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Israel's Urban Environment, 1948–1988
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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.

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