Not long ago the Knesset amended the Israel Lands Administration Law. It was stipulated that the ILA would engage not only in allocation of lands for development, but also in allocation of open lands in accordance with environmental needs. That same progressive amendment also stipulated that the ILA would help in the acquisition of lands for various purposes, including environmental purposes.

One could say "better late than never," but it seems the more appropriate expression is actually "too little, too late."

Thus, for example, in the campaign to protect the last sand dune surviving in the southern Arava near the community of Samar, it isn't clear if the heads of the ILA are even capable of understanding the great importance of protecting nature and unique landscapes. So far the ILA has not done what is necessary in order save this rare stretch of nature and it is encouraging the mining of sand from the dune for construction purposes.

Currently activists of the green movement in the Arava are conducting a fundraising campaign with the aim of collecting NIS 1 million to transfer to the contractor who won the ILA tender to mine the Samar sands. He has already expressed willingness to give up the project but has demanded, rightly, to get back the NIS 1 million he gave as a deposit to the ILA upon wining the tender.

It is of course the ILA that should be returning the money to the contractor. The obligation to do this is incumbent upon it not because he has bowed to the demands of green activists to protect a beautiful sand dune but rather because of what is stipulated in the new law, which gives the ILA a more correct and comprehensive definition of its public obligation.

The meaning of allocating land also according to environmental considerations is that a variety of alternatives must be examined before nature is sacrificed for the benefit of construction.

In the case of the Samar sands, it is a matter of an area that has become the last of its kind. Its surroundings are now agricultural and are destined to become even more crowded and built up.

In the dune there is an irreplaceable, rich world of fauna and flora, which cannot be priced out.

Today two alternatives exist for supplying construction needs in the south: mining more deeply in areas that have already been mined at Samar or the use of large quantities of mining material remaining at the nearby Timna mines.

These alternatives might be more complicated and costly initially, but they could also provide a more long-term solution than the Samar sands. More importantly - they are alternatives that preserve the continued existence of a rare resource, the cost of which in terms of the recreational needs and ecological services it provides will only increase.

However, the issue facing the ILA in the wake of the Samar sands affair has far broader significance in terms of the principle involved. This body must internalize its new role and reexamine a long list of already approved plans to open up lands for development.

On this list are plans for building vacation villages along the beaches in areas like the Nahal Betzet estuary in the Galilee or the Nitzanim sands. The question the ILA must ask itself is not just what the price is of giving up these plans, but rather what the environmental and public benefit is in keeping these irreplaceable nature sites intact.