Now Israel also has a cormorant soaked in oil - the symbol of environmental pollution that is seared into global consciousness. The cormorant appears throughout the world after oil spills, plodding through the toxic substance. This bird became a symbol of environmental devastation following the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein blew up the oil wells and contaminated the Persian Gulf.
In Israel, the issue is not the cormorant and oil wells, but rather a water fowl caught in the camera lens of photographers and TV crews during a tour several weeks ago that was organized by the environmental group Zalul at the Lachish River. Part of the river traverses the city of Ashdod en route to the sea. The bird was seen slowly fluttering amid an oily mess, trying in vain to reach a safer, uncontaminated place.
Unlike the cormorants, which absorb the oil in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in the world, the miserable bird in the Lachish River was not the victim of a disaster or war. Those things are usually one-time occurrences and nature manages to recover from the blow. This bird was suffering from a chronic illness, aptly named the "Israeli stream infection," characterized by a dripping of urban sewage and a drizzle of industrial waste, sometimes even in a strongly flowing stream.
The bird in the Lachish River was a threat to no one. It did not damage agricultural crops and did not carry disease, as far as we know. It simply tried to live its life, and even managed to exploit the water in other rivers - water containing waste but without toxic substances in such high concentrations. Its friends also became accustomed to these streams, having no other choice, and one can see them flying and managing to survive in rivers like the Yarkon.
Progress closed in on the bird from the Lachish River in every direction it flew. It passed over new roads and shopping centers, modern factories, and even a new park the city of Ashdod built on the riverbanks, a park the municipality is careful to dam with earth so that the pollution will not penetrate it.
But this progress does not stop the dripping of the pollution and the destruction of the environment. It hides this contamination and transports it to distant pipes. A few of these pipes are enough to fill a small section of the Lachish River with putrid contamination and kill birds and turtles and other animals.
A socioeconomic look at the fate of the bird and other wild animals leads to the conclusion that one can cause severe damage to the environment in Israel and go unpunished. There are more important things than enforcing the laws protecting the environment, and there is no price for the life of a bird or turtle. If the managers of factories and mayors, owners of auto mechanic shops and gas stations were tried and sentenced to prison for polluting the environment, and if they paid fines at a level that threatened the existence of their businesses after polluting the air, many more pipes would be connected to the sewage system rather than the rivers, and fewer toxic materials would be released into the air, water and soil.
In the municipal associations, in the government ministries and in the local authorities, they know from where the pipes come and where they lead, where the smokestacks sprout and where they blow their contents. They know, but do not put a stop to it. They are slowly addressing this but are not succeeding to prevent it. They promise to rehabilitate, but do not really succeed.
Three years ago, the American ecologist Peter Raven delivered a lecture about the world's environmental crisis at a scientific conference at the Museum of Natural History in London. Raven tried to explain the practical benefit of protecting animals and added: "There are creatures that are simply beautiful and enrich our lives in many ways, giving us inspiration every day. According to every moral or ethical standard, we have no right to destroy them. But we do this wildly, without inhibition, at an accelerating pace, every day."
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