Will Two Israeli Arab Women Save Haifa From a Golden Flood?

An activist and a judge are trying to prevent 12 tons of ammonia from washing over Haifa. Their efforts may not be enough.

The ammonia tank in Haifa.
Hagai Frid

Haifa’s Local Affairs Court was not allowed to be situated in the city’s luxurious palace of justice, which is designed like an ocean-liner and is connected to the adjacent port, which is visible from its windows. The court resides in a kind of dreary legal office building of the sort that’s scattered across the country, containing an unappetizing potpourri of law offices, high-tech firms, accountants and insurance companies. The court, which lies in the guts of the building, across from the tank, or as I call it in English, “the Dude” [“dood” means “tank” in Hebrew]. The Dude’s rotting, rusting bowels contain 12 tons of ammonia, which is in effect distilled urine, with its characteristic smell and taste.

As of this week, the Environmental Affairs Ministry has decided it will not renew The Dude’s permit to operate, and the facility is to be shut down as of June 1.

If in the meantime, however, if The Dude’s bladder were to release its 12 tons of ammonia onto the streets of Haifa, it would flow like a raging yellow river through the Lower City and fill the Ma’ayan Habira beer hall, Yaakov’s Kebabs, Jacko’s Seafood Restaurant, and the shops for the sailors who have long since left the sea, and drown the elderly prostitutes who ply their wares covertly, especially when a Sixth Fleet vessel is in port, until finally a huge wave washes over the grand structure of the ship of the law from bow to masts.

It would be the world’s largest act of urination. Estimates say it would kill hundreds of thousands of people: by drowning, by suffocation and by dissolving skin cells and creating pustular sores, and causing eyes to spill out. In short, for the residents of Haifa the ammonia is a threat akin to the alien for the travelers on the spaceship Nostromo.

The Dude has abided in Haifa’s center for 30 years. Its bladder is about to explode and its thirst is unbounded. It imbibes one glass of beer and another glass of beer, and everyone stares at it with anxious tension. Thirty years, a period during which it never had a permit or any other authorization to hold 12 tons – or even one cc – of urine in the public space. But, hey, it’s the Dude, and who’s gonna dare lift a finger against it – or, especially, against its boss, Haifa Chemicals Ltd.

No one had done a thing to find The Dude some other place, hidden and discreet, in which to pee. Until, that is, a sister of mercy appeared on behalf of both the Dude and the worried, if passive, residents of Haifa. Her name is Jameela Hardal Wakim and she heads an NGO called Citizens for the Environment.

Wakim, a lawyer who was born in the Upper Galilee town of Peki’in and now lives in nearby Rama, induced the Haifa Municipality’s somnolent legal unit to submit a request to its stepsister, the Local Affairs Court, to issue an immediate order to empty the Dude’s bladder. The legal framework was a lawsuit against managing a business without a permit that’s been kicking around in the Local Affairs Court for six years. The case was heard before Judge Ghada Bsul, a graduate of the Baptist School in Nazareth.

Let us bear in mind that the two courageous women who stuck a finger in the dam and stopped the urine from flooding the streets of Haifa are both Arabs. They belong to the community that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to “transfer” to the territories, where, as he has gently put it, they would receive unemployment insurance and a child allowance and social welfare from the Palestinian Authority, and would be part of the solution of minimum Arabs/maximum land for Israel. In their place we would civilian-ize the territory of the settlers, in whom the piss has long since gone to the head – as the Hebrew saying goes – and who couldn’t care less about living in urine. Indeed, as far as they’re concerned, we can all drown in it.

The initial order issued by the Local Affairs Court, stipulating that The Dude had to be emptied within 10 days, made its way via an immediate appeal to the adjacent district court. Attorney Yossi Bankal, who took time off for a moment from liquidating the assets of the tycoon Eliezer Fishman, claimed in the name of Haifa Chemicals Ltd. that if the container were emptied, the nuclear reactor in Dimona would not be able to function – no less and no more.

Wow, I say to myself, nuclear weapons are manufactured from urine. I recalled the Doomsday Weapon that we children in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood used to make – paper bags that we filled with urine and threw on the heads of passersby. Not much has changed since then, I guess.

Will Judge Tamar Sharon-Netanel, who graduated from the Tchernichovsky School in Netanya – quite a distance from the Baptist School in Nazareth – resist the Doomsday argument? In the meantime, that’s not actually happening: She has frozen the order to void until a reply is received from Haifa Chemicals and the attorney general. The Dude is standing there, holding back, but everyone knows that when it can do so no longer, nothing will be able to stanch the flood. And now the Ministry of Environmental Protection has extended the deadline by another three months.

In the background, I listen to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who’s also talking about The Dude and about another piece of junk about 230 kilometers away from it, where the Dude of all Dudes has been operating for 55 years: the nuclear reactor at Dimona. He says the reactor is rusty and falling apart and that you don’t need a very big missile – that a missile resembling a flying hot-water boiler (dood in Hebrew), as the Iraqi missiles in the Gulf War were disparagingly called, would be enough to trigger a nuclear holocaust.

About a year ago, Haaretz correspondent Chaim Levinson published an article stating that similar reactors elsewhere are shut down after 40 years, and that an ultrasound examination of the Dimona facility revealed that at its core is a monstrous infant that suffers from 1,537 “genetic” defects. Has anyone heard about renovation work at the ancient reactor, possibly the oldest one in the world that’s still active?

I am waiting for a female Arab lawyer from the south to take the nuclear reactor case to the Local Affairs Court in Dimona (if there is one). Maybe there she’ll find a female judge from Rahat who will, between an order for the closure of a balcony and one for the closure of a falafel stand, the closure of the reactor, which constitutes a clear and present danger to the area’s citizens and to the whole country too. Because we Jews are so complacent, so self-satisfied, that we would not dare take action against the nuclear reactor, the rock of our existence, the essence of our being.