By Zafrir Rinat

Earth Day was marked around the world yesterday with a series of events that in Israel included “Earth Hour” – turning off the lights in several cities. Environmental groups in Israel also used the day to harshly criticize the government’s planning and building reforms.

A chief critic of the reforms is a member of that government, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan. Erdan spoke at one of yesterday’s main events, the Green Globe Awards, which go to individuals and groups that work for the environment. There is also a Black Globe Award, which went to the government for its support of the planning and building reforms.

While the reform was planned with good intentions, Erdan said, it had become “a complete violation of the balance between development and the need to conserve the environment. If it passes in its present format, we can expect to have lots of ‘Holylands.’ I am glad the prime minister also understands this and has asked the Justice Ministry to reinforce oversight mechanisms,” Erdan said.

On another issue, Erdan pledged that in several months the government will publish a plan to implement Israel’s commitment to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference to reduce the growth of greenhouse gases, and noted that plans to build a coal-burning power station had been halted until a plan is made to reduce greenhouse gases,” Erdan said.

Among recipients of the Green Globe Award was the Committee for the Protection of the Palmahim Beach, which worked against the construction of a hotel at the site. Another recipient was environmental activist Amit Mendelson, for his work in protecting urban nature sites.

The main lights-out events last night were at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and the Old City walls in Jerusalem. The Environmental Protection Ministry called on all government ministries to take part in the initiative; however, the National Infrastructure Ministry said the call was unnecessary, as an automatic system turns off lights after employees leave their offices.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel issued a statement yesterday slamming the construction of the security fence near the Palestinian village of Walajeh, across land defined as a cultural landscape that preserves ancient agriculture. “On the one hand the state spends NIS 400 million on conservation of heritage sites and on the other, destroys such a valuable area,” the statement said.