Toxic Desert Dust Blankets Israel

September 9, 2015

by: Brian Schrauger

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Wednesday, 9 September 2015 | Windless and warm, Jerusalem is swimming in a brownish-orange haze. While residents here lightheartedly compare the atmospheric look to scenes from movies like Mad Max and Star Wars, it is a kind of Israeli humor that, paradoxically, affirms the toxicity of air that everyone must breathe.

Sandstorms like this, called haboobs, are fairly common. But this haboob at this time and this size is anything but common. Not only does it blanket Jerusalem, it has fallen on the entire northwestern side of the Middle East. Satellite photos of the phenomenon portray an amoeba-like cloud draped across Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Haboobs usually hit Israel in the winter or spring and usually come from the southwest, originating in the deserts of Sinai and North Africa. This one, however, originated from the northeast in Syria. Unfolding from the war weary land of Assad and ISIS, it unfolded Monday evening like carpet rolling over Israel and today into the Mediterranean.

Jerusalem residents woke up yesterday with air so thick with desert dust, many could barely see out windows. While the city carried on with its normal routines of work, school and preparations for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, those who did not have to venture outdoors shut their windows and stayed inside.

In fact, this haboob is the worst sandstorm Israel has seen in 15 years. Today’s Times of Israel reports that “in Jerusalem, pollution levels [are] 173 times higher than the average; in the Negev, 51 times higher; and in the Galilee, 32 times higher.”

Because of related respiratory risks, Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is advising “vulnerable populations” to remain indoors today. Specific people who should stay inside are “those with heart disease, respiratory diseases, the elderly, children, and pregnant women.” While schools remain open, they are “advised to keep students inside during recess.”

Because of low winds, the storm that fell yesterday is expected to last through today. But high levels of toxicity in the air are expected to remain.

One resident said, “It is as if the horror of Syria caused the earth itself to pass an evil wind. It has made Jerusalem look like a post-apocalyptic scene from Mad Max. But like the bloodbath to our north and east, this is not a movie set. What’s happening there, just a few miles away, is a perfect storm of atrocities that like this odd haboob are real. All too real.”

Posted on September 9, 2015

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 9 September 2015)

Photo Credit: Debra Williams/