Under Pressure, Polluting Company Agrees to Save Unique Palm Trees in Israel's Negev

The group of palm trees is defined as unique and is said to be a remnant of the first domesticated palms in the Middle East

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Palm trees damaged by polution in the Ein Zin section of Israel's Negev desert, 2017.
Palm trees damaged by polution in the Ein Zin section of Israel's Negev desert, 2017.Credit: Roi Galili
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

In the wake of pressure from environmental activists, Israel Chemicals has agreed to take emergency measures to save a unique group of palm trees in the Ein Zin section of the Negev.

The agreement was given last week at Be’er Sheva District Court as part of a hearing on an application for a class action suit against Israel Chemicals for polluting the spring there. In the course of the hearing, a prosecution representative said the state is currently formulating a lawsuit against Israel Chemicals for pollution of springs between Zin and Ein Akrabim.

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Two years ago, a group of local residents and environmental activists, represented by attorneys Zvi Levinson and Gil Dror, filed an application in Be’er Sheva District Court for a class action suit against the Rotem Amfert plant which is a subsidiary of ICL. The application asserts that the phosphate manufacturing plant adjacent to the springs has severely polluted Ein Zik and Ein Akrabim. These are important natural springs around which a rich ecosystem of flora and fauna has developed.

As part of the legal proceeding, the local residents recently submitted a request to the court to require ICL to take urgent action to save a group of 32 palm trees. They say there are signs that the trees are in a state of distress because of exposure to industrial waste with a high salinity level. The group of palm trees is defined as unique and is said to be a remnant of the first domesticated palms in the Middle East region.

ICL argued that there is no proof that the palm trees were hurt by industrial waste. But at the hearing last week, it agreed to pay for and carry out the work need to rescue them, in accordance with instructions from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. “We are taking on what Israel Nature and Parks Authority seeks to do, but in an emergency framework,” said Arie Neiger, the attorney representing ICL.

Dr. Asaf Tsoar of the Nature and Parks Authority stated in court that this emergency rescue work would require tankers to be brought to the area to irrigate the trees. He described the area as being chronically and severely polluted, and said that in the future, the soil would need rehabilitation, and some would have to be removed, to enable the trees to develop.

In addition to enabling the existing trees to survive by means of these emergency actions, the authority also has a backup plan to take seeds from the trees and grow them at a secure location in order to be able to replace palms that die before the ground can be thoroughly cleansed.

In the wake of the agreements that were reached, Judge Gad Gideon ruled that the Nature and Parks Authority should take action as soon as possible to begin irrigating the palm trees. In three weeks, a meeting will be held with ICL representatives to discuss what further actions are required.

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