Israeli Desert Town Mounts Court Fight to Protect Air Quality

Arad goes to High Court of Justice to try to block new phosphate mine.

The Sde Brir phosphate mine, near Arad.
Ofer Vaknin

The Arad municipality petitioned the High Court of Justice yesterday against the approval of a plan to mine phosphates in the Barir field on the outskirts of the city.

The petition, against a December 2015 decision by the National Planning and Building Council, was prepared by the Arad municipality’s legal adviser on instructions of the city’s mayor, Nissan Ben Hamo. It is signed by 1,901 individuals and bodies, including the city’s former mayor, MK Tali Ploskov (Kulanu), residents of Arad and the nearby Bedouin communities, as well as the Kseifa Local Council and various organizations.

The petition states that the National Planning and Building Council made its decision “completely ignoring the health risk to be expected from the establishment of a mine in a populated area.” The petition notes that the Health Ministry had determined that a mine in the area would cause severe damage to health and the decision to establish the mine was against acceptable practice in Western countries.

Attorney Efi Michaeli, who represents the petitioners, told Haaretz that the National Planning and Building Council had “made a decision actually based on the Clean Air Law, and we believe that the way they interpreted the law is simply wrong legally speaking. The law became for them a tool to approve air pollution and they didn’t take into consideration at all the Health Ministry’s position regarding the health risk of mining in the Barir Field.”

Mayor Ben Hamo says he believes the council’s decision can still be changed, and the mining company, Rotem Amfert Negev, owned by the Ofer brothers, had not submitted an environmental impact statement nor had been required to examine alternatives to the area in question.

“Arad won’t be Haifa 2,” Ben Hamo said, referring to the recent harsh report on damage by pollution to the health of residents of the Haifa Bay area. “We will not let the government repeat the mistake it made there and put the public’s health at risk. It seems the country’s leadership has not learned the lesson from the findings of high cancer rates among people living in neighborhoods close to the Bazan oil refineries, owned by the Ofer brothers. This is a warning sign. We expect the government to act responsibly,” he said, and not place a higher value on economic and industrial considerations than on public health.