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The Environment in Israel:
Environmental Research

By Shoshana Gabbay





Historic Overview


Landscape Conservation

Water Quality

Air Quality

Marine & Coastal Environment

Solid Waste

Hazardous Substances

Environmental Research

Toward a
Sustainable Future





Field of mirrors at the Weizmann Institute of Science
Photo: M.Koren

In a country where land, water, energy and other natural resources are limited, environmental research is not a luxury — it is a matter of survival. In order to absorb and feed a rapidly growing population while developing advanced industries, Israel has had to find ways to use every available meter of land, ray of sunshine and drop of water. At the same time, it has had to ensure that its intensive use of resources would not harm the environment. Yet, paradoxically, these very constraints have challenged Israeli scientists to develop a host of new technologies — placing Israel at the forefront of world developments in a number of environmental fields.


For example, as a country plagued by water scarcity, Israel has been forced to develop its water sources in innovative ways. It has become a world leader in the development of drip irrigation, a technique by which relatively small amounts of water are delivered directly to the roots of plants. These techniques have the further advantage of reducing adverse environmental impacts associated with continuous irrigation, such as increased salination. By enabling farmers to deliver precise quantities of fertilizers as well as water directly to the plant, fertilizer contamination of soils and groundwater is also reduced.


Israel's water scarcity problem is exacerbated by the fact that over half of the country's land area is an arid desert. Strategies implemented since the establishment of the State in 1948 have succeeded in combating desertification. As a world leader in arid zone management, including afforestation, water harvesting, water and soil conservation and use of saline water, Israel is taking an active part in regional and international efforts to combat desertification.


Because the country has almost no natural fuel sources, it has become a world pioneer in the use of solar energy. Today, all new buildings are equipped with solar water heaters. On the research front, the Solar Tower at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot boasts a 3000-kilowatt facility, which enables technologies to be tested on a large scale. Major features include a field of 64 computer-controlled mirrors which track the movement of the sun. In Israel's arid south, the National Solar Energy Center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva is testing and demonstrating a variety of solar-powered thermal and photovoltaic technologies. The center makes it possible to take a new idea from the initial laboratory stage right through to final, large-scale testing in the sun-soaked Negev desert.


Israel is well known for its landmark agricultural achievements, aided by extensive scientific research. Today, as the dangers of chemical control are becoming more evident, Israeli scientists are pursuing less harmful agricultural control methods, replacing chemicals with biological measures and other, safer options. One promising direction is biological control, largely pioneered by Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Beit She'an Valley and implemented in several agricultural areas throughout the country. Among other projects, the Kibbutz is utilizing barn owls and kestrels, two of the most abundant raptors in Israel, as an environmentally friendly and economically "profitable solution for eliminating rodents from agricultural fields and plantations.


While most of Israel's environmental research is designed to help solve local problems, several studies are geared toward solving global problems as well. Thus, for example, major efforts are invested in reducing the use of methyl bromide, a chemical fumigant which has traditionally been used worldwide to destroy insect and nematode pests in the topsoil. Recommendations have been made on the use of agrotechniques such as solarization, steam sterilization, resistant varieties, crop rotation, and detached growing media.