Heavy Breathing in Ashkelon

Not every activist in and around Israel is focused on questions of religion or military hegemony. Some are concerned with a different sort of power: the kind that comes from coal.

From a ship in the Mediterranean to a protester scaling a government ministry building in Jerusalem, Greenpeace activists have set their sights on Israel as part of a multinational “Quit Coal” campaign. (New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand were previous targets.) Last month, the Israeli coast guard arrested a multinational party of 14 activists from the Greenpeace vessel “Rainbow Warrior,” after they entered a restricted harbor area in Ashkelon and painted their slogan on a coal ship unloading there.

The beachy but gritty southern city of Ashkelon is where the Israel Electric Corporation plans a new coal-fired power plant beside an existing one. Pollution from the current plant is already sickening locals, spurring cardiac and pulmonary problems, according to a recent doctors’ report. The nation’s Ministry of Health and Ashkelon’s mayor agree with Greenpeace that the new facility is a bad idea. And Israel’s Green Party sued this summer to stop construction.

All the burning coal has drawn more than just vandals, activists and the usual sunbathers to Ashkelon’s shores. In spring, warm effluent from the city’s existing power plant attracted hammerhead sharks.

Photo taken in Quezon Province, Philippines, published courtesy of Greenpeace/Luis Liwanag.

—Mandy Katz
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