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The land of Israel witnessed astonishing changes during the turbulent twentieth century, when Zionism forged the third Jewish State. Battles were fought; empires twice unseated; millions of refugees found shelter and others fled; a democratic state was born. The land and its people were transformed as never before. Once sparsely populated and undeveloped, Israel now teemed with humans, who sought to fill every available space. One-fifth of the entire countryside (not counting the Negev desert) was covered by construction, while only a fifth of the land around cities re-mained as unbuilt open spaces. Trees made a comeback and covered a tenth of the hills and valleys. Although it has retreated as of late from its most prosperous periods, farming still dominated the scenery as never before. At the start of the century, regardless of their origins, most people were in-digent, living at subsistence levels. Now, by global standards, Israelis are wealthy. An agrarian economy has been supplanted by industry—at first heavy and more recently high-tech. But an environmental tragedy has ac-companied the inspiring drama of modern Zionism.

Culturally Israel perceives itself as a Western nation; its best basketball team successfully competes in Europe, and its entertainers occasionally win pop-music contests there. Israeli orchestras, fast food, theaters, websites, ar-cades, hospitals, cable television stations, pubs, universities, magazines, and tattoo and sushi bars may have a Hebrew flair but unquestionably evoke the West. English-language fluency may be higher than it was during the Mandate. Yet the dynamics of environmental protection in Israel are fun-damentally different from those of other First World countries.

In his best-selling and controversial 1995 tome A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism, Gregg Easterbrook posited that most Western nations go through an environmental cycle. Relying on trends rather than snapshots, Easterbrook argued that the ma-jority of Western nations have already passed through their most polluted periods and are beginning to exhibit ecological improvement.[20] Empirically the numbers in Israel tell a different story.

Unfortunately pollution has not yet peaked in Israel. The air gets dirt-ier every day, with lead and sulfur dioxide the exceptions that prove the rule. Since 1980, for example, oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions dou-bled twice.[21] Estimates of annual air-pollution-related premature deaths in Israel consistently range between three and four digits. Quibbling over whether the actual mortality caused by air pollution is in the hun-dreds or in the thousands, however, misses the broader public-health

issue.[22] Asthma, once relatively rare among Israeli children, is an in-creasingly common trauma for Israeli families. (Between 1980 and 1989 incidence among children increased from 5.6 to 11.2 percent[23] and today reaches 17 percent,[24] bringing respiratory illness to epidemic levels.[25]) Breast cancer incidence among Israeli women ranks among the highest in the world. One in eight women ultimately develops breast cancer, with four thousand cases and eight hundred deaths per year.[26] The 32 percent increase in incidence during the 1990s may partly be linked to early di-agnosis, but the especially high breast cancer rates in Haifa (32 percent above the national average) are certainly a scary reflection of the many years of environmental neglect.[27] Apparently the environment is getting worse.

The largely irreversible deterioration of groundwater continues, although contamination rates may have begun to stabilize.[28] There is much talk of river restoration,[29] but the Australian experience in the Yarkon's toxic waters speaks for itself. Even the JNF, after a high profile embracing of river restoration, has made hasty retreat, apparently finding its restoration projects on the banks futile given the quality of the water. The number of fatal accidents involving hazardous materials remains alarming.[30] As natural habi-tats dwindle, dozens of mammal and reptile species are now listed as endan-gered.[31] Of the 185 bird species that bred regularly at the turn of the century, fourteen have become extinct and fifty-eight are threatened.[32] Israel's urban cat and crow population, however, may be the densest in the world.[33]

The annals of Israel in the twentieth century offer some obvious expla-nation for the legacy of continued ecological deterioration. A population that grew sixfold in fifty years, and with a ravenous ambition for economic development, generated residuals. At the same time, because it was so small, the country did not enjoy the margin of error that allows larger na-tions to make mistakes with relative ecological impunity. Israel never had any spare aquifers to tap. Neighborhoods quickly reached the borders of garbage dumps and dirty industrial centers. For many of the animals, there was literally no place to hide.

During the second half of the century, the environment may have been abused, but it was not forgotten. Even when faced with unparalleled mili-tary threats and relentless waves of immigration, the country still found the resources to make environmental history. Its afforestation efforts began early, picked up momentum, and, within a largely semiarid context, remain unprecedented. Its nature reserves managed to stem the tide of most extinctions and even return a few almost-lost species to nature. The Society for the Protection of Nature emerged as an activist conservation

group, attracting a large public membership a full decade before the mod-ern environmental movement emerged in the West. And almost everyone showered with water heated by the sun.

The environmental successes and failures are in fact opposite sides of the same coin. Both were symptoms of the powerful patriotism that char-acterized the young State. Israelis gave up a national pastime of picking wildflowers; they invested in water infrastructure, ceded considerable pub-lic lands to preserve nature, and planted trees, because they were perceived as national objectives. Like the levying of outrageous taxes or the ra-tioning of food supplies, it was part of the price for restoring the ancient homeland, and most citizens willingly paid. But building the State also meant sparing no expense to create jobs, mining the Dead Sea, granting factories carte blanche to maximize profits, and meeting agriculture's un-quenchable thirst for water. The attendant environmental price was per-ceived as part of the same package.

Conservation and environmental groups conducted countless battles along with their government colleagues, who eventually, languidly, took the lead. Initially these efforts hardly had any effect at all on the larger war over what should constitute Israel's true national interests. Yet the efforts had a slow but cumulative effect that was continuously strengthened by the in-ternational environmental awakening. The shift in this ideological clash probably began in 1961, when Dr. Kanovich's Abatement of Nuisances Law specifically branded unreasonable noise and air pollution as crimes. By the start of the twenty-first century Israelis were aware that their environmen-tal problems would wait no longer. Even industry recognized that no na-tional interest was served by production that made air unfit for children to breathe or by budgets that ignored the contamination of a finite supply of water.[34] Perpetrators of such acts pursued individual or parochial interests rather than legitimate societal objectives. This transition has set the stage for a possible reversal in the way Israel treats its environmental resources.

Israel's environmental history certainly teaches that economic progress has a price and that environmental progress is not automatic. Most areas marked by improvement were the results of clear government policies, supported by an unshakable societal commitment. Polluting facilities such as Israel's electric power stations,[35] oil refineries,[36] and cement plants are cleaner because they were forced to clean up. Looking ahead, there is no reason that a thoughtful but insistent government leadership with a strong supporting role by citizens' groups cannot bring about similar breakthroughs in other troublesome areas. Incremental pollution mitiga-tion, however, may not be enough for many threatened resources and

species. There is such a thing as being too late. Large sections of Israel's aquifers testify to the finality of irreversibility.

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