Israel's Oil Spill Crisis: A Call to Action from JFN's Green Funders Forum

Israel is currently facing one of its worst-ever ecological disasters — an unprecedented oil spill affecting the country’s entire coastline. On Feb. 17, an estimated 1,200 tons of oil spilled from a tanker approximately 30 miles off Israel’s coast, but the spill was not immediately reported. Almost all of Israel’s coastline was covered with batches of hazardous tar. In response, JFN’s Green Funders Forum held an emergency briefing last week, featuring representatives of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority and key environmental NGOs. (Watch it here or scroll down to the bottom of this page.)

Philanthropy is urgently needed to assist with cleanup and prevention efforts.

Donations are needed to a newly established coalition addressing the crisis. Donations can be sent through PEF (or similar) designated for Life & Environment — specifically for the "Oil Spills Prevention Fund." The coalition includes leading environmental organizations like EcoOcean, which is leading the cleanup on the ground; the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI); Zalul, Adam Teva V'din, and Green Course.

Contact: Eran Binyamini, Director, Life & Environment, [email protected] (972) 52-577-7172

For an up-to-date status on cleanup efforts on the ground, contact: EcoOcean, Arik Rosenblum, Director  [email protected]  (972) 54-661-5114 

We urge JFN members and concerned citizens to help in this emergency whether or not you consider yourselves “Green Funders.” For more information, please read below, consult these articles about the oil spill, contact the organizations listed and/or contact the Green Funders Forum team:


Additional Information and Details


Cleaning the sandy beaches is not just important for the visual effect but is critical so that the tar is not swept back into the sea where it is sinking and decimating all layers of the marine ecosystem. EcoOcean, the NGO founded and chaired by JFN Member Andreas Weil, has been a key first responder and has been tasked to coordinate the urgent cleanup efforts. EcoOcean dispatched 250 trained volunteers on the day the spill was discovered -- Feb. 17 – in the middle of a torrential storm -- to begin assessing the damage and to strategize for the crisis response. When thousands of volunteers began spontaneously arriving en-masse to help with the cleanup, the EcoOcean professional volunteers and staff were able to direct and train the public for maximum effectiveness and to provide protective safety kits and equipment. EcoOcean has partnered with other NGOs, volunteers, the army, and the government to coordinate the cleaning efforts, particularly on the sandy beaches. The NPA is using EcoOcean’s Research Vessel for monitoring and assessing the damage in the sea.

Cleaning the sensitive, rocky terrain is also extremely important as it is a particularly sensitive and important ecosystem. This cleaning requires much more specialized training and equipment and is expected to take months and even years.


In addition to cleaning, prevention is urgent and equally important. There are dangers being discussed NOW by the government that will affect Israel’s marine environment. These include threats to both the Red Sea and the Mediterranean:

  • The government is discussing transporting UAE oil via pipeline from Eilat to the Mediterranean Coast. In 2014, negligence along this same pipeline resulted in a massive oil spill in the Negev. In addition, it is extremely problematic for the Gulf of Eilat to be the port of oil delivery to Europe – it will mean several oil tankers a week lining up in the Gulf – one of Israel’s most pristine marine environments and tourist attractions and will have an extremely high likelihood of spills and leaks.
  • Another issue on the table right now is additional oil and gas drilling off the Mediterranean coast which will significantly increase the risk of spills and leaks along our coast. In addition, natural gas has many environmental implications and, in general, is contrary to the world's move toward renewable energy.

Just last week, a coalition was established that will be working together on these critical prevention campaigns. The coalition includes leading environmental organizations like the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), Zalul, Adam Teva V'din, Green Course, etc. For more information about the prevention campaigns mentioned above, here are two helpful websites. Saveredmed and Mediterranean People.


Our very lives depend on a functioning Mediterranean ecosystem. Approximately 70 percent of Israel’s drinking water comes from desalinated seawater; its power stations sit on the coast so that they can be cooled by the seawater. The Mediterranean absorbs heat as well as carbon dioxide and is an important part of mitigating climate change; the plankton and algae are what emit oxygen essential to our life systems, and more. When considering Israel’s territorial and economic waters, the Mediterranean is more than the size of Israel’s landmass. Moreover, the Mediterranean Sea is particularly vulnerable because it is a closed system. This is not a “tree hugger” situation: An oil spill to this extent affects all residents of Israel as well as the entire region.

The spill was not reported immediately, and any early steps that could have mitigated the effects were not possible. Almost all of Israel’s coast is affected by the tar on the sandy beaches as well as the rocky terrain and in the sea. Thousands of birds and turtles are dead or covered in tar. All fishing is forbidden; the toxic fumes from the tar are dangerous, and many people have been hospitalized. The disaster has been defined by international standards as at a magnitude of Tier 2B, which is just one level beneath the devastation of the highest Tier 3 event. It will take months and even years to understand the long-term consequences.

Tragically, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, responsible for the marine and coastal areas, was ill-equipped and understaffed for such an emergency. Although there was a government decision in 2008, the National Contingency Plan for Preparedness and Response to Combating Oil Pollution Law was never enacted. The purpose of the law was to define responsibilities, initiate training, and ensure budgetary needs such as staffing, purchase of equipment, sea vessels, and more. Although the government has subsequently passed emergency funding, it is a case of “too little, too late.” Because the law was not in place, the Ministry has had limited effectiveness in dealing with this crisis and civil society and the public has stepped up to fill the gap.

Video Briefing


About Green Funders Forum

The Green Funders' Forum (GFF) brings together funders and foundation professionals who are concerned about Israel's environment. The GFF provides knowledge and tools to help funders strategically address Israel's pressing environmental issues. If you’re interested in joining the Green Funders Forum, please contact Sigal Yaniv Feller, Director of Advisory Services, JFN Israel: [email protected].


Photos courtesy of EcoOcean.