Dalia Itzik, who has served as Israel’s environmental minister for nearly one year, is also a member of the Knesset who has served as deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a member of the Labor Party’s central committee. She was first elected to the Knesset in 1992, where she has served on the Committees for Finance, Education and Culture, as well as the Status of Women. Itzik was interviewed during a recent visit to New York.
Jewish Week: I understand you want to hire special environmental police to enforce environmental laws in Israel.
Itzik: Enforcement in Israel has collapsed in many fields, especially the environment. So we want to do an education and public relations campaign, and then begin to punish violators. Parliament has approved the doubling and tripling of some [environmental] penalties. And next month we are going to hire more than 60 policemen. We’re calling them the green police. They will do only one job — find the people who damage the environment, including the street and the water.
What is the condition of Israel’s rivers?
Israel is a beautiful country, but its rivers are very neglected. They look like sewage canals. So now when someone throws sewage into the river, we will not sue and take them to court. Rather, we will fine them and they will have to pay immediately.
That sounds like swift justice.
I decided that if I would not be tough, we would have a beautiful but dirty country. We must be tough and not give up. … In Israel we have damaged the environment in the name of security. We have destroyed this and that to put in [security posts]. But we are now resisting this excuse and fighting against it.
And I believe we will win.
How much are the fines?
Itzik: If you throw a cigarette on the ground, you pay 250 shekels (about $62). If you throw garbage in a field, it’s 1,000 shekels (about $250).
When do these fines begin?
They take effect 45 days after they were enacted, which means mid-May.
It sounds like Israel really means business about the environment.
Israel has done well in many fields — medicine, high-tech, agriculture. But on this issue, we have behaved like a Third World country. We are a very tiny country and if we do not keep it clean, we will lose our quality of life. I feel that in Israel now there is a new movement of young people who say they won’t let others destroy the country anymore. I am happy about that and I encourage them. They are very important to me.
I understand that while you were here, you went to Washington and met with officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. What ideas have you come away with?
Fishing laws sound very interesting to me. We don’t have any in Israel. I want to learn more about them.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to tighten our relationship with the American Jewish community by creating a fund here that would support environmental issues in Israel. They can have an immediate influence. We have wonderful expertise, but we don’t have the money and we have neglected many issues. It will take a lot of money to rehabilitate our rivers, and we have a joint venture with Jordan to rehabilitate the Jordan River.
We also have to educate the public not to waste water. We have promised the Palestinians and Jordanians almost 15 percent of our water and if we don’t have enough water, our quality of life will deteriorate.