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 a comprehensive international legislative system which includes numerous international conventions. (A listing of international environmental conventions ratified by Israel is included in the appendix to this publication).

Israel’s environmental legislation is characterized by its diversity and scope. It includes laws dealing with specific environmental issues as well as laws of a more general nature which cover environmental matters. Specific legislation relates to air, water, marine and noise pollution as well as to solid waste, hazardous substances and nature protection. More general laws, such as the Planning and Building Law and the Licensing of Businesses Law, provide 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.

(A listing of environmental legislation in Israel is included in the appendix to this publication. Further details on the Planning and Building Law are provided in the chapter on Environmental Planning).

The Legal Powers of the Ministry of the Environment

The concentration of legal authority for environmental issues in the Ministry of the Environment has made a major contribution to the implementation of environmental policy in Israel. As a result, added emphasis has been placed on updating environmental standards, issuing administrative orders for the abatement of pollution and drafting new legislation. In fact, the past decade has seen a breakthrough in the enactment of environmental legislation, so that today Israeli law relates to nearly every aspect of the environment.

The Ministry of the Environment currently has full or partial authority for seventeen separate 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. Several of the laws integrate regulatory and fiscal means, and some include provisions for the appointment of special inspectors for purposes of enforcement. A brief description of the laws, in the chronological order of their enactment, follows:

1. Public Health Ordinance, 1940

This law defines the powers of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment to control public health and environmental nuisances of various kinds. The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for preventing malaria from mosquitoes and for eliminating nuisances from the confines of local authorities. Nuisances may include air pollution and odors emanating from dangerous dwellings or unsanitary conditions. A person who fails to remove the nuisance can be ordered to do so by the Minister of the Environment. The Minister of the Environment is empowered to undertake the necessary action in cases of failure to comply with nuisance removal orders.

The law authorizes the Minister of Health to promulgate regulations setting standards and testing methods for drinking water quality.

Violators of the law and of the orders issued under it are liable to criminal fines and six months’ imprisonment.

2. Water Law, 1959

This law establishes the framework for the control and protection of Israel’s water sources. A 1971 amendment to the law introduced new water pollution prevention provisions; authority in this field has been transferred to the Ministry of the Environment. Other provisions of the Water Law are under the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and the Water Commissioner.

To facilitate more effective enforcement, a 1991 amendment raised fine levels substantially, established personal liability, empowered courts to obligate polluters to pay for cleanup expenses or to undertake cleanups, and enabled citizens to initiate legal proceedings against offending authorities.

In recent years, various regulations have been promulgated relating, inter alia, to pesticide discharge into water sources and use of cesspools and septic tanks.

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."

The Minister of the Environment has the authority to promulgate regulations defining national ambient standards. Thus far, regulations have been issued to control air and noise pollution from stationary and mobile sources. Draft regulations setting emission standards for air pollutants have recently been completed.

The Minister of the Environment also has the power to address specific polluters with personal decrees instructing them on the adoption of measures for the prevention of pollution. These decrees have been instrumental in controlling industrial air pollution throughout the country.

4. Local Authorities (Sewage) Law, 1962

The law prescribes the rights and duties of local authorities in matters concerned with the design, construction and maintenance of sewage systems. It requires local authorities to properly maintain sewage systems to the satisfaction of the Ministry of the Environment. New sewage systems must be approved by the District Planning and Building Commissions and by health and environmental authorities.

5. Streams and Springs Authorities Law, 1965

This law empowers the Minister of the Environment, after consultation with local authorities and the Ministers of the Interior and Agriculture, to establish an authority for a particular stream, spring or any other water source. Such authorities are empowered to undertake a variety of steps to protect the stream and its banks.

The Yarkon River Authority was the first to be established under this law; its main purpose is to reclaim the river and to develop and manage a park to serve metropolitan Tel Aviv. In 1994, an additional river authority was established for the Kishon River in Haifa.

6. Roads (Affixing of Signs) Law, 1966

This law forbids 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

This law authorized the government to approve the plan to build a 450 MW power plant to the north of Tel Aviv (the Reading Power Plant), dispensing with the need for any license or approval under the Planning and Building Law. At the same time, it empowered the government to promulgate regulations on the use and operation of the power plant. The 1968 regulation to this law set up the framework for the first air quality monitoring network of Israel and for the alert system operated in the Tel Aviv area to determine and respond to dangerous air pollution levels resulting from the emissions of the power plant.

This law has recently been revoked, but 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

The law empowers the Minister of the Interior, in consultation with the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment, to designate and define businesses requiring licenses in order to ensure: proper environmental conditions including appropriate sanitary conditions, the prevention of nuisances and compliance with the Planning and Building Law; the safety of those on or near the premises of the business; and the prevention of pollution of water resources by pesticides, fertilizers or medicaments. Licenses under this law are issued by the head of the local authority in whose jurisdiction the business is located. They are subject to prior approval by a person authorized by the Minister of the Environment, Health, Police or Agriculture, depending on the type of business. Special environmental provisions to be imposed within the framework of the license may include requirements for the preparation of preliminary surveys or for the establishment of infrastructures and treatment facilities for solid waste, sewage, recycling, hazardous substances and waste, as well as reporting, monitoring and control systems. In the case of air pollution nuisances, environmental limits are often based on emission standards.

In cases where a business requiring a license is also licensable under another law, the business license may be withheld until licensing under the other enactment is completed. For example, businesses handling hazardous substances are required to obtain poison permits (under the Hazardous Substances Law) before they are granted a business license.

Penalties for carrying on a business without a license and non-compliance with the regulations and conditions include fines or imprisonment for a term of six months. The court may further order that the business be closed temporarily, by means of an administrative stop order.

9. Prevention of Sea Pollution by Oil Ordinance (New Version), 1980

This law 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. The Minister of the Environment is empowered to appoint inspectors to discover or prevent violations. The law establishes maximal fines for oil spillage and liability for expenses of cleanup costs. Other salient features of the law and its regulations include an obligation to keep oil record books on vessels, measures to be taken in case of discharge of oil, and requirements for vessels to use port reception facilities for oily wastes.

Regulations promulgated within the framework of the ordinance establish a marine pollution prevention fund to generate income for preventing and combating marine and coastal pollution, cleanup operations and purchase of equipment. The major sources of the fund are fines collected from court convictions and fees levied on the owners or operators of vessels calling at Israeli ports and on shore facilities handling oil.

10. Prevention of Sea Pollution (Dumping of Waste) Law, 1983

This law 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. A court convicting an offender under this law may require, in addition to the fine levied, payment of cleanup expenses or of locating the waste dumped into the sea. The law provides for the appointment of inspectors to carry out inspections, investigations and searches to prevent or discover offenses.

Regulations under the law, drafted in accordance with the Dumping Protocol of the Barcelona Convention, include lists of substances which may or may not be dumped, and conditions for the issue of permits.

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. The major sources of the fund are fees imposed on manufacturers and importers of disposable beverage containers and fines imposed on violators of the law.

An important and innovative enforcement feature of the law relates to the appointment of voluntary inspectors and cleanliness trustees, empowered by the Minister of the Environment to report on littering offenses. Enforcement efforts, by both police and volunteers, have increased littering complaints from hundreds to thousands each year.

12. Prevention of Sea Pollution from Land-Based Sources Law, 1988

This law 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. An interministerial permits committee, chaired by a representative of the Minister of the Environment, determines what may or may not be discharged into the sea and under what conditions. The conditions and criteria for the grant of permits and the types of waste which may not be discharged at sea were established in accordance with the provisions of the Land-Based Protocol of the Barcelona Convention.

The law provides for the appointment of inspectors to carry out investigations and searches to prevent or discover offenses against this law.

13. Abatement of Environmental Nuisances (Civil Action) Law, 1992

This law 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. These may include air, marine and water pollution, solid waste, hazardous substances and radioactive pollution, and environmental nuisances which may threaten human health or cause major distress. Aggrieved citizens must give prior notice (60 days) of their intent to file a complaint to the Minister of the Environment and to the offender. If no action to eliminate the nuisance is taken during this period, the complaint may be filed. The law places three types of legal remedies at the disposal of the citizen: restraining orders, prevention of recurrence orders and corrective orders.

In addition, the law allows, for the first time in Israel, the use of class actions in environmental law suits.

14. National Parks, Nature Reserves, Memorial Sites and National Sites Law, 1992

This law, first enacted in 1963 and revised in 1992, provides the legal structure for the protection of natural habitats, natural assets, wildlife, and sites of historic, architectural and national importance. Under the law, two authorities were created: the Nature Reserves Authority

(NRA), responsible to the Ministries of Agriculture and the Environment and the National Parks Authority (NPA), responsible to the Ministry of the Environment.

A National Park, Nature Reserves and National Sites Council, appointed by the Minister of the Environment, advises the relevant ministers on matters related to the implementation of the law.

15. Hazardous Substances Law, 1993

This law originates from the separation of existing authorities within the framework of the Pharmacists Ordinance. It 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. Licenses are required for any premise selling hazardous materials, and permits are required by any business dealing in poisons. The Minister of the Environment may promulgate regulations on the classification of hazardous substances according to their use, degree of toxicity or risk. Regulations may also relate to the treatment, production, import, export, packaging, commerce, transfer, storage, maintenance and use of hazardous substances.

16. Collection and Disposal of Waste for Recycling Law, 1993

This law provides the principles and framework for recycling in Israel. It authorizes local authorities, and obliges them when so required by the Minister of the Environment, to allocate sites for recycling centers and to install recycling facilities and containers. Business or home owners within a municipality which operates recycling centers, must install and maintain recycling containers. Waste must be separated at source and discarded into specially-designated containers for the various components of waste. The Minister of the Environment is authorized to promulgate regulations on all matters relating to the implementation of the law.

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. The Minister of Agriculture is responsible for the implementation of the law, but the Minister of the Environment is authorized to appoint animal welfare trustees empowered to present reports against offenders. Moreover, the law provides for the establishment of an animal welfare fund, within the framework of the Ministry of the Environment, to concentrate the financial means necessary for education, information, guidance and aid to animal welfare organizations. Funds will derive from budgetary allocations, contributions and fines imposed on offenders.

Implementation and Enforcement

Israel’s environmental laws can ensure the population clean air, fresh water and a nuisance-free environment only if accompanied by effective enforcement. Therefore, enforcement of environmental legislation is a top priority issue in the Ministry of the Environment.

Since prevention is the ultimate goal of the ministry’s environmental strategy, major emphasis has been placed on the enforcement of preventive measures within the laws under its jurisdiction. Administrative measures, both at the national and the local level, constitute one of the most important bases of prevention. At the national level, for example, the administrative system makes the grant of licenses and permits conditional on the fulfillment of specific stipulations aimed at preventing environmental damage. Such systems apply to planning and building, business licensing, marine pollution prevention, hazardous waste and resource management. At the local level, municipal administrative systems deal with business licensing, sewage and solid waste disposal.

While administrative enforcement provides an efficient method of preventive law enforcement, careful supervision is necessary to ensure strict compliance with legal stipulations. In general, the role of environmental law enforcement is carried out by environmentalists trained and empowered as police officers, rather than by police officers, equipped with technical and professional skills. Most supervisory bodies have the double role of supervising administrative measures as well as enforcing criminal provisions of environmental laws.

The bulk of inspection and investigation activity is undertaken by the Ministry of the Environment’s environmental inspection patrol and by various inspection bodies empowered by the Ministry of the Environment to enforce legal and administrative measures. The inspection patrol fills the void in environmental law enforcement focusing on neglected domains such as solid waste disposal sites, littering, hazardous waste disposal, cleanliness in gasoline stations and illegal sign-posting along interurban roads. Alongside the patrol, the ministry has established specialized supervision units in specific areas, such as the Marine and Coastal Inspection Unit and the Monitoring Unit for Poisonous Substances. Other bodies, such as the Nature Reserves Authority, the Drainage Authorities, the Jewish National Fund and other ministries, also carry out supervisory duties and aid in environmental enforcement acting as part of a so-called "Green Police." These bodies are staffed by professionals in their respective fields who are trained to perform inspection procedures and conduct investigations and are legally authorized to carry out their tasks.

A unique innovation in the field of Israeli law enforcement 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 of the law. The complaints form the basis for a subsequent "finable offense" procedure (which provides for the payment of a fine in lieu of an 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 are initiated by 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 of the environmental cases are dealt with in the magistrates and local courts. Some cases, however, are deliberated upon at the district court level and others by the Supreme Court, sitting as a Court of Appeals or as the High Court of Justice.

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 accompanied by personal measures against a high-ranking official (mayor, manager or partner) having direct, or even indirect, institutional responsibility.

Israel’s environmental litigation has been minimal for years. 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, environmental litigation has nevertheless increased in recent years as a result of greater public involvement in environmental issues. 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 environmental standards and improved environmental decision-making processes. In a few cases, the High Court of Justice has ruled in favor of petitions seeking redress against various authorities for inadequate administrative performance in environmental affairs. A prominent example was the petition to the High Court of Justice to prevent the construction of the Voice of America transmission station until the submission of a complete and comprehensive environmental impact statement. Additional successes include legal suits brought by the Ministry of the Environment and other organizations against mayors and municipalities charged with 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 concerning 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.