Protests against an impending deal on natural gas between the government and two energy giants continued on Saturday night, as over 10,000 Israelis demonstrated in cities around the country.
The largest demonstration, in Tel Aviv, drew around 10,000 protesters. It began with a moment of silence in memory of the victims of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris and near the West Bank settlement of Otniel. Smaller protests took place in Haifa, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Rosh Pina and a number of other locations.
Under the terms of the proposed deal, the government plans to give an international consortium led by the Delek and Noble companies the rights to the largest gas reserve yet found in Israeli territorial waters, the Leviathan field, in exchange for scaling back their involvement in the currently operational Tamar field and the smaller Tanin and Karish fields.
Protesters at the Tel Aviv demonstration held signs reading: “Transparency,” “The people demand economic justice” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” among others. Demonstrators demanded that the bill be scrapped, and decried the link between “wealth, government, and the criminal underworld.”
Former accountant-general Prof. Yaron Zalika, a main speaker at the Tel Aviv event, called the proposed deal “organized theft” from the public and a collusion between the government and private energy monopolies. “The government is plundering the largest national natural resource ever found here, after handing it — without tender — to a group of wealthy people, for almost nothing in return,” Zalika said.
Zalika said the natural gas at the Leviathan reserve off Israel’s coast, which will be developed by Israel’s Delek Group and American company Noble Energy, will then be sold back to Israelis. “We are talking about a monopoly that sells us back our own gas, which it received for free,” he said. Criticizing public figures, media and judges who refuse to speak out against the deal, Zalika said: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
Mor Gilboa, director of the Megama Yeruka environmental organization and an organizer of a similar protest in Tel Aviv last week, was arrested after some demonstrators began clashing with police.
Gilboa said at Saturday’s protest that the anti-deal movement, which he claims is the largest such movement since the mass social justice demonstrations in summer 2011, is leading “the largest economic-social-environmental battle of our generation.”
Currently, Tamar’s single pipeline to the Israeli coast is the economy’s only source of natural gas, and development of the remaining fields has stalled over regulatory troubles.
The Leviathan find, thought to contain 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic meters) of gas, is considered a gold mine for the country, turning it into a potential major natural gas supplier and providing hundreds of billions of shekels for state coffers, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Critics of the deal, including former anti-trust commissioner David Gilo, have expressed concern that it creates a de facto monopoly that would lead to high gas prices for Israelis. They have accused the government of capitulating to gas companies’ demands.
Gilo had called for opening Israel’s natural gas market to increased competition. He tendered his resignation in May over the dispute.
Itamar Sharon contributed to this report.