Israelis live in the most crowded country in the developed world. But few understand the cumulative price they pay now that quantity of life has begun to degrade quality of life.
On August 14, the Israel National Economic Council issued a seemingly banal, technical publication called “Regional Population Scenarios for the State of Israel During the Years 2015-2040.” The local press paid little attention to the report even though its findings should have troubled anyone who cares about the Land of Israel and the future of the Third Jewish Commonwealth. Distilled to its essence, the report’s three main findings are: Israel’s population is set to expand by 5 million people over the next 23 years; the number of elderly citizens will double; and the percentage of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Israelis will increase from 11% to 20%.
Typically, population pronouncements by the government are festive affairs; on Independence Day, the media historically celebrate this or that new demographic achievement. The report from the National Economic Council, the elite think tank based in the Prime Minister’s Office charged with charting Israel’s long-term economic strategy, strikes a different note, however. It is troubled. The opening letter by its chairman, noted economics professor Avi Simhon, speaks of the associated challenges. His concerns are expressed as a discernible understatement.
When Israel was established, it was home to roughly 850,000 people. In 69 years, that number has grown more than tenfold. As population growth reaches unprecedented levels of 150,000 new people a year, infrastructure and services cannot keep up.
Israel’s hospitals are the most crowded in the OECD with up to 130% occupancy levels. But that’s just a statistic. For many Israelis, it means interminably long waits for basic procedures, clogged emergency wards and patients stranded in the beds lining the corridors of wards that simply have no room left.
Israel’s schools are also notoriously crowded. This means they are often noisy, aggressive and unpleasant places where teachers face unimaginable pedagogical challenges. About half of Israel’s children report incidents of verbal violence in school; a third have encountered some form of physical violence.
With 300,000 new cars sold each year, congestion on major thoroughfares begins at sunrise, with gridlock conditions prevailing well into the night. Unfortunately, Israelis will have to get used to even more delays and frustrations ? Transportation Ministry models predict that average citizens could soon be spending an additional 55 minutes per day in their cars.
Environmentally, overpopulation is undermining past achievements and pushing the country into a full-blown ecological crisis. With the government racing to create 60,000 new housing units a year, the landscape is paying a dreadful price. According to a 2017 report issued by Maarag, a consortium of environmental agencies, each year for most of the past two decades, 10 square kilometers of open spaces were transformed into new neighborhoods, roads and commercial space. Then, beginning, in 2013, the area lost annually to development doubled to 20 square kilometers.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who studies the environmental impacts of overpopulation. Damage is never linear. For …read more