From Nitzanim near the Gaza Strip to the shores bordering Lebanon, 106 miles of the Mediterranean coast have been covered with tar.
Thousands of volunteers organized by various Israeli environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) joined efforts to clean the beaches and save the animals that were hurt. One whale washed ashore and died; dozens of sea turtles have perished.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Saturday it had been informed by the European Maritime Safety Agency that an oil spill located about 30 miles off Israel’s coast was the pollution source. They had dismissed all reports that Israel had any prior knowledge of the spill before it had reached the seashores.
In an unusual move, an Israeli judge has issued a gag order on the investigations and any detail relating to it, including the suspects’ name or identities, the vessels involved, and destination and port of departure.
Maya Jacobs, CEO of Zalul, an Israel NGO that protects the country’s seas and streams, called to remove the gag order, and conduct a transparent investigation.
“The companies who cause the environmental risks like the petroleum and shipping companies have a great influence on the Israeli government,” she said.
Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin visited the Herzeliya beach to view the damage caused by the spill.
“What we see here are an eyesore and heartache,” said the president at the sight of the polluted beach. “These sights are a wake-up call. It is a national duty that we must not neglect. This is the only way we can protect our children’s and grandchildren’s futures so that they live in a safe, clean and unpolluted environment.”
Yehoshua Shkedy, the chief scientist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, warned that the leak has caused unprecedented damage to the ecosystem, and the cleanup efforts will take years.
Yonat Friling is a senior field producer for Fox News’ Middle East bureau. Follow her on Twitter @Foxyonat.