Israel Passes Law Allowing Civil Suits for Environmental Damage

Until now, civil suits could only be filed if the environmental hazard caused harm to people

The Ashalim stream, two weeks after a severe damage from a fertilizer plant accident, July 11, 2017.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Knesset passed a law Tuesday allowing the public and nonprofit groups to file civil suits against any person or entity that damages the environment – a move inspired after a 2017 disaster at a fertilizer plant.

All 12 Knesset members who were in the chamber voted in favor.

Until now, civil suits could only be filed if the environmental hazard – like air pollution, bad smells or waste – caused harm to people. Under the new legislation, which is an amendment to the Prevention of Environmental Hazards Law, civil suits can be filed even if the only damage is to flora, fauna or natural landscapes.

The initiative followed the June 2017 disaster when the Ashalim Stream near the Dead Sea was massively polluted when the wall of a large pool at the Rotem Amfert fertilizer plant collapsed. The mishap sent in a rush of liquid that contained plastic residue with high levels of acid and other toxic substances.

>> Tel Aviv's Yarkon river sees drop in pollution after new purification plant opens

Because no one was hurt by the collapse, the public could not file a civil suit, even though the streambed, a popular hiking spot, has been closed to visitors since the spill.

The bill was initiated by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and was sponsored by Deputy Knesset Speaker Tali Ploskov (Kulanu), MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union), Nurit Koren (Likud) and Dov Khenin (Joint List). Over 70 MKs from all the parties in the Knesset signed on as supporters.

“From today the public will have the power to conduct civil enforcement that is aggressive and acts as a deterrent in cases of harm to nature,” said the director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Iris Hahn.

“This is a move that changes the rules of the game in protecting nature in Israel. From now on every factory that harms nature will know that this will cost it dearly.”

Khenin, who announced Tuesday that he would not run for re-election, said after the amendment passed, “Our ability as a society to fight polluters is limited because of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s small budget and the small number of inspectors. This law will allow civil enforcement to claim damages and compensation from those who cause us so much damage.”