Environmental law is an integral part of the Israeli legal, administrative, political, social and economic systems. Various bodies take part in implementing it government agencies, local authorities, corporations and the general public.

In recent years, new 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 passage of environmental legislation, so that today Israeli law relates to nearly every aspect of the environment. Yet, without effective enforcement, environmental legislation is inadequate. Too frequently, lack of manpower, divergent priorities and budgetary limitations preclude the police from properly enforcing environmental laws. A proven solution to this problem is a legislative structure which empowers authorities to appoint specially-trained inspectors for enforcement purposes. A number of such provisions exist in Israeli law, notably with regard to nature reserves protection, cleanliness and marine protection.

In recent years, environmental litigation has expanded in Israel as a result of greater public involvement in environmental issues. The court system has been very receptive to environmental causes. In cases involving noise pollution, for example, the courts have tended to stress the right to enjoy a reasonable level of quiet; courts have ruled that there may be grounds for legal action against environmental nuisances even in the absence of standards and means of measurement. 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.

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. Today, the Ministry of the Environment has full or partial authority over fifteen separate laws. 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 health and environmental nuisances of various kinds. It confers upon the Minister of the Environment authority to impose measures to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, and to control streams and watercourses to prevent malaria.

The law provides for the designation of authorized personnel of the Ministry of the Environment to issue orders for the abatement of nuisances, including air pollution, odors and health-related nuisances caused by the improper treatment of wastes and sewage or by improper maintenance. Municipal sanitation authorities share this authority.

Under the law, the Minister of Health is authorized to promulgate regulations setting standards for drinking water. Microbial tests of drinking water in local authorities are carried out in Health Ministry laboratories on a scale of more than 50,000 tests per year. The Minister of the Environment is empowered to impose necessary means in cases of failure to comply with nuisance removal orders. Violators of this law and orders issued under it are liable to criminal fines and six months’ imprisonment.

2. Water Law, 1959

This law, the principal law regulating fresh water in Israel, serves as the Ministry of the Environment’s principle legal tool for the implementation of its water pollution mitigation policy. 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.

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 againt offending authorities. Moreover, regulations have been promulgated relating to pesticide discharge 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 its 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.

The Minister of the Environment also has the power to address specific polluters with personal decrees instructing them what measures should be taken in order to prevent pollution. These decrees have become the backbone for controlling industrial air pollution throughout the country. Around twenty personal decrees have been issued to power plants, petrochemical and chemical plants, cement industries and others.

For both air and noise pollution, inspection and enforcement are generally carried out by the municipal inspection system, with the assistance of local environmental units, which use advanced monitoring technologies.

4. Local Authorities (Sewage) Law, 1962

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

At present, municipal inspection of sewage facilities is inadequate and fails to provide regular monitoring of the quality of effluent discharged from sewage and treatment facilities. The Ministry of the Environment is devoting major efforts to enforcing the provisions of this law.

5. Streams and Springs Authorities Law, 1965

This law empowers the Minister of the Environment, after consultation with local authorities, to establish an authority for a particular stream or part thereof, a spring or any other water source. Such authorities, termed "River Authorities," are empowered to protect the stream and its banks.

The "Yarkon River Authority" was the first established under this law; its main purpose is to reclaim the river and to develop and manage a park to serve metropolitan Tel Aviv. The Ministry of the Environment is in the process of establishing authorities to reclaim other rivers in Israel.

6. Roads (Affixing of Signs) Law, 1966

This law forbids advertising along highways and inter-city roads. The law, which is enforced by the environmental patrol of the Ministry of the Environment, has succeeded in keeping the countryside of Israel 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 dispensing with the need for any license or approval under the Planning and Building Law. However, the government is empowered to make regulations as to the performance, 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 provided the framework 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.

Authority for this law is shared by the Ministries of the Environment, Interior and Energy and Infrastructure.

8. The 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 a license 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. They are subject to prior approval by a person authorized by the Minister of the Environment or the Minister of Health, depending on the type of business. Special environmental provisions to prevent the business from causing nuisances in its vicinity may be imposed; in the case of air pollution nuisances, these environmental limits are often based on emission standards.

Enforcement is usually carried out by personnel from the departments of health or environment in local authorities. Penalties include fines, up to six months’ imprisonment, or an order closing down the business.

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 an absolute 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.

The law empowers the Minister of Transport to order any specified act in order to reduce spillage or prevent or stop a vessel from polluting.

Regulations promulgated within the framework of the ordinance establish a marine pollution prevention fund to generate income for preventing and combatting 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. Pharmacists’ Ordinance (New Version), 1981

This law controls the manufacture, use, handling, storage, marketing, import, export and transport of hazardous substances and medical drugs. The Minister of Health is responsible for all aspects of the law concerning pharmacies and medical drugs. The Minister of the Environment is authorized to license and regulate all aspects of use and transfer of hazardous substances. Licenses are required for the handling of hazardous materials.

11. The 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 a special committee headed by the director general of the Ministry of the Environment and composed of representatives of various ministries. 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 also provides for the appointment of inspectors to carry out inspections, investigations and searches to prevent or discover offenses.

The law has been used to license and control the dumping of industrial sludge and coal ash from power plants.

Regulations under the law, drafted in accordance to 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.

12. Maintenance of Cleanliness Law, 1984

This law forbids littering or disposing 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 be used 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, innovative feature with respect to enforcement of the law relates to the appointment of inspectors and voluntary cleanliness trustees, empowered by the Minister of the Environment to report on littering offenses. The law permits enforcement by an "army" of volunteers rather than settling for conventional enforcement methods (police and municipal inspectors) or existing enforcement systems. Some 30,000 cleanliness trustees and inspectors have been appointed since the law was enacted. Alongside this volunteer system, the Israel Police have increased their activities to enforce the law. Enforcement efforts, by both police and volunteers, have increased littering complaints from hundreds to thousands each year.

13. 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 economical 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 Ministry of the Environment, determines what is and is not allowed to flow into the sea and under what conditions. The conditions and criteria for the presentation of permits and the types of waste forbidden to discharge at sea were established in accordance with the provisions of the Land-Based Protocol of the Barcelona Convention. In the past few years, the committee has reviewed requests for temporary permits from twenty land- based sources along the Mediterranean coast.

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

14. Abatement of Environmental Nuisances Law (Civil Action), 1992 This law enables a citizen or a group of citizens to take civil action or class action in cases of environmental pollution or nuisances. These may include air, marine and water pollution, pollution resulting from solid waste, hazardous waste and radiation, and nuisances such as noise 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 aids at the disposal of the citizen: restraining orders, prevention of recurrence orders and corrective orders.

The law represents a landmark in the enforcement of environmental laws.

15. National Parks, Nature Reserves 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 values, wildlife, and sites of historical and architectural interest. 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.

Inspection and enforcement of nature protection laws is both efficient and effective, both within nature reserves and in open space landscapes. The inspection system includes several specific inspection units specializing in hazardous waste storage in rural areas, watercourse monitoring and forest inspection. The "Green Patrol," a police force for open space areas, enforces nature protection laws outside the nature reserves.

Israel’s environmental laws, with a few additions and amendments, can ensure the population clean air, fresh water and a nuisance-free environment, only if accompanied by effective enforcement. As ministerial powers become more concentrated and public awareness grows, environmental laws will be further strengthened, and institutional and public enforcement will be further expanded. These developments will be of major significance to improved environmental quality in Israel.