Israel was struck with the worst ecological catastrophe in decades as the 160 kilometers of the country’s 195 kilometers of idyllic beaches on the Mediterranean were covered in tar and the water was heavily contaminated with oil. The Health Ministry issued a directive last Wednesday barring the sale of seafood taken from the poisoned waters.
Israel Oil Spill
“While so far no evidence has shown any danger arising from fish consumption, out of an abundance of caution some samples have been sent to the Agriculture Ministry’s lab for analysis, to rule out any presence of toxic particles,” the health ministry told The Media Line.
The ban covers fish and other marine life sold for consumption. The ban went into effect immediately and will last until the Health Ministry issues a retraction.
About 1,200 tons of waste have been removed so far with the heaviest concentrations of pollution being in the north, from the town of Netanya up to Haifa and the border with Lebanon. Small quantities have been reported on Lebanese shores as well. Israel’s government-run Fund for the Prevention of Marine Pollution is supporting the cleanup with $14 million in funding.
The source is thought to be an oil spill produced during a storm on 11 February from a ship some 30 miles off the coast though the specific source of the spill, resulting in several dozen tons of tar is still unknown. About ten tankers are the focus of suspicion. The general population has been told to avoid the beaches and NGOs have reported turtles and birds covered in oil. Several volunteers who participated in a cleanup operation last week were hospitalized after inhaling apparently toxic fumes.
The effects on sea-life became undeniable when a 55-foot fin whale washed up on the Nitzanim reserve in southern Israel ten days ago. An autopsy carried out by the Kimron Veterinary Institute in Beit Dagan revealed black liquid in the whale’s lungs,
Rabbi Shaul Judelman, former director of the Ecology Beit Midrash, a religious study group focused on the environment as it is treated in classical Jewish sources, noted that ecological endeavors are clearly an element in the Final redemption.
“The sea used to be teeming with life,” Rabbi Judelman said. “It was a given in the Bible that the heaven and Earth would always exist. But when the prophets describe the end of life in the sea, it was the ultimate, an inconceivable level for people to imagine.”
Rabbi Judelman cited the prophet, Hosea:
For that, the earth is withered: Everything that dwells on it languishes— Beasts of the field and birds of the sky— Even the fish of the sea perish. Hosea 4:3
“אחרית הימים (acharit hayamim; literally the end of days) can also be translated as the end of the oceans,” Rabbi Judelman pointed out.
“Nature is described as praising God and Man was set to guard over it. Our relationship with nature was initiated by Hashem (God) and how we relate to nature is an expression of how we relate to Hashem. Nature is God’s aspect of Judgment as related by God’s name of Elohim with which he created the world. In the end of days, when we are judged, we will be judged in this name, the name of nature. Some envision the end of days as armageddon and catastrophic. But according to Jewish tradition, there is another possibility that we can bring the Redemption in Achishena, through the sweetening of the judgment. Part of this can definitely be expressed through nature.”
“The environment is our divinely mandated responsibility. As such, harsh judgments can cause natural catastrophes. But in times of drought, we are told to pray but we are also told to engage in acts of charity. Nature is an extension of our relationship with God.”