Thousands Protest in Tel Aviv to Demand Removal of Offshore Gas Rig

Demonstration organized by environmentalist groups demanding that government reduce pollution from gas platforms

Protesters at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, September 1, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

Thousands of people protested in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Saturday to demand that the government nix the plan to build a natural gas rig only 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) off Israel's shores. The demonstration, held under the banner "Stopping the Disaster," was initiated by the Shomrei Habayit organization, which acts mainly in the Hof Hacarmel area, as well as several other environmentalist groups.

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Protestors are demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz push the rig 120 kilometers (74 miles) from Dor beach, minimize pollution from the Tamar gas rig and prevent the construction of gas-powered power plants, which they claim as useless and meant to appease "captive clients of the gas tycoons."

The gas rig would cause severe air pollution, protestors said, adding that in case of malfunction it would leak large amounts of condensate – a low-density mixture of hydrocarbon liquids present in the production of raw natural gas.

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Many came dressed in black shirts imprinted with skulls and the phrase "Don't Poison Us." Several prominent Israeli artists participated and performed during the demonstration.

Dina Dahan, a woman attending the rally with her daughter, was carrying a sign saying "I have no other country." She told Haaretz that she considered bringing her daughter to the protest as "educating for good citizenship. That's how we want out children, learning and involved, thoughtful and not buying everything they're told. We're fighting for our land, our sea and our lives and this is the time to do this. There's no left or right or security concerns – it's a matter of life and death."

Maya Yacobs, CEO of Zalul Environmental Association said it was the largest environmentalist demonstration ever in Israel. "In the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a drill explosion caused an oil leak which covered an area larger than the state of Israel," Yacobs said. "The Energy Ministry runs the drilling in the ocean in a dangerous and anti-environmentalist manner and prevents the public from taking part in planning procedures as it is customary on land. All the while without Israel being capable to handle leaking incidents. This is not how you run such a polluting and dangerous industry."

Leviathan partners responded to the protest, saying: "Building of the Leviathan rig begins in the coming months exactly at the point which the government decided, based in the security establishment's recommendations, and as approved by all planning, regulatory and legal bodies involved in the matter."

As opposed to the organized fear campaign, said the partners' statement, "the rig will not pollute the air and the water, and there is a full consensus on this among all experts, which include environmentalist groups. The Leviathan project is not a problem, but a solution, and thanks to it Israel could be free of using the polluting coal which harms the health of the state's citizens."