Around 3,000 people gathered outside Haifa District Court on Sunday to demand the closure of an ammonia storage facility that is said to be potentially more deadly than five of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima.
Judges in the district court deliberated for around three hours as a crowd of environmental protesters gathered outside.
Middle and high schools around Haifa and nearby towns also went on strike, with all classes cancelled from 8am till noon to allow the students to take part in the protest.
“The ammonia tank endangers and threatens hundreds of thousands of citizens living in the Haifa district. I call on all teenagers to ask the hard questions, create a discourse, become actively involved and go and protest for the relocation of the ammonia tank,” said Haifa District Student Council Chairman Noy Krief, as quoted by Ynet.
In an earlier ruling, Haifa’s Court for Local Affairs gave the Haifa Group, the fertilizer producer that operates the tank, until February 22 to remove its chemicals from the facility. Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry also said it would not renew the tank’s permit when it expires on March 1.
After initially saying it would comply with the court’s decision, the company filed a last-minute appeal, accusing Haifa’s authorities of trying to “sow fear among the public,” arguing that its facility is crucial to the local economy and closing it will cost jobs. It was granted a stay until Sunday’s hearing.
The facility was declared a danger to public health after the Technion Institute of Technology published an expert report in January, which said the site had not been properly inspected since it was built 30 years ago. If the ammonia tank was to rupture, for example, as the result of an earthquake or terrorist attack, the released gas could suffocate 16,000 people. This fact was not lost on Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who threatened to launch rockets at Haifa’s ammonia tanks, as well as a nuclear facility in Dimona, should a conflict erupt with Israel.