Our Low Profile Environmental State

With all the fanfare and publicity dealing with finding a solution to the ongoing political divide between Israel and the Palestinians, not enough attention is being given to solving what may be the country’s most serious problem; that being the environment. Yet, this issue seems to be popping up all too frequently; whether it be concerning our rivers and streams, beaches, parks, forests and green spaces, or the very water we drink and air we breathe.

IsraelDuring the summer beach season, barely a week goes by when announcements are made, either on TV or in the newspapers, that certain beaches in Tel Aviv, Haifa, or other coastal cities are closed to the public for either bathing or fishing. Pollution caused either by industrial wastes, raw sewage, or other contaminates are found to be literally pouring or seeping into the Mediterranean, now considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world. While this is a big concern for most people living in Israel, not enough is being done to alleviate this problem, and despite posted warnings, people still enter the water and eat fish caught from the sea. Tel Aviv’s Yarkon River, the same river where four Australian athletes died from exposure to pollutants a number of years back, dumps it’s polluted contents into the sea right next to one of Tel Aviv’s most popular entertainment areas, the old Tel Aviv Port. Scores of fishermen sit near the entrance to the old port and fish for species that have been found to contain dangerously high levels of E-Coli bacteria and other contaminants. And what they catch probably winds up on their dinner table later on.

Another body of water, the Kinneret, Israel’s only natural fresh water reservoir, is also becoming dangerously polluted, and not only by what our “friends” the Lebanese dump into the Litani river, one of the major sources of the Jordan, the Kinneret’s main water supplier. Recently, a number of bathing beaches on the lake have had to be closed for swimming due to high pollution counts, much of which was found to have come from either the city of Tiberius or Kibbutzim located near the lake shore. The Kinneret probably supplies more than 60% of the country’s fresh water, much of which is carried inland via the National Water Carrier. Small rivers that feed into the Jordan, such as the Dan, Senir, and Hermon (where the Banias nature reserve is located) are no longer the clean streams they used to be, and aquatic and animal life normally found in and near these streams have been greatly affected.

Of course, what is happening to the Kinneret, and to the streams feeding it is nothing compared to other streams and rivers, which like the Yarkon are so heavilly polluted that some of them have been literally called disaster areas. These include the Kishon (near Haifa), the Hadera, Alexander and Poleg streams on the Coastal Plain, and the
Sorek, which “kisses” the Mediterranean with it’s smelly contents near the city of Rishon le Zion.

Another area with threatened natural streams is the Dead Sea area with streams like the Ein Gedi and David, where the biblical David hid out from King Saul before he became king. These streams, considered one of the country’s treasured beauty spots are also mildly polluted, with much of the pollutants coming from seepage into the Negev’s region’s aquifer due to waste disposal sites like Ramat Hovav.

With the water issue noted, other environmental issues, including some of the worst air pollution problems in Israel’s major cities, and of course Ramat Hovav itself should be mentioned here as well. Haifa, Israel’s third largest city has an air pollution problem that is so bad that scores of deaths from respiratory ailments as well as cancers have been blamed from the state of the city’s air. Tel Aviv, the country’s largest city, often has an air inversion or smog problem that rivals the U.S. city of Los Angeles. And in the country’s southern regions, the problem of contamination from Ramat Hovav and other waste disposal sites has become so serious, that cities like Beer Sheva have had many deaths and illnesses caused by diseases linked to soil and ground water contamination.

What the outcome of these problems will be is still to be determined by the government’s Ministry for the Environment (yes, this ministry does actually exist). But what has been done so far is very little in comparison to the problems we all face; problems which are far more critical than global warming – that other well publicized environmental issue. The public simply has to get more involved, as these issues simply will get worse until the day will come when our most basic elements for survival, air and water, will be the most scarce and most sought after things around. After all, without them we simply cannot survive.

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