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Pollution in a Promised Land

Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 564
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  • Book Info
    Pollution in a Promised Land
    Book Description:

    Virtually undeveloped one hundred years ago, Israel, the promised "land of milk and honey," is in ecological disarray. In this gripping book, Alon Tal provides--for the first time ever--a history of environmentalism in Israel, interviewing hundreds of experts and activists who have made it their mission to keep the country's remarkable development sustainable amid a century of political and cultural turmoil. The modern Zionist vision began as a quest to redeem a land that bore the cumulative effects of two thousand years of foreign domination and neglect. Since then, Israel has suffered from its success. A tenfold increase in population and standard of living has polluted the air. The deserts have bloomed but groundwater has become contaminated. Urban sprawl threatens to pave over much of the country's breathtaking landscape. Yet there is hope. Tal's account considers the ecological and tactical lessons that emerge from dozens of cases of environmental mishaps, from habitat loss to river reclamation.Pollution in a Promised Landargues that the priorities and strategies of Israeli environmental advocates must address issues beyond traditional green agendas.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93649-2
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    A. T.
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xix)
    A. T.
  6. 1 The Pathology of a Polluted River: An Introduction to Israel’s Environmental Crises
    (pp. 1-18)

    The bizarre clinical symptoms bewildered even the seasoned veterans of the emergency room medical team. Although the Israeli doctors were well accustomed to grisly disaster situations, no prior experience prepared them for what they encountered on that warm summer evening of July 14, 1997, at the Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.

    The athletes had been making their way across the Yarkon River, the second of fifty-six national delegations marching into the Ramat Gan Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the Maccabiah Games, often called the “Jewish Olympics.” To the dismay of organizers and athletes alike, the newly (and shoddily) constructed...

  7. 2 Reclaiming a Homeland: Zionism’s Mixed Ecological Message
    (pp. 19-34)

    To the extent that “history is the polemics of the victor,” the environmental history of Israel in this century can be told through Zionist eyes. During the twentieth century, the Jewish nationalist movement and the state it established dominated the activities that most influence landscape, natural resources, human health, and the many creatures of the land. In some areas, this influence was quite formidable even before the military results of 1948. Moreover, the cultural legacy of Zionism and the attitudes of its leaders may hold the key to comprehending future ecological outcomes. Therefore, it is crucial to understand Zionism in...

  8. 3 Palestine’s Environment, 1900–1949: Prelude to Disaster or Benign Half-Century?
    (pp. 35-68)

    There may be no landscape in Israel that inspires as much national pride as that of the Jezreel Valley. This vast triangular patchwork of field crops and orchards is encircled by rounded hills with names like Tabor and Gilboa that evoke a majestic biblical past. The fertile soil is dark and heavy, rich in organic matter,¹ yielding a cornucopia of produce that celebrates a successful partnership between humans and this goodly land. Natan Alterman’s lullaby from the 1930s remains a popular standard even today:

    The sea of grains sway. The song of the flocks rings out.

    This is my land...

  9. 4 The Forest’s Many Shades of Green
    (pp. 69-112)

    “Before it did anything else, the first thing that the Zionist movement did was to set up an official conservation agency—the Jewish National Fund—and start planting trees.” So begins Uri Marinov’s stock introductory presentation about Israel and the environment. Marinov was the top environmental public servant in Israel’s government during the 1970s and 1980s. His admiration for the JNF is genuine. “No other national movement made land restoration and forestry the centerpiece of its operational activities.”¹

    Aviva Rabinovich, well into her seventies and still one of Israel’s most provocative ecologists, presents a very different picture. As the first...

  10. 5 The Emergence of an Israeli Environmental Movement
    (pp. 113-154)

    It was 1972. General Haim Bar-Lev had just shed his uniform to take a position in Israel’s cabinet as Minister of Trade and Industry. A proposal from the Haifa-based Nesher Cement Company reached his desk calling for long-term quarrying rights on the northern ridge of the Carmel mountains in Haifa. Although the area had recently been declared a nature reserve, the Nesher experts explained that the quarry would really only remove the top forty-six meters from the Givat ha-Haganah peak. Then they would restore it to a condition even better than its present state. The minister was sympathetic; after all,...

  11. 6 A General Launches a War for Wildlife
    (pp. 155-198)

    It was a brisk winter’s morning on the old Eilat–Beer Sheva highway in February 1959. Avinoam “Finky” Finkleman was doing his daily run, driving the truck from Kibbutz Yotvata’s dairy to the north of Israel. As he approached the Nahal Chayon stream bed, a large animal meandered across the road. From a distance Finkleman thought it might be a monkey. As he got closer, it appeared to be a very large dog. The animal began sprinting alongside the truck at the astonishing speed of eighty kilometers per hour. After driving for about two kilometers, Finkleman braked to a stop,...

  12. 7 The Quantity and Quality of Israel’s Water Resources
    (pp. 199-242)

    No natural resource was as important to Zionism as water. In that sense the new Jewish State almost instinctively adopted a traditional Jewish inclination. Like the Eskimos’ reputedly rich vocabulary for snow, the Hebrew language has separate words for the first and last rainfall, dew, different levels of floods, and half a dozen types of drought. The word “water” itself appears 580 times in the Old Testament.¹ The Hebrew patriarchs concerned themselves with digging and protecting wells. Water is a prerequisite for a variety of ritual purifications. There is no more common metaphor in the religious liturgy.

    History holds particular...

  13. 8 Israel’s Urban Environment, 1948–1988: The Politics of Neglect
    (pp. 243-282)

    As part of its obligations to the United Nations after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, Israel’s Parliament held an open plenary session about the country’s environmental situation. The summer recess of 1973 was rapidly approaching. It was the end of a golden era for Israel. The trauma of the Yom Kippur War was only a few months away but completely unimaginable. Most of the nation was still intoxicated by the 1967 six-day military triumph and the stunning territorial acquisitions it delivered. Israel’s economy continued to soar. Morale was high. Yet at least one government leader was deeply...

  14. 9 A Ministry of the Environment Comes of Age
    (pp. 283-326)

    The environment is a particularly popular arena for policy enthusiasts, because time and again it has shown that intelligent government intervention can produce measurable societal benefits. But the checkered history of Israel’s Ministry of the Environment—with corresponding swings in pollution trends and the spirits of the country’s environmentalists—suggests that policies are only part of the puzzle. In the somewhat weary debate as to whether individuals or larger social forces shape the course of human events, a decade of environmental inconsistency at the Ministry suggests that individuals matter. Institutional status as well as actual improvement in the country’s land,...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  16. 10 Israel, Arabs, and the Environment
    (pp. 327-366)

    In his last year as a civil engineering student at the Technion in 1978, Basel Ghattas happened to do his final project on the environment. Beyond this, he harbored no discernible Green inclinations. After he graduated, he went home to his village of Rami, where he worked as a construction engineer. On the side he dabbled in local politics. He was upset that, as in the vast majority of Israeli Arab communities, there had never been a central system for disposing sewage in Rami. Yet, unlike most Israeli municipal leaders, politicians in Rami actually wanted to change the situation. For...

  17. 11 Environmental Activism Hits Its Stride
    (pp. 367-404)

    A graduate student runs an air pollution monitoring station on her kibbutz and lobbies her Regional Council to fund an independent risk assessment of the effect of a toxic-waste incinerator at Ramat Hovav. Thousands attend a rally, sponsored by ultraorthodox communities in Jerusalem, hoping to stall expansion of high-tech factories in Jerusalem and reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals they store. A group of Eilat scientists publishes a full-page advertisement asking Israelis not to visit the town until sewage stops polluting the Red Sea. A suit filed by a neighborhood in the Arab city of Shfaram leads to the jailing...

  18. 12 Toward a Sustainable Future?
    (pp. 405-434)

    It was the eve of Rosh ha-Shanah (the Jewish New Year) 1995 when Yisrael Peleg got a phone call from Dr. Dureid Mohasneh in Jordan. Peleg, then Director General of the Ministry of Environment, had become friendly with Mohasneh when they met at the negotiating table during the Middle East multilateral environmental peace talks.¹ Mohasneh, director of the Port of Aqaba, was calling from his home with some bad news: “There’s been a major oil spill here outside our port,” he reported.²

    Water usually flows in a counterclockwise direction in the Gulf of Aqaba. This means that Jordanian pollution directly...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 435-516)
  20. Index
    (pp. 517-547)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 548-548)