Mayor Yona Yahav orders special bus to shuttle activists from Haifa to Jerusalem to protest in capital’s municipal plaza on Sunday.
Calling for the freeze of the Northern Lands Program, which would see rearrangement of oil infrastructure in the Haifa Bay, the city’s mayor Yona Yahav petitioned the National Council for Planning and Building’s subcommittee for appeals about the matter on Sunday.

“I demand the freezing of the program immediately and a restart on the whole process,” Yahav said. “I will launch drastic measures and will not surrender until the state presents us and the public programs that continue to dramatically reduce pollution and emissions, government ministries present real budgets and schedules are quick and logical.”

Encouraging residents of his city to join in the fight against the project, Yahav ordered a special bus to shuttle activists from Haifa to Jerusalem to protest in the capital’s municipal plaza on Sunday. In addition to the Haifa residents who arrived in Jerusalem to protest on Sunday morning were activists from the nationwide student movement Green Course, as well as MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz).

The Northern Lands Project is an initiative of the government- owned Petroleum & Energy Infrastructures Ltd. company, and involves evacuating the existing oil tanker sites in Kiryat Haim, Kiryat Tivon and the Haifa Port – about 87, 30 and 3 hectares respectively – and concentrating them in a new 60-hectare area east of Israel Oil Refineries called Northern Lands, according to the firm. As a result of the project, space will be available for thousands of new housing units in Haifa near the beach, hundreds of units in Kiryat Tivon and room for expansion of infrastructure at the Haifa Port, company information said.

“We are determined to open a public hearing regarding any construction plan in the Haifa Bay and curb any increase in the production of fuels and chemicals in the bay,” Yahav said. “Haifa is not Israel’s backyard – no more pollutants in the bay!” Yahav’s demands come about a month after media reports cited Health Ministry statements linking cancer incidence to air pollution in the Haifa Bay and indicating a heightened presence of childhood cancer in comparison with the rest of the country.

While the Health Ministry eventually negated the latter statement, tensions have remained high regarding the quantities of air pollution in the region.

Referring to this “big public outcry” regarding the state of pollution in Haifa in recent weeks, Zandberg said that it is “impossible to continue to advance programs like these.

“We must immediately stop all plans for expansion polluting industry and prepare a national program for the rehabilitation of the bay region,” she added.

Zandberg likewise called upon the subcommittee to hold off discussing the Northern Lands Program until deliberations have been held about other projects for the region, such as the expansion of Israel Oil Refineries and the construction of a new Haifa Port.

“Every program has a connection and you cannot hold a discussion about each separately,” she said. “The committee should hold discussions based on what happens on the ground and not according to the disconnected bureaucratic route, whose practical meaning is the approval of expansions without real discussions about the overall picture and significance for the residents of Haifa and its suburbs.”