Officials at the Israel Lands Administration and the National Infrastructure Ministry take every opportunity to show off the rehabilitation work at various mining and quarry sites. Soon they will be able to add the Samar dunes, among the last in the Arava. Mining work is scheduled to begin there soon, to create cement for construction work in Eilat.

Nature restoration work is usually a worthy endeavor; as long as we need quarries and mining, it should be done in a considered and efficient manner. The problem is that nature in Israel has turned into a major rehabilitation project. Winter pools on the country's coasts have been almost completely destroyed, and those that remain urgently need rehabilitation.

In the northern Jordan Valley, Lake Hula is drying out; it's now a lot smaller. The Dead Sea needs rehabilitation work, and sand dunes in the Arava and coastal regions have virtually disappeared. Other sites have either disappeared almost entirely because of mining and quarrying or have been buried under houses and asphalt.

Rehabilitation is usually a poor substitute for the original. Its results cannot compete with the richness and beauty of nature that has been irretrievably lost. Rehabilitation is particularly pointless in areas where the fabric of life has been taken away. That's the case with the Samar dunes, where there will be nothing to restore if all the sand is lost.

Mining plans for the Samar sands have been drawn up for economic purposes. According to the Israel Lands Administration, this is a cheap alternative compared to bringing in sand from other sites. The estimates are based on projected transport costs and price increases that homebuyers in Eilat would incur if raw materials were brought in from afar.

What the Israel Lands Administration does not include in its calculations is the value of the Samar sand dunes as they are now - and this value cannot be measured entirely in shekels. Sand dunes host entire systems of plant and animal life that have adapted to these surroundings. The Samar site has become even more important and special because most sand areas in the Arava were transferred to Jordan as part of the 1994 peace treaty. The dunes are a source of knowledge; studying them can provide insight in various research areas linked to life in arid regions. Such research can enhance the quality of human life.

No doubt, the Samar dunes are worth much, and no economist could come up with a figure that would reflect their attractions and virtues. Officials at the Israel Lands Administration might view these sentiments as a blasphemous denial of their holy truth, but the preservation of a rare natural treasure means paying a price. In this case, preservation compels decision-making; the decision must be that the dunes' contribution to society and science justifies the transporting of raw materials for construction in Eilat from sites further away.

Alternately, a survey can be conducted to examine possibilities for using deeper layers of sand in the Samar region where sand mining has been done in the past. Since sand from the site in question would be exhausted very quickly, there would be a need to bring in sand from another site. In the end, we would be left without the added value provided by the landscape's plant life.

Officials at the Israel Lands Administration ought to look beyond the sand and gravel quarries and grasp that the trend around the world is not to view nature as a resource that can be destroyed and rehabilitated later on. Instead, nature is seen as a provider of essential resources and a source that enhances human life. The rarer it becomes, the more we have to invest to save it so it does not disappear.