06/06/2012 05:01
In special session of Lobby, MKs discuss threats to marine environments, risks associated with gas and oil drillings.

The government must take more responsibility for the well-being of the country’s seashores and beaches, leaders of the Knesset Social-Environmental Lobby agreed on Tuesday.

The leaders, MKs Dov Henin (Hadash) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) were speaking at a special session of the Knesset Social-Environmental Lobby held that afternoon during the annual Knesset Environment Day, held in honor of the United Nations Environment Program’s World Environment Day.

Threats to marine and coastal environments, as well as the risks associated with gas and oil drillings, were the prominent topics in the session, led by Henin and Horowitz as well as the leaders of Life and Environment, the umbrella group for Israel’s environmental organizations.

In addition to the participation of various environmental organizations, the session also featured addresses from Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) and stop-ins from MKs Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), Shlomo Molla (Kadima), Hanna Sweid (Hadash) and Eitan Cabel (Labor).

“The current law is not sufficient for protecting Israel’s coasts and the sea,” Rivlin said, referring to the Coastal Environment Law of 2004.

As far as oil and gas drilling in the Mediterranean goes, Henin lamented the fact that “there is no plan for dealing with the risks of drilling at sea,” echoing the concerns of many environmental organizations in the room – particularly those of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense).

Henin said that “the government will bear responsibility for the disasters that are likely to come.”

Regarding the sanctity of the nation’s coasts, Henin argued that the government must take a regulated approach toward combating construction on Israel’s sands.

“We must adopt a systematic solution so that we don’t need to launch a public struggle every time, on each tower that was approved prior to the Coastal Environment Law and is now being built on the beach,” he said.

Horowitz agreed, adding that “Israel’s coastal environment is very sensitive and very threatened” and stressing that for years most of the country’s authorities looked at the nation’s beaches as “garbage bins.”

“Some of them continue to behave this way today, and everyone is paying a heavy price,” he said.

Displaying photographs of various beaches that have illegal decks, restaurants and other facilities built upon them, as well as maps picturing all of Israel’s coastal drilling sites, Rani Amir, the head of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Marine and Coastal Division, explained that Israel really only has a “limited ability to cope with serious pollution that is likely to occur in the marine environment,” and called for increased manpower to be able to handle such disastrous episodes.

In addition to the special session on marine environments, throughout the day on Tuesday, Knesset committees discussed various different environmental subjects, with Gafni’s Finance Committee looking into the environmental behavior of corporations and MK Alex Miller’s (Yisrael Beytenu) Education Committee talking about environmental education programs. Meanwhile, MK Amnon Cohen’s (Shas) Environment and Internal Affairs Committee discussed hunting and wildlife abuse, while MK Zvulun Orlev’s (Habayit Hayehudi) Child Rights Committee spokes about the effects of environmental hazards on children, and MK Ronit Tirosh’s (Kadima) Science and Technology Committee discussed biological diseases.

In the middle of the day, Life and Environment hosted a screening of the French movie Home, narrated in Hebrew by Moshe Ivgy and shown in cooperation with the organization EcoCinema. During the late afternoon, members of the Israeli delegation, led by Erdan, to the Rio+20 Earth Summit met in order to plan for their deployment to Brazil in the next couple weeks.

Naor Yerushalmi, CEO of Life and Environment, acknowledged that there has been a clear change for the better in public discourses and government efforts on environmental issues, which he largely attributes to efforts from Erdan and specific Knesset members. However, he noted, many environmental challenges lie ahead, particularly as certain government offices fail to internalize the seriousness of environmental issues.