In the aftermath of the environmental disaster at Nahal Ashalim SPNI's Environmental Hazards Law was passed enabling civil law suits to be filed against polluters, creating a powerful incentive for them to create safeguards against further disasters.
The bill was supported by 33 members of Knesset, with no opposition. The bill is intended to define damage inflicted upon protected natural assets and protected landscapes as ‘environmental hazards.’ This allows civil law suits to be submitted in some cases, on damage to natural habitats and species of plants and animals, which are public property. Courts of law that handle these complaints will have the authority to force the defendant to pay additional sums of money due to the environmental hazard for which he or she is responsible, if the damage is determined to be irreparable.
No Hotels in Sassgon Valley!
We end 2018 with a great success for the campaign led by SPNI together with Adam Teva V’Din and Hevel Eilot residents, against construction of a hotel complex that would irreversibly damage the character of Timna Valley. Over the course of many years, tens of thousands of citizens from around the country have joined the call: Save Sassgon Valley! The call has been answered with great success, with a win-win solution for all sides: The entrepreneur will be able to build a hotel in the Park Timna region (the southern entrance alternative) while Sassgon Valley will remain natural and pastoral.
Strategic Plan for Open Landscapes
This year we worked to promote a strategic plan for open landscapes with a central focus on conservation of ecological corridors at a national level.
Moreover, we celebrated a number of local successes that protected ecological corridors from unnecessary construction while finding suitable solutions for development without sustaining damage to nature: accepting our opposition in the Iron Industrial Zone, accepting our viewpoint with respect to expansion of Elad at the expense of a national ecological corridor, promoting protection of the ecological corridor in Modi’in, and protection of the Caesarea dunes ecological corridor via acceptance of our opposition to local development initiatives.
You Protected Open Landscapes in the Negev
SPNI managed to block initiatives to establish a number of new settlements in the Negev and formed a broad coalition of significant stakeholders to strengthen the existing settlements instead of establishing new settlements, adding new content to Ben Gurion’s vision.
We Opposed Extension of the National Committee for Planning and Construction (NCPC)
After transferring the planning administration from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Finance, a situation arose in Israel where there was no organization looking after the public interest during planning processes. Within this vacuum we established the ‘Planning Guard’ – a coalition of civilian community organizations and professional, environmental planning and housing organizations that is working to form an independent and professional planning system, in which the voice of civil society is heard. The Planning Guard includes a broad spectrum of organizations with experience in different fields, allowing the Planning Guard to participate in NCPC meetings and activate a system of checks and balances. The objective of the NCPC (via government decision) is to approve as many large projects as possible that harm tens to hundreds of thousands of Israel’s citizens, while the latter does not have the tools and the knowledge to deal with them.
In December 2017, we published the periodical monitoring report on the activities of the NCPC regarding preferred housing complexes, three years after approval of the NCPC. The report reveals that although the NCPC has approved 34 plans to date, for a total of 95 thousand residential units, in practice not even one residential unit has been built! The report also reveals that while the NCPC accepts 32% of government ministry objections, only 4% of public objections are accepted, and 84% of public objections are completely rejected. According to this report on the NCPC, which was appointed by the government as its main tool for dealing with the housing crisis, it turns out after three years to be a committee evading planning and democracy. The NCPC rapidly approves tens of thousands of housing units with the wave of a hand at the expense of tens of thousands of dunams of agricultural land and open landscapes on city outskirts.
The great difficulty with the work of the NCPC, as revealed by the report, is the great need for residential units, and this is what dominates the work of the committee, while the overall planning of public institutions, solutions for transportation – both public and private – is only secondary, if at all. The NCPC promotes new construction on high-value open landscapes and on agricultural land, often in contrast to the position of local and regional municipalities. Similarly, the report presents the increasing opposition of the public to the work of the NCPC, from the direction of both local authorities and public corporations, who call for more correct and considerate planning, that sees all of the issues and does not ‘count’ only residential units.
In February 2018 the Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection Committee of the Knesset published a directive to extend the NCPC for another year, a directive that was signed by the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. On Wednesday, 7th March, the committee held a discussion on the issue, with the participation of many members of Knesset, dozens of local authority heads and representatives of environmental and community organizations and residents. At the end of the discussion the head of the committee, Yoav Kish, decided to hold an additional discussion before reaching a final ruling. There is broad opposition to the work of the NCPC: The Minister for Environmental Protection, MK Ze’ev Elkin, announced his opposition to extending the NCPC and thus joined the local municipal heads and the different organizations.
More than 1200 letters were sent by the public to the Internal Affairs Committee with a moving call to members of Knesset to oppose extension of the NCPC’s work. Despite the opposition, in March 2018 the Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection Committee of the Knesset approved extension of the NCPC for another year, until 2019. We continue to work using the tools available to us to oppose the work of the NCPC.
This project, led by SPNI in partnership with leading companies, the Ministry for Environmental Protection and INPA, creates a business tool for project management, a reporting protocol in the GIS format for biodiversity, and support for promoting organizational processes for assimilating regulations, guidelines and organizational culture for conserving biodiversity.
Within the framework of this project we have formed several partnerships with central infrastructure companies, quarries, agricultural companies and more, in Israel. To promote these business processes, we will examine the integration of an ecologist at central intersections for decision-making in the planning and execution of projects, and to assimilate advanced protocols for reducing ecological risks from invasive species, light pollution, direct harm to wild animals and plants, as well as work regulations for ecological management of the lands accessible to SPNI.
Within the framework of these partnerships, the effects of companies on biodiversity are being mapped, and tools for improving these effects and their assimilation into organizational culture and internal regulations are being proposed. The core of the process is the joint work of the ecologist together with the businesses’ content experts.
The project helps the business sector and government companies in Israel prepare for managing risks associated with actions that harm biodiversity, and create new market opportunities, while preparing for upcoming regulation. Without systematic treatment of the biodiversity issue, it is doubtful whether businesses will continue to receive a public license and legitimacy to act – both in Israel and abroad.
Within the framework of this joint initiative with the Ministry for Environmental Protection and INPA, six Israeli companies will be granted 100,000 NIS to incorporate biodiversity considerations in their activities. The winning companies – Mekorot, National Roads Company of Israel, Tara, Milopri, Timna Park and Israel Electric Corporation – will direct their grants to prevent light pollution, improve sanitation in milk dairies, cultivate biodiversity and implement an ecological management plan for tourist attractions. The results of the projects will be presented in a conference that will take place in 2019.
In the coming year we will continue acting for conservation of open landscapes, via statutory protection, effective management of the land and treatment of threatening processes. All this will be done transparently for the public, while raising public awareness and creating a partnership with the broad public for conservation of nature and the environment in Israel.