypass the Ministry of Health's pro-fessional staff and presented his case directly to the Minister, Eliezer Shustack, who agreed to relinquish his own authority in the area of air and noise pollution—leaving the Kanovich law solely in the hands of the Minister of the Interior. The Knesset approved the change on May 3, 1982.[166] Interior Minister Dr. Yosef Burg was a detached but agreeable overseer. Limited only by Kuberski's naturally conservative disposition, the EPS could finally go after air polluters.

From the time that the Nesher Cement emissions first began to annoy the factory's neighbors in the 1920s, Haifa's air was uncontested as the dirtiest in Israel. By the 1980s the situation had reached intolerable levels. According to Israeli regulations, 99 percent of sulfur dioxide concentra-tions had to fall below 0.3 parts per million. Under no circumstances could the concentrations exceed 0.6 ppm, at which level health impacts were al-ready acute.[167] (Today's standards are 40 percent more stringent.[168]) In 1982, monitoring stations around the city reported 109 violations of the recommended 0.3 ppm standard for sulfur dioxide. On fifteen occasions that year, Haifa had concentrations at twice that level, posing a serious health hazard, in particular to sensitive populations such as asthmatics.[169]


There were meteorological, industrial, and legal reasons for the city's poor air quality. Meteorologically, the scenic Carmel mountains slope down to form an L-shaped seaport with a bowl-like topography that stifles air exchange and occasionally leads to inversions. The industrial zones of Haifa Bay are home to a large collection of the country's chemical indus-tries. In addition, oil refineries and a large electric power station produced most of the area's sulfur dioxide.

What made the situation so frustrating was that the particularly egre-gious factories were essentially untouchable, a peculiar legal situation that had its origins in the Mandate period. To ensure the prosperity of the oil refineries, British authorities granted Haifa Bay industrial zone political autonomy as an independent jurisdiction. Plants operating in Haifa's northern suburbs continued to enjoy what became known as extraterrito-rial status—and they flaunted it. Municipal governments were still con-sidered the key to controlling air pollution (with Ministry of Health oversight) through business licenses. Yet they were powerless to rein in Haifa's petrochemical industry.

The situation was particularly galling for EPS legal adviser Ruth Rotenberg, who had joined EPS in 1978 after working for the legal de-partment at the Ministry of Transportion. Her expertise in maritime law eventually led her to focus on marine pollution issues. Rotenberg, who grew up in Haifa, was keenly aware of both the suffocating conditions in the scenic port city and their origins.[170] She also had the benefit of an un-usually competent local environmental unit as a partner. The EPS had en-couraged the city of Haifa to bring together the other municipal author-ities in the Bay area and establish a regional “Haifa Union of Cities” Environmental Unit. Not only did its Director, Zwy Fuhrer, see himself as a regulator, but his deputy, Dr. Bernanda Flicstein, with a passion for Haifa's environment and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, had the techni-cal qualifications and the temerity to go head to head with the industry experts.

The first big break for Haifa's air came in a Jerusalem courtroom. Haifa Sulfides had begun constructing a new building without a permit. The Ministry of the Interior, fed up with the extraterritorial insolence, inter-vened, and the issue reached the Supreme Court. Justice Meir Shemgar ruled that the Planning and Building Law was in force throughout the entire country. To overcome the Mandate exemption, Shemgar called on the Minister of the Interior to cancel the British High Commissioner's order, which he did. Suddenly it appeared that the Oil Refineries might at long last be subject to government controls in other realms. And that is

when the EPS and the Haifa regulators set their priorities: the Electric Company, the Oil Refineries, and Nesher.[171]

On May 4, 1984, the Minister of the Interior, Yosef Burg, signed into law a personal decree controlling emissions at Haifa's electric power sta-tion. The Electric Company was always more congenial than other Haifa factories on the subject, and a cooperative process began. Although there is nothing in the law that requires consultation, the EPS created an infor-mal notice and comment process. The utility had a meaningful opportu-nity to offer its input about the technical terms of the decree.[172]

The Haifa Oil Refineries, however, were a much tougher customer. The EPS sought to reduce the sulfur content in the fuel being burned at the sprawling plant. The fuel that was used in the refineries came from the Abu Rodeis fields in Egypt and from Mexico. In terms of sulfur, it was some of the filthiest crude in the world.[173] The refineries argued that they had al-ready processed the sulfur content down to levels of 3.2 percent. Any further reductions would jeopardize the plant's profitability. Four hundred workers would be jobless. The environmentalists from Haifa were even accused of sabotaging the peace process with Egypt, by undermining the petroleum agreement.[174]

In retrospect the attack appears to be cynical “best-defense-is-a-good-offense” industry posturing. (Today sulfur levels at the plant range from 0.5 to 1 percent, and the plant operates with considerable profit.) But at the time Kuberski was afraid that his ecozealots may have gone too far. Negotiations dragged on. The Oil Refineries had no intention of knuckling under like the Electric Company. Just when things were starting to move, Yosef Burg, who had been the Minister of the Interior for more than a decade, announced his resignation in light of the new election results. Rotenberg was desperate. If Burg did not sign the decree before departing, the regulations would once again be postponed indefinitely.

On his last day in his office, she managed to get the most recent draft of a Personal Decree for the Oil Refineries through Marinov and past Kuberski. On September 12, 1984, Burg signed.[175] Flicstein, from the Haifa environmental office, remembers tears streaming down her cheeks when she got the call from Rotenburg informing her that months of efforts had borne fruit and that the controls were finally binding.

Celebration was premature, however. The Oil Refineries were still disin-clined to invest in cleaner fuels. With a different government in place, it was a new ballgame. They appealed directly to Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who passed the matter on to his Office Director General, Abraham Tamir. For its part, the Ministry of Energy backed the industry position.[176] A committee

was formed to find a basis for compromise. On June 17, 1985, a revised ver-sion of the emissions standard was approved that allowed the refineries to continue to burn the high-sulfur fuel during periods when background air pollution levels were low.[177] During more polluted periods, the tougher fuel standards remained in force. Like many compromises, nobody was very excited about it. It did, however, establish the EPS's position as a legitimate regulator of air quality.

Environmentalists were not surprised when the elaborate warning sys-tem for signaling the switch to low-sulfur fuels at the Electric Company and the Oil Refineries did not work. It would take another round of per-sonal decrees and court cases during the 1990s to bring Haifa's pollution levels down to permissible levels. Nonetheless, there was enormous impor-tance to the first generation of air quality decrees. No less important were enforcement actions initiated by Rotenberg and the Haifa Union of Cities' team when the Oil Refineries blatantly violated the decree. They had been caught red-handed burning 3.5 percent sulfur fuel during a period when it was expressly forbidden. Flicstein passed on the incriminating evidence to the police.[178] Forty times the refineries had ignored the City's notifications to move to low-sulfur fuel. They also refused to shut the plant down when facilities were not functioning optimally, even though the personal decree required it.[179]

The case produced some of the best lore from Israel's limited air pollu-tion enforcement activities of the 1980s. Haifa's Zvulon Police Station was surprisingly supportive. As the story goes, Sari Mizrachi, a woman ser-geant with a specialty in investigating sexual offenses, was given the job of interrogating the chairman of the Oil Refineries (he was Zvi Zamir, a former Director of Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, and not very used to being the one having to answer the questions). When Bernanda Flicstein, the Haifa regulator/scientist, tried to tutor Mizrachi so that she could carry out her interrogation duties effectively, the policewoman com-plained that the chemical formulas were incredibly boring. She did not hesitate to leave Flicstein languishing in her office for hours as she ran out to stage an ambush in her (more interesting) area of expertise.[180]

Eventually, though, Mizrachi caught the environmental spirit. Zwy Fuhrer and Flicstein from the Haifa Environmental Union office went along to the Refineries to spoonfeed her the incriminating materials when she interrogated Gideon Engel, the plant's environmental engineer.[181] The rumor circulated that plant manager and former spymaster Zamir be-came outraged when it was suggested that, as a criminal suspect, he would have to deposit his passport at the local police station. On December 28,

1987, a plea bargain was reached in which the personal indictments against Oil Refineries managers were erased in return for a guilty plea by the corporation. They admitted to thirteen different criminal counts and paid the maximum fine, which at the time was only sixty thousand shekels.[182] Within the context of Israel's political, economic, and social power struc-ture, the EPS had toppled a giant.


The EPS staff members did their best wherever they could. They managed to draft and pass regulations, most notably in the area of noise pollution control.[183] They helped lobby several important environmental laws in areas such as marine pollution control, as well as an amendment that has successfully kept commercial billboards off of Israel's highways.[184] They worked with the local environmental units (which eventually reached twenty in number) and promoted educational activities. In 1988 they man-aged to get a Yarkon Springs Authority established,[185] the first use of a 1965 law designed to encourage watershed management of rivers.[186] They gave a great deal of advice. They pointed a lot of fingers.

Sadly, the record mostly reflects what they were unable to do.[187] Almost all environmental trends remained negative. Groundwater qual-ity continued to deteriorate dramatically, and three successive Water Commissioners did not seem to care very much. Outside of the Greater Dan region, sewage treatment was not effective, and yet the Ministry of the Interior did little to pressure mayors to invest in appropriate infra-structure. With the exception of lead and sulfur dioxide, air pollution emissions increased exponentially. (Permissible lead concentrations in gasoline were reduced to fifteen grams per liter in 1989, producing an immediate decrease, and the personal decrees managed to keep sulfur dioxide levels steady.) Composting as a profitable waste reduction alter-native came to a halt, as did the widespread reuse of beverage containers. With little data available, regulators themselves had trouble following the pace of deterioration.

Israel's misuse of pesticides offered a particularly compelling case of government impotence and the need for fundamental regulatory reform. Pesticide usage was governed under a 1956 statute aptly entitled the Plant Protection Law. It certainly was not designed as an environmental protec-tion law. Registration, production, and sales of pesticides remained safely under the patronage of the Minster of Agriculture.[188] The perils of insec-ticides and herbicides were not unknown to Israel's farming establishment.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring had been translated into Hebrew in 1966.[189] But as cotton became a centerpiece in the economic profile of many kib-butzim, the need for chemical protection for this crop drove public policy. By 1976 a staggering 21,000 tons of pesticides were applied to Israeli farm-land,[190] 40 percent of which went to Israel's cotton crop.[191]

The Minister of Agriculture went so far as to set up an intermin-isterial committee to review applications to market new pesticides. Although the committee had no formal legal authority, its ostensible mis-sion was to provide protection against ecologically dangerous chemicals. In fact, review of the committee's protocols during the 1980s reveals that the committee was a rubber stamp for the chemical industry. The Ministry of Health representatives frequently voiced their objections to the registration of high-risk pesticides. But these protestations were routinely ignored by the majority of the committee members, who were appointed by the Minister of Agriculture. They justified their approval on the grounds that the pesticides would help crop yields.[192] By the 1980s, over six hundred different brands of pesticides were on the market in Israel.[193]

The disastrous impact of the chemical proliferation on Israeli wildlife was well known.[194] Ironically, for many years, much less effort went into researching the health impacts of pesticides on humans. For twenty-five years, from the early 1950s until the mid-1970s, there was massive use of chlorinated organic pesticides such as DDT, lindane, and benzene hexa-chloride (BHC).[195] When the breast milk of Israeli women was finally monitored in the 1970s, scientists were astonished to find BHC concentra-tions that reached 2500 parts per billion—or eight hundred times the 3-ppb level found in a comparable sample of American women. These chemicals were phased out soon thereafter, but it was too late for many women (breast and other hormonally related cancers were unusually high in Israel during the period).[196] Pesticide production was also hazardous. For a brief period, DBCP, a particularly notorious insecticide, was produced by the Dead Sea Bromine Group. Five workers became sterile as a result.[197]

The chlorinated chemicals were replaced by a different family of pesticides—organophosphates. Organophosphates such as parathion or paraquat are not as persistent and do not accumulate in the food chain, but they have a much higher acute toxicity and pose greater direct dan-gers to human beings. Generally these poisons work by inhibiting the cholinesterase in the nerve junctions. Acute symptoms involving the central nervous system include nausea, diarrhea, heartbeat irregulari-ties, and, in extreme cases, convulsions and, in women, spontaneous abortions. During the 1980s, emergency rooms in Israel were treating

two hundred cases of acute pesticide poisoning each year, primarily among farm workers.[198]

The chronic, long-term health effects observed, however, should have warranted even greater concern. Hadassah Hospital occupational physician Elihu Richter, in a series of studies, showed elevated exposure levels (measured by blood test) among rural kibbutz and moshav populations, apparently brought about by absorption through the skin.[199] Aerial spray-ing was the most common route of exposure, in particular for farmers who worked near the six hundred thousand dunams of cotton cultivated during this period.“Drift” (toxic mists) became a serious problem, and many agri-cultural communities experienced high miscarriage rates.[200] Regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Health in 1979 set a fairly lenient, 120-meter spraying limit from residential homes. It survives to this day.[201](Years later, a three-hundred-meter limit was imposed on aerial spraying near sensitive water bodies.[202] The human environment ostensibly remains less protected than the natural one.) In one Israeli study, it was found that farmers within a two-kilometer distance of aerial sprayers had high visitation rates at kibbutz infirmaries.

In a devastating 1986 report, the Israel State Comptroller uncovered bureaucratic mismanagement and particularly lax oversight in the field. The Ministry of Health had never gotten around to adopting food residue limitations for 57 percent of the two hundred common pesticides in use in Israel. However, it may not have mattered very much, because the Ministry only checked sixty-three fresh fruits and vegetables during the entire year of 1985. The 10 percent of samples that exceeded permissible levels were statistically insignificant. For all intents and purposes, the Israeli food supply was unmonitored. The Comptroller also reported that of the 190 stores that were authorized to sell pesticides, only five were checked to see what chemicals they were actually selling.

There was no oversight of the permits required by law for applying par-ticularly dangerous pesticides such as aldicarb (Temick) and parathion. Most alarming, neither the Ministry of Agriculture, nor of Labor, nor of Health had any personnel whose job it was to monitor the use of pesticides in the field. With anarchy prevailing, it was hard to blame farmers and their suppliers for taking the path of least resistance.


Throughout the three decades of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Israeli au-thorities seemed to wink at the culture of noncompliance that flourished

in many sectors of the economy. The Knesset's environmental laws theo-retically adopted a “polluter pays” ethos, and the Environmental Protection Service was among the first to trumpet this slogan.[203] Reality turned the adage on its head: Pollution certainly did pay. In the absence of enforcement and meaningful deterrence, environmental responsibility led to competitive disadvantage.[204] Viewed in economic terms, it was simply bad business for corporate managers to adhere to a law with no teeth, and it was likewise obtuse politically for mayors to give up the political wind-falls they could reap for funding more popular public initiatives.

In his 1987 memoirs, Josef Tamir summed up the Israeli government's environmental record to date:

Founders of the State and all its governments and heads during the first 35 years seem to have been stunned by the glare of the powerful historical events that accompanied redemption and rebirth. The government system was a function of oppressive coalitional exigencies with a lack of any serious consideration of the subjects that needed to be prioritized: the sprawling and threatening urbanization, the industrialization that ignored the use of appropriate technologies to reduce pollution, the astonishing increase in motor vehicles without a corresponding increase in infrastructure or controls for toxic emissions. These wounded the State, the relations between humans and their environment, as well as the population's quality of life.[205]

The statistics reflected the perfunctory government commitment. An extensive economic analysis of government expenditures on the environ-ment between 1971 and 1980 indicated that, when controlling for infla-tion, there were only “relatively moderate increases, and … these are accompanied by signs of stagnation.”[206] The only substantial increase was seen in the JNF forestry budget. At the same time, it seemed that the only time Prime Ministers Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Menahem Begin remembered the existence of the Environmental Protection Service was when looking for an easy place to cut the budget.[207]

Competing ministries and agencies openly resented the growing ambi-tions of the Service and its self-righteous carping about environmental re-sponsibility. At the same time, for most of the public, the Environmental Protection Service was essentially an invisible agency; this reflected social attitudes. In the final analysis, it often seemed that the urban environment was an invisible issue. People just did not care very much about it.

Litter was one of many discouraging litmus tests. In 1984 the Knesset passed a new “Protection of Cleanliness” statute.[208] The law itself was less than the EPS had hoped for; it had lobbied unsuccessfully to include a

bottle bill (apparently distrustful of sterilization, the Minister of Health killed this section because of concerns about germs spread by reused bot-tles). Nonetheless, the law instituted several innovations to deal with Israel's seemingly incurable litter habit.[209] There was an unspoken antici-pation that Israel might face down its litter problem in the same way it had its wildflower problem twenty years earlier.

But as anyone who walked down an Israeli trash-laden street could see, the public was not interested. The apathy was exemplified in an educa-tional evening the EPS ran to promote the new law among Israel's police force. Hundreds of law enforcement personnel sent in forms expressing their intention to attend. The EPS originally considered hosting the event at an SPNI field school, but settled on renting the Beit ha-Am auditorium in Jerusalem. Nature films were acquired, cakes were ordered, and of course materials about the law printed. Two policemen showed up. One was a retiree, and the other was a musician in the police orchestra.[210]

The EPS later managed to pay for a police officer to join its staff who issued thousands of fines each year, but the penalties did not seem to make a dent in Israeli behavior. A substantial segment of the population thought nothing of tossing their used cigarettes, bottles, condoms, wrappers, and growing menu of plastics into the commons.

Curing Israel's ecological woes required strong educational medicine. Getting the message across seemed a hopeless task. For the most part, the environment was not a newsworthy story for the Israeli press. Only the Jerusalem Post and Ha-Aretz newspapers had reporters who covered en-vironmental issues, along with their other beats. Israel's one television station was completely uninterested. The public school and university system, still locked into the more traditional biology or chemistry disci-plines, was of little help.

It even appeared sometimes that Israelis inculcated environmental irre-sponsibility to their children from the tenderest of ages. After its initial publication in 1975, Alona Frankel's children's book Sir ha-Sirim was the definitive guide for toddlers about toilet training.[211] (The book was good enough to be translated into English as Once upon a Potty.) After Naftali, the protagonist, finally succeeds in leaving his diaper behind, his mother flushes the results down the toilet exclaiming, “See you in the sea!”

Marinov wrote to the book's author asking her to modify the conclud-ing section,[212] but “see you in the activated-sludge treatment facility” did not sound as good to preschool readers. The present publication continues to make marine discharges the normative waste disposal system in Israeli children's literature.


By the end of the 1980s, the Israeli public's schizophrenia about the en-vironment baffled educators and activists alike. How could a nation that flocked to SPNI hikes, voluntarily stopped picking wildflowers, and so identified itself with the natural world be so numbed to pervasive envi-ronmental deterioration? Marinov used to liken the dynamic to a person standing knee-deep in the morass of a toxic dump, with his eyes transfixed by the birds overhead.

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