The Environment Ministry, which works hand in glove with the Green Police, reported proudly last week that there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of investigative files it has opened on environmental offenses. The State Prosecutor's Office, too, has recently noted with pride its activity in the sphere of environmental protection and quality, adding that the office attaches great importance to the subject.
This is all very nice and deserving of much praise, but the fact is that rampant environmental offenses of many kinds continue. Not long ago, Haaretz reported large-scale squatting in an area that is designated to be a park in south Tel Aviv. Legal actions against the interlopers are proceeding slowly, which only encourages the trespassers, who are tightening their hold in the area.
Another phenomenon that the authorities have been unable to cope with is extensive illegal construction in many communities. Nor have they had notable success in dealing with the illegal refuse dumps and the thefts of sand along the coast, which are rapidly annihilating a unique natural resource.
A particularly striking example is the Alon Quarry, which operates adjacent to the Druze village of Sajour and the Arab village of Nahaf in Upper Galilee. The quarry was established ten years ago just a few hundred meters from residential dwellings. All the planning and environmental quality authorities found that the quarry doesn't have an approved plan or a construction license or a business permit, and that it is causing serious noise and dust hazards.
The Environment Ministry moved to close the quarry nine years ago, and the Merom Hagalil regional council issued an administrative stop work order, but the quarry went right on operating. Six years ago, another stop work order was issued, this time by the Sajour local council. The peek of law enforcement activity came three years ago, when the Acre Magistrate's Court issued an order prohibiting the use of the quarry. This followed a suit by a resident of Nahaf, who said that a layer of white dust from the site had covered his olive groves and stunted their growth, and that his own health was also at risk.
Not even the court order was enough to close the quarry. Local residents then enlisted the aid of the Galilee Association, which deals with environmental and health problems, and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. Lawyers for both groups tried - unsuccessfully - to have
the court order implemented. They were in contact with the Planning and Building Commission of the Beit She'an Valley, with the chief inspector of construction for the Interior Ministry in the Northern District, and with the Environment Ministry.
All these efforts having failed, the environmental groups last year filed an administrative petition with the Haifa District Court, asking that the authorities [the police and the planning institutions] explain why they were not acting to implement the decisions against the quarry. Eight months ago, the District Court stated that there was no point to hearing the petition, as the law enforcement authorities had given their assurances that they were taking steps to close down the quarry.
Since then, nothing has changed. The environmental organizations have again approached the State Prosecutor's Office and the police. Now they are about to ask the District Court to declare that the behavior of the authorities shows contempt of court and to oblige them by means of a fine to take action to close down the quarry. The authorities are busy passing the buck, and the Justice Ministry, too, has been unsuccessful in its attempts to change the situation. Last week, the Haifa office of State Prosecutor's Office stated that it had several times instructed the police and the local Planning and Building Commission to exercise their authority.
The story of the quarry is a dramatic illustration of the lethargy and irresolution with which the authorities act against environmental offenses. It took the various authorities and courts six years to decide on the quarry's closure. Four years have since passed. Nothing has been done.
The Israel Police have shown that if they attach importance to a particular type of offense, they are capable of taking action. Witness the raids on illegal gambling establishments and their assistance in the demolition of homes built without permits in Arab communities, some of which are near the quarry. Until the police decide to take action against the quarry at Sajour, the residents there will have to make do with hearing enviously about the achievements of the Green Police and other law enforcement units in other parts of the country.
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