Haaretz Editorial Apr. 28, 2022

People on the Eilat waterfront near the Europe-Asia Pipeline Company oil jetty, last August.
People on the Eilat waterfront near the Europe-Asia Pipeline Company oil jetty, last August.Credit: Noa Siti Eliyahu / AP

Two judicial decisions handed down over the past two weeks strengthen the impression that there is still no recognition in Israel of the seriousness of environmental violations. On the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired, the Be’er Sheva District Court declined to certify a class-action suit against Israel Chemicals plants in the Negev for polluting water sources.

Then this week, the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court imposed a fine of just 1.6 million shekels ($480,000) on the Europe Asia Pipeline Company and its managers – after they were convicted of offenses that caused widespread pollution of the Zin Stream nature reserve following a fuel leak.

The environmental violations in these cases caused severe damage to water sources and nature reserves. The violation at Zin Stream was the result of a specific incident, but it was preceded by a systemic failure of oversight and control. In the case of Israel Chemicals, it involved polluting over a course of years, beginning when the plants were owned by the government. Avoiding a repetition of these violations requires deterrence by way of heavy fines and even prison sentences if necessary.

To improve deterrence, the courts need to be more on the side of the environment and less on that of the polluters. In addition, the punishment provided for in the various environmental laws should be stiffened. That’s possible, as can be seen from the administrative mechanism in the law that the Environmental Protection Ministry invokes and which permits levying fines. Over the past decade, the Environment Ministry has imposed significant and fairly deterring sanctions involving sums of between 7 and 10 million shekels against plants and infrastructure facilities that have polluted the environment.

Another primary lesson is recognition of the responsibility and missteps committed by the state. It appears that the state has failed in every possible way regarding environmental protection in the Negev and the Judean Desert. It permits companies under its auspices to act and pollute without punishment or real deterrence, and has repeatedly failed in oversight and in dealing with pollution after it is discovered.

One of the main reasons for that is the meager means that the state puts at the disposal of those in charge of enforcement and oversight. Without appropriate funding and personnel, it’s not possible to effectively track major industries that have an abundance of assistance from experts and lawyers.

Above all, what is needed is a policy that will, to the extent possible, curb the disgraceful exploitation of Israel’s natural resources in favor of industrial interests. That includes reducing mineral mining and barring Europe Asia Pipeline from expanding the amount of oil that it transports through Israel’s territory. Such a ban would protect the environment from possible disasters and prevent the continued trade in the fuels that are causing the climate crisis.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.