Green group stages mock funeral for Dead Sea

Activists say public awareness now key after cabinet rejects bill to protect site.

By
November 22, 2011 06:27
‘Funeral’ for the Dead Sea

‘Funeral’ for the Dead Sea 311. (photo credit: Sharon Udasin)

 
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Chanting Frédéric Chopin’s classic death dirge “Marche Funèbre,” a group of black-clothed environmental activists trudged up the Knesset hill clutching a bright orange stretcher filled with mounds of sea salt on Monday morning.

The activists, members of the green group Friends of the Earth Middle East, were mourning the cabinet’s 8-7 rejection the day before of a bill that would provide for the rehabilitation and protection of the Dead Sea.

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“This is a sad day for the Dead Sea,” shouted the organization’s Israel director, Gidon Bromberg, in between chanting.

Launched in the Knesset by MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who also took part in the dirge, the bill was originally drafted by environmental advocacy group the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’Din) and had gained the public support of Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov and 11 other Knesset members.

Following Sunday’s loss, Erdan filed an appeal that will allow the cabinet in another two weeks to rehear the law, which has provisions to preserve the Dead Sea’s natural resources, replenish the dwindling waters in the northern basin, change the management system in the region and provide for reasonable amounts of mineral extraction while protecting biodiversity, according to its text.

“Dov’s law is the first bill before Knesset that is a comprehensive solution to the Dead Sea. It deals with the demise of the Dead Sea from the north and the Jordan River to the south, from the industry,” Bromberg told The Jerusalem Post during the march.

“It puts in a governance structure to manage the Dead Sea in a sustainable way. It speaks to the common responsibility between Israel and her neighbors for the Dead Sea. So this bill is essential. It’s the first time that a member of Knesset has put on the table a bill that truly will support the sustainable development of the Dead Sea. The government can no longer fool the public.”

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For a few minutes, the eight or so demonstrators were trailed by a group of about 40 teenage girls on their way into the Knesset, and one of the students shouted: “I want to help the Dead Sea!” While the police wouldn’t allow the marchers to enter through the gate of the road that leads to the Knesset and the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, officers advised the group to climb the roadside stairs into the Wohl Rose Garden, where they continued their march until the Knesset building appeared directly in the background.

One reason the bill failed to pass, according to Henin, was because it’s very easy to SMS, but “the real decisions are much harder,” he said, referencing the recent New7Wonders of the world competition – where people could text in their votes – in which the Dead sea failed to place. “But the public awareness that was raised in the last few months can really help us,” Henin told the Post.

Despite this week’s defeat, he said he felt that the bill had a decent chance of passing during the rehearing in two week’s time.

“I do believe we have a real chance here,” Henin said. “And that is why such demonstrations as Friends of the Earth made here today are so important. It is actually very much dependent on the actual awareness of the Israeli public. If we can turn the potential of supporting the Dead Sea into real, actual political force, we can really make it happen. So it is extremely important and this is the moment to put all pressure in order to move forward.”

Aside from public protests such as this one, Henin said that ongoing negotiations with the various government ministries will continue to be important in the coming days.

“We are very practical, but there is a principle under everything and the principle is that we should really change our attitude to the Dead Sea,” he explained. “If we won’t change it, the Dead Sea will actually die.”

Both Henin and Bromberg expressed approval for two Dead Sea-related measures that did pass yesterday, which authorized a “full salt harvest” in the southern basin to reduce rising water levels there, as well as an inflation of Dead Sea Works royalties, which will be directed into a Dead Sea rehabilitation fund. However, Bromberg noted, this decision simply creates a “pot of money” that lacks “a commitment to reverse the reasons for its demise.”

Hsenin added, “They are first steps in the right direction, but we need a comprehensive deal on the Dead Sea.”

These measures cannot possibly solve the problems of the Dead Sea, and legislation must also deal with monitoring water flows from the Jordan River, as well as changing industrial practices for mineral extraction, Bromberg explained.

“We’re very practical – no one is calling to close the industry,” Bromberg said.

“We’re demanding that the industry change its practice for the benefit of the industry as well, because the industry also will not survive the public anger if it doesn’t change its industrial practices.”

Mineral extraction companies must begin using membrane technologies that don’t involve water evaporation ponds, which are responsible for up to 40 percent of the Dead Sea’s “demise,” according to Bromberg.

“The government called on the public to vote, and the public voted en masse to list the Dead Sea as a seven wonder,” he said. “It didn’t get there, but the public’s commitment to the Dead Sea couldn’t have been more clearly stated.”

“We are here today carrying the Dead Sea on a stretcher because we’re really at its last stretch,” Bromberg continued. “We need to carry the Dead Sea today, and we’re calling on the government in two weeks to change their attitude, to support this legislation that clearly the public demands – not only in Israel but all over the world.”

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