Shoshana Gabbay,
Ministry of the Environment

Preventive Environmental Policy

Basic to Israel’s environmental management program is cooperation and integration between environmental protection and economic development. Given the rapid rate of development, the focus of environmental policy has always been on preventive measures, and the land-use planning process has provided an important administrative vehicle for this policy.

Environment policy has been rooted in the conviction that the most effective strategy is to identify potential environmental conflicts at an early stage, simulate or forecast their extent and severity, and insert appropriate environmental management measures into the planning process.

These measures are most frequently determined on the basis of ambient, emission and design standards derived from the results of national and international research. Standards for pollutants are revised and updated in accordance with evolving research on economics, technology, health and the effects of agricultural practices. In addition, monitoring and inspection systems provide an up-to-date picture of the state of the environment, permit authorities to predict environmental trends and to respond alertly to incidents of pollution, and also contribute to the development of pollution-abatement programs.

The goals of the Ministry of the Environment are to formulate a comprehensive national environmental policy and to fashion or find the tools with which to enact it. The Ministry seeks to incorporate environmental considerations into all decision-making and planning processes that impinge on the quality of the environment, to carry out programs of pollution control, monitoring and research; to design and update legislation and standards; to effectively enforce and supervise the rules and regulations; to promote environmental education and awareness; and to advance regional and global cooperation in its sphere.


Shortage of water may be the most crucial environmental problem facing Israel today, touching upon its very existence. Water scarcity is exacerbated by the deteriorating quality of water resources due to demographic, industrial and agricultural pressures. Since the mid-1970s, demand has, from time to time, outstripped supply.

Within its remit to prevent the pollution of Israel’s water sources, the Ministry of the Environment compiles data on potential sources of pollution, undertakes supervision and control over human activity which may damage water resources, and initiates and implements plans for the preservation and restoration of rivers and inland bodies of water.

Over the years, many items of legislation have been passed to make sure that water sources are kept pollution-free.


In Israel, as elsewhere in the world, rapid technological development, improvement in standards of living and increased population density have brought in their wake pollutant emissions from both stationary and mobile sources. Israel’s specific conditions concentration of population and industry in the coastal area, small land area, variety of natural assets, and singular geological, topographical and climatic features aggravate the problems of air pollution.

Several steps have already been taken to abate the problem; others are planned. All new cars imported into the country, beginning with 1995 models, must be equipped with catalytic converters; a gradual switch to unleaded gasoline is underway; and the lead content in regular gasoline has been reduced from 0.42 grams per liter in 1987 to 0.15% today (a complete phase-out of leaded gasoline within ten years is anticipated).

The Ministry of the Environment estimates that by the year 2000, some 50% of Israel’s motor vehicles will be equipped with catalytic converters and by 2025, all vehicles.

As a small country, Israel is a small contributor to such global trends as ozone depletion and climate change. Nevertheless, efforts are currently being invested in implementing the provisions of the Montreal Protocol and in ratifying international accords such as the Climate Convention and the Convention on the Transboundary Transport of Air Pollutants.

Israel is currently investing major efforts in addressing the problem of methyl bromide. This soil fumigation agent and pesticide has been targeted as a potential ozone-depleting substance and heavy pressure has been exerted to reduce or ban its use.

Solid Waste

Population growth, rising standards of living and changes in consumption patterns have resulted in the discharge of increasing quantities of waste into the environment worldwide. Each person in Israel produces some 1.6 kilograms of solid waste a day. The total quantity of waste produced in the country annually by a population of about 5.3 million is equivalent to 3. 1 million tons with quantities increasing at an average rate of 2% per year. In a country with meager land resources, on the one hand, and ever-increasing quantities of refuse, on the other hand, sound management of solid waste is imperative.

Today, the outlook for solid waste management is no longer grim.

In June 1993, the government took a landmark decision designed to expedite the establishment of central landfills, shut down hundreds of illegal waste dumps and create an infrastructure for environmentally-safe solid waste disposal, both in the short and long term. Specifically, the decision calls for closure of most of the country’s small garbage dumps within the next three years and for their replacement by a few authorized sanitary landfills.

Legal Framework for Solid Waste Management

The storage, collection and disposal of solid waste are primarily within the jurisdiction of municipalities and are largely8 governed by municipal by-laws which determine the legal and administrative arrangements for collection and disposal. Regulations issued under the Planning and Building Law set out requirements for the size and type of waste containers as well as the size the type of structures for housing these containers.

The siting of landfills and other waste disposal locations, while within the jurisdiction of municipalities, is subject to the Planning and Building Law and its regulations as well as to the National Outline Scheme for Solid Waste Disposal.

Hazardous Substances

Safe management of hazardous substances is one of Israel’s and the world’s most pressing environmental concerns. Appropriate safety and control procedures for the import, manufacture, storage, use and transport of hazardous substances and their wastes must be viewed as na integral element in the day-to-day management of the country.

Provisions for the handling of hazardous substances are under the authority of ten government ministries with responsibility for the implementation of over 100 laws and regulations. While the Ministry of the Environment is the main body responsible for the management of hazardous substances, it has to coordinate its activities with myriad other bodies.

To perform the wide range of tasks required during emergencies involving hazardous substances and to improve the enforcement and observance of laws and regulations, up-to-date information must be available on the hazardous materials which are used, produced, imported, exported, transported and disposed of in Israel. Such data must include the quantities, types, characteristics and concentrations of materials found at all levels industry and institutions at local, regional and national levels.

For this purpose, an Information Center on hazardous substances has been set up within the Ministry of the Environment’s Hazardous Substances Division, in coordination with the existing Information Center of the Israel Defence Forces Home Front Command. Plans are currently being completed for the unification of these information centers into one centralized Information and Response Center for Hazardous Substances which will supply data on a 24-hour-a-day basis. The unified Center will consist of two extensions, civilian and military, with the latter operating during emergency and wartime periods.

The Ministry’s Center serves the multitude of bodies now dealing with hazardous substances as well as the general public but is, first and foremost, designed to support the activities of the Ministry.

Marine Water and Coasts

Israel’s Mediterranean and Red Sea coastlines are among the country’s most valuable natural assets. Their protection from pollution and from the often conflicting demands of urbanization, industrialization, agriculture, recreation and tourism, is of the utmost importance.

Israel was one of the first Mediterranean states to sign a long-term national monitoring agreement within the framework of MEDPOL. Studies include systematic monitoring of heavy metals along the Israeli coastline, microbial pollution in bathing beaches, and monitoring of atmospheric pollution input into the Mediterranean. These surveys have shown that the level of pollution along the Israeli coastline is relatively low compared to other industrialized countries and that all Israeli coastal waters meet international standards for chemical and bacterial pollution.


Noise, a by-product of urbanization and industrialization, is increasingly recognized as an environmental nuisance which affects human health and wellbeing. In order to prevent noise nuisances from arising in the first place, noise considerations are incorporated in the assessment of land development proposals and in the preparation of land-use plans in Israel. Prevention and abatement efforts also encompass the use of simulation and forecast models for traffic and aircraft noise, regulatory measures and education.


Radioactive materials and various ionizing and non-ionizing radiation-producing devices are extensively used in Israel in many spheres and applications medical diagnosis and therapy, industry, agriculture, research and development, and others. To prevent unnecessary exposure, a radiation protection infrastructure comprising legislation, education, licensing and supervision has been developed.

The Pharmacists Regulations on radioactive elements and their products, under the authority of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment, prohibit the purchase, distribution, transportation and application of radioactive materials, except under license. The regulations specify the conditions under which a license is to be granted, including basic facility and equipment requirements, e.g. floor and working-surface coatings, washing facilities, sewage, ventilation and shielding arrangements.

Draft regulations on the disposal of radioactive waste by research institutes, hospitals, medical laboratories and other institutions are being prepared. They will include instructions on the disposal of solid and liquid radioactive waste as well as radioactive gases or vapors.


Israel, a world leader in agricultural techniques, depends on irrigation and fertilization for crop yield increase.

Awareness of the potentially negative repercussions of agricultural practices has only recently emerged and with it the new discipline of agro-ecology. The Ministry of the Environment’s Agro-Ecology Division deals with the prevention of environmental degradation arising from improper agricultural practices. By dint of monitoring, legislation, enforcement, education and guidance, and in cooperation with the farming community, agricultural organizations, research institutes, regional councils and government ministries, the Division is helping to meet the challenge of cultivating high-quality produce which meets agricultural, environmental and health standards.

Pesticide control is governed by several legislative instruments, whose enforcement is the responsibility of different authorities. In 1991, the Ministry of Health issued Public Health Regulations dealing with pesticide residues in food and fixing standards for maximum permissible levels of pesticides in food products.

Pest Control

The Ministry of the Environment has been given statutory responsibility for the control and surveillance of pests harmful to man, for licensing and supervising pest control operators and for registering insecticides for the protection of public health. Since the transfer of health-related pest surveillance and control from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of the Environment in 1991, intensive efforts have been invested in encouraging environmentally-responsible behavior. This investment is now beginning to bear fruit in nearly every area use of environmentally- friendly materials and biological control in river rehabilitation, advancement of research studies on pest control, improved training of pest control operators, introduction of integrated pest management, and most importantly, institution of preventive measures.

Nature and Desertification

Juxtaposed on Israel’s small land area are a wide range of geographical- climatological conditions filled with a rich variety of flora and fauna. It is not surprising, therefore, that the nature conservation movement preceded organized environmental activity by decades.

The roots of Israel’s nature protection movement are traced back to the organization of a small group of nature lovers and scientists around a specific issue the draining of Lake Huleh and its surrounding swamps. This small but dedicated group of conservationists, who fought for the preservation of a small area of swampland as a nature reserve, formed the nucleus of what was to become Israel’s oldest and most powerful non- governmental conservation body the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). The SPNI in collaboration with the Nature Reserves Authority, National Parks Authority, Jewish National Fund and Ministry of the Environment, etc. has been responsible for a wide-ranging and successful program of nature conservation in Israel. They have succeeded in getting about one-quarter of the land area of the country set aside for protection, at various levels, within the context of national and district master plans.

Legislation and Enforcement

Comprehensive environmental legislation is an integral part of any successful environmental management program. Israel’s environmental legislation is wide- ranging. It covers the entire range of environmental issues, uses all forms of legislative instruments laws, regulations, administrative orders and by-laws and is linked to international legislative system, includes the numerous international conventions to which Israel is a signatory.

Israel’s environmental legislation includes laws dealing with specific environmental issues (e.g. air, water, marine and noise pollution, solid waste, hazardous substances and nature protection) as well as laws of a more general nature such as the Planning and Building Law and the Licensing of Businesses Law, which establish not only a framework but also an important legal basis for controlling the use of resources and promoting sustainable development. Regulations under the Planning and Building Law require the preparation and presentation of environmental impact statements, which form an integral part of the planning and building process. The Licensing of Businesses Law provides efficient tools for the supervision of industry by stipulating special conditions to business licenses. A special division within the Ministry of the Environment deals with about 4,500 requests for business licenses each year, of which some 25% require special conditions to prevent environmental degradation.

The concentration of legal authority for environmental issues in the Ministry of the Environment has made a major contribution to the realization of an environmental policy in Israel. The past decade has seen a breakthrough in the composition of a body of environmental legislation, so that today Israeli law relates to nearly every aspect of the environment.

The Ministry of the Environment has full or partial authority for seventeen laws. All the laws provide for criminal sanctions which usually take the form of fines, and at times, terms of imprisonment as well. In addition, citizens have the right to initiate civil proceedings, with recourse to all civil remedies, including the payment of damages. A brief description follows of these laws, in their order of enactment as well as recent additions, amendments and regulations:

1. Public Heath Ordinance, 1940
Defines the powers of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment to control public health and environmental nuisances of various kinds, e.g. malarial mosquitoes, air pollution and odors emanating from dangerous dwellings or unsanitary conditions. The law authorizes the Minister of Health to set standards and testing methods for drinking water quality.

2. Water Law, 1959
Establishes a framework for the control and protection of Israel’s water sources. A 1971 amendment to the law introduced new water pollution prevention provisions.
A 1991 amendment raised fine levels substantially, established personal liability, empowered courts to obligate polluters to pay for clean-up expenses or to undertake the clean-up themselves, and enabled citizens to initiate legal proceedings against offending authorities.
Water Regulations published in 1991 prohibit the rinsing of chemical and/or biological spraying equipment into water sources and forbid aerial spraying of such substances for agricultural purposes near a water source.

3. Abatement of Nuisances Law, 1961
This was the first legislative instrument in Israel for the control of air, odor and noise pollution. Under the terms of this law, it is illegal to cause "any considerable or unreasonable pollution by noise or in the air, including odors, from any source whatsoever, if it disturbs or is likely to disturb a person in the vicinity or a passerby."
Regulations which prohibit the burning and improper disposal of used oil were issued in 1993.
The Law also empowers the Minister of the Environment to address personal decrees to specific polluters, instructing them on the steps they should take to prevent the pollution they create. These decrees have become the backbone of industrial air-pollution control. The Abatement of Nuisances Law further provides that any permit required for the operation of an undertaking shall be conditional upon compliance with the various provisions of the Law.
The Regulation on Prevention of Unreasonable Air and Smell Pollution from Solid Waste Disposal Sites, 1990, prohibits the burning of waste at solid waste disposal sites and requires measures for the prevention of emissions of air pollution, smoke and odors.
In line with Israel’s new program for the management of air resources, efforts are now being directed at the drafting of a new and comprehensive Clean Air Act.

4. Local Authorities (Sewage) Law, 1962
Prescribes the rights and duties of local authorities in matters concerned with the design, construction and maintenance of sewage systems.

5. Streams and Springs Authorities Law, 1965
Empowers the Minister of the Environment, after consultation, to establish an authority for a particular stream, spring or any other water source, empowered to protect the stream and its banks.

6. Roads (Affixing of Signs) Law, 1966
Prohibits advertising along highways and interurban roads. The law, which is enforced by the environmental patrol of the Ministry of the Environment, has succeeded in keeping Israel’s countryside free from the visual nuisance of commercial signs.

7. Tel Aviv Power Plant Law, 1967
Authorized the government to approve the plan to build a 450 MW power plant to the north of Tel Aviv, dispensing with the need for any license or approval under the Planning and Building Law. The law has recently been revoked, although it will remain in effect for a transitional period of two years, at which time the Tel Aviv power station will be subject to the same laws that regulate all power plants in Israel.

8. Licensing of Businesses Law, 1968
Empowers the Minister of the Interior, after consultation, with the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment, to designate and define businesses requiring licenses in order to ensure, inter alia, proper environmental conditions including appropriate sanitary conditions, the prevention of nuisances and compliance with the Planning and Building Law.
Penalties for carrying on a business without a license and non-compliance with the regulations and conditions include fines or imprisonment for up to six months or closure of the business.

9. Prevention of Sea Pollution by Oil Ordinance (New Version), 1980
Forbids discharge of oil or oily substances into the territorial and inland waters from any shore installation or vessel, and makes any such act a criminal offense.
Regulations promulgated within the framework of the Law require Israeli harbors to provide adequate reception facilities for oily wastes and require vessels to use these facilities. Other regulations provide for the operation of a Marine Pollution Prevention Fund to collect the financial resources for preventing and combating marine and coastal pollution, and a Marine Environment Protection Fee imposed on all ships calling at Israeli ports and on oil terminals. These fees, along with fines imposed on violators of the marine pollution prevention laws, constitute the major sources of income for the Fund, which finances the purchase of equipment, law enforcement, beach and shore clean-up, etc.

10. Prevention of Sea Pollution (Dumping of Waste) Law, 1983
Prohibits the dumping of any waste from vessels and aircraft into the sea, except under permits which may be issued by an interministerial committee, headed by a representative of the Minister of the Environment.

11. Maintenance of Cleanliness Law, 1984
This law forbids littering or the disposal of waste, building debris and vehicle scrap into the public domain. It also requires municipalities to establish special sites for the disposal of vehicle scrap and construction waste. It establishes a cleanliness fund to finance educational and enforcement programs and cleanup operations.
Public Health Regulations, in effect since March 1993, prohibit the burning the plastic film used in greenhouses and as covering in agricultural fields and require their collection at the edge of the field for recycling or their transport by the owner to a landfill.

12. Prevention of Sea Pollution from Land-Based Sources Law, 1988
Forbids the discharge of any waste, including wastewater, into the sea in all cases where practical and economic alternatives for treatment or reuse exist on land, under the condition that such processes are less harmful from an environmental point of view.

13. Abatement of Environmental Nuisances (Civil Action) Law, 1992
Enables private citizens to bring environmental law suits on behalf of themselves or non-profit organizations of which they are members, in cases of environmental pollution or nuisances. Also, the law allows class actions in environmental law suits for the first time in Israel.

14. National Parks, Nature Reserves, Memorial Sites and National Sites Law, 1992
Sets up the legal structure for the protection of natural habitats, natural assets, wildlife, and sites of historic, architectural and national importance.

15. Hazardous Substances Law, 1993
Authorizes the Minister of the Environment to license, regulate and supervise all aspects of the manufacture, use, handling, storage, marketing, import, export and transport of hazardous substances.

16. Collection and Disposal of Waste for Recycling Law, 1993
Lays down the principles and framework for recycling in Israel, including the allocation of sites for recycling operations, containers, and facilities.

17. Animal Welfare Law, 1994
This law prohibits cruelty to animals, either by man or by animal at the instigation of man, including the organization of animal fights.

Implementation and Enforcement

Enforcement is a top priority in the Ministry of the Environment since all legislation is useless without it.

Prevention is the ultimate goal of the Ministry’s environmental strategy and has received the major emphasis. One of the most effective means of prevention is administrative devices. At the national level, for example, grants of licenses and permits for building and businesses are made conditional on the fulfillment of specific, environmental stipulations.

Administrative enforcement must be backed up by supervision and inspection. The bulk of inspection and investigation activity is undertaken by two sets of professionals:

* The Ministry of the Environment’s Environmental Inspection Patrol These are environmentalists, trained and empowered as police officers, who fill the void in environmental law enforcement by focusing on neglected domains such as solid waste disposal sites, littering, hazardous waste disposal, cleanliness in gasoline stations and illegal sign-posting along inter-urban roads.

* Inspection bodies empowered by the Ministry of the Environment to enforce legal and administrative measures, such as the Marine and Coastal Inspection Unit and the Monitoring Unit for Poisonous Substances.

Professionals from other bodies, such as the Nature Reserves Authority, the Drainage Authorities, the Jewish National Fund and other government ministries, also carry out supervisory duties and aid in environmental enforcement.

A unique innovation in this field is the recruitment of the general public as volunteer cleanliness trustees. These volunteers participate in enforcing the Maintenance of Cleanliness Law by filing complaints against offenders. The complaints form the basis for a subsequent "finable offense" procedure (which provides for the payment of a fine in lieu of appearance in court). To date, some 100,000 cleanliness trustees have been recruited from the general public; more than 10,000 tickets and court actions per year result from their activities.

Local authorities have their own supervisory infrastructure with thousands of inspectors who play an important role in the supervision of business licenses and in the enforcement of municipal legislation.

Environmental Litigation

If administrative and deterrent means of enforcement are insufficient, prosecution ensues. Most environmental cases are dealt with in the magistrates and local courts. Some cases, however, have even reached the Supreme Court.

Since the stigma of criminal proceedings is an effective punishment and deterrent, legal proceedings initiated by the Ministry of the Environment against a company or authority are generally reinforced by personal measures against a high-ranking official (mayor, manager or partner) having direct, or even indirect, institutional responsibility. For years, Israel’s environmental litigation was minimal. The Abatement of Nuisances

(Civil Action) Law was passed in 1992 in order to ease the way for citizens to bring civil claims and secure injunctions against potential and actual polluters. While citizen complaints rarely result in legal action, the greater public involvement in environmental issues is one of the factors behind the notable increase in environmental litigation. Several court cases have been initiated by the public (both by individuals and by non-governmental organizations such as the Society for the Protection of Nature and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense) and have contributed to the enforcement of standards and the improvement of decision-making processes.

In a few cases, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of petitions seeking redress against authorities for inadequate administrative performance in environmental affairs. A prominent example was the petition to the Court to prevent the construction of the Voice of America transmission station until a complete and comprehensive environmental impact statement had been submitted. Additional successes include suits brought by the Ministry of the Environment and other organizations against mayors and municipalities for causing water pollution or operating landfills in an environmentally unsound manner.

The public’s role in pursuing court litigation remains the weakest link in the Israeli system of environmental enforcement. The goal today is to inform and educate the public about its right to a clean and healthy environment and to provide it with the technical data and legal tools necessary to fight for that right.

International Cooperation

Cooperation with foreign states and international organizations is an important component of the Ministry of the Environment’s agenda. Since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, Israel’s contribution to international environmental protection efforts has spanned: environmental management and impact assessment, marine and coastal management, water conservation, wastewater treatment and reuse, solar energy, nature protection, combating desertification, and environmental education and awareness. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro further accelerated such efforts.

United Nations Environment Program
The foremost vehicle for Israel’s international environmental activity is the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The Ministry of the Environment, as the focus of UNEP activities in Israel, has been an active participant in UNEP-sponsored conferences sending delegates, preparing national reports and contributing its expertise.

(For further details see the article in the chapter on International Cooperation.)

* Excerpts from: Gabbay, S. The Environment in Israel, 1994. Ministry of the Environment, Jerusalem.