Israel Environment Bulletin Autumn 1992-5753, Vol. 15, No. 4

LIFE AND ENVIRONMENT

In contrast to the relatively high priority accorded to nature protection in Israel’s national consciousness, public awareness of environmental issues has lagged far behind most Western countries. While environmental groups organized throughout the Western world to influence environmental policy in the 1970s, the general public In Israel remained relatively indifferent to environmental issues. The citizenry only awakened to the need for environmental protection following the promulgation of Israel’s first environmental laws and regulations and after the establishment of Israel’s environmental administration.

Priorities and Goals

One of the major challenges of the Environmental Protection Service, in its formative years, was to raise public consciousness in order to make both the general public and decision makers understand that the environment is a legitimate issue which requires priority action. This central task was facilitated by the establishment, in 1975, of Life and Environment, the environmental umbrella organization for non-governmental organizations in Israel. The organization was founded and is still chaired by Josef Tamir, Israel’s most environmentally active parliamentarian to date, whose work on behalf of the environment has constituted a lifelong mission. The purpose of Life and Environment is to coordinate environmental activities among Israel’s environmental organizations and to avoid duplication of efforts. At the time of its establishment, Life and Environment included ten national bodies; today the number has risen to 19 (several are described on the following pages). Representatives of the various groups meet regularly to exchange information on specific environmental activities, to plan campaigns and to decide on areas needing priority action, but in most cases, each organization is free to promote environmental action in accordance to its particular interests and priorities.

Life and Environment’s major goals include: the representation of Israel’s environmental bodies, as a strong, united lobby group, at the level of the Knesset, government ministries and local authorities; the formulation of comprehensive solutions to environmental problems, on the national and local levels; the publication and dissemination of environmental information in order to arouse citizen action and involvement; and the representation of Israel’s environmental NGOs on the international front.

Major Accomplishments

A major landmark on the path toward greater public participation in environmental struggles was a 1975 amendment to the Planning and Building Law, 1965. The amendment, initiated by MK Tamir, accorded Life and Environment statutory membership as a "public representative" at the National Planning and Building Board. This constituted the first time that a non-governmental body was afforded statutory representation at the top level of national planning. Moreover, it facilitated the integration of environmental considerations in land-use planning decisions, most notably in such areas as the protection of open space landscapes, preservation of agricultural lands and opposition to the establishment of the Voice of America transmission station in Israel’s Arava desert.

Past and ongoing campaigns in which Life and Environment is involved include:

  • an ongoing 17-year-old campaign to promote an efficient and clean system of public transportation which will present a viable alternative to increased use of private transportation;
  • increased education and public involvement in promoting cleanliness in the public domain;
  • pressure upon Israel’s political parties to place environmental issues on their agenda;
  • organization of successful public action on behalf of threatened natural values in the case of the following proposals: expansion of a quarrying site in the Carmel National Park, construction of a hydro-electric plant in the northern Jordan River, expansion of defense installations in the Meron Nature Reserve, high-rise building along the Tel Aviv beachfront;
  • promotion of pedestrian malls in large cities in accordance to a campaign first launched in 1977;
  • campaign on behalf of underground junctions and crossroads for major highways;
  • lobbying on behalf of the establishment of a Ministry of the Environment;
  • campaign to promote the use of low-sulfur fuel and the installation of catalytic converters in cars, beginning with 1993 models;
  • struggle to obligate government companies, such as the Israel Electric Corporation, Israel Chemicals, oil refineries, and Dead Sea Works, to reduce pollutant emissions;
  • initiation of three major public campaigns, utilizing press releases, press conferences, massive lobbying and organized protests, on behalf of the following: an improvement of Israel’s policy in the realm of water quality and conservation; scrapping of a proposed plan to import aluminium slag into the southern Negev; and support of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel in its struggle against the construction of a Voice of America transmission station in the Arava Valley.