Petition to High Court: Lift Secrecy Surrounding Israel's Controversial Pipeline

The circumstances necessitating a confidentiality order placed on the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company in 1968 - first and foremost the ties with Iran - no longer exist, an environmentalist group argues.

Avi Bar-Eli
Avi Bar-Eli
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Employees of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company clean up the large deposits of crude oil that gushed out of a breached pipeline near the southern Israeli village of Beer Ora, Dec. 5, 2014.
Employees of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company clean up the large deposits of crude oil that gushed out of a breached pipeline near the southern Israeli village of Beer Ora, Dec. 5, 2014.Credit: AP
Avi Bar-Eli
Avi Bar-Eli

The High Court of Justice is being asked to revoke or restrict the confidentiality order that has been in effect for decades on the Israeli company responsible for the leak of 5 million liters of oil in the Arava region last month.

The petition filed by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense asks that the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company be forced to release all available information on the oil spill, and to release all the audits and critical reports written about the company that were banned from publication by the military censor since the confidentiality order went into effect in 1968.

“The immunity that the company enjoys today is so sweeping and all-encompassing that it applies even to information that on the face of it has no security or strategic aspect that justifies secrecy, and because of it information was hidden about the company’s licensing procedures, environmental risks, the results of investigations, the findings of the state comptroller and more,” the petition states. The High Court ordered the state to respond within 30 days, by the end of this month.

The environmental group argues in the petition that the circumstances surrounding the gag order, first and foremost the diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, no longer exist, and the government must reconsider the need for secrecy.

“The secrecy order remains an anachronistic relic of factual circumstances and legal realities that have fundamentally changed,” the petition states. With regard to the company’s exemption from building and planning codes, it states: “The cloak of secrecy and the sweeping exemptions with regard to revealing information and the application of the Planning and Building Law that the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company enjoys stand in stark contrast to the rules of good governance, standards of reasonableness and proportionality, and the enormous public interest in transparency. These exemptions ought to be viewed with even greater severity given that the company has been involved in a number of breakdowns and leaks over the years that caused serious environmental pollution and endangered countless residents.”

The petition comes after three class-action lawsuits were filed since the December 4 oil spill.

The first attorney to bring a class-action suit was David Mena, who filed on behalf of an Eilat resident and demanded 380 million shekels ($95.9 million) as compensation for the ecological harm to the Evrona nature reserve. The suit also cites health damage and discomfort caused to Eilat residents by the ensuing smell.

The second class-action suit was filed by residents of Be’er Ora, the Arava site where the oil spill took place, who are suing the pipeline company for 80 million shekels, primarily on grounds that their property values have dropped.

The largest class-action suit was filed by environmental activist Yoel Hadida, who demanded that the Israeli public get 820 million shekels in compensation for the damage done to public lands and natural assets, as well as 151.5 million shekels in compensation to area residents. Hadida's suit also asked the court to order the pipeline company to establish and fund a public-benefit corporation that would repair the damage, saying the Eilat-Ashkelon company had not met basic safety standards and allegedly violated the terms of its license.

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