Ashdod Environmental Forum
Boaz Ra’anan, the head of Ashdod’s Environmental Forum. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Ashdod residents may soon find themselves swimming in the shadow of a cellular antenna soaring 40 meters above the Riviera Beach's small locker room, if Cellcom gets its way.

The cellular provider's request to erect the antenna, which the Ashdod Planning and Building Committee is due to review in the next few weeks, has been met with objections from environmental groups. But some residents support the move, saying they'd rather have the antenna on the beach than near their homes.

For nearly five years, area resident Adi Golan has been battling efforts by cellular phone companies to erect antennas in his neighborhood.

"It was Cellcom that suggested erecting the antenna on the beach rather than near residential housing, and I think the 'greens' should actually be supporting this," Golan said. "Because of the way such a tall structure broadcasts, whoever is underneath it on the beach is not in any danger."

The Environmental Forum and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, which have filed objections to the plan, argue that National Master Plan 36 does not allow for broadcast antennas on bathing beaches, only on buildings located between the end of the beach and up to 500 meters from the shore.

"For years we have been battling to prevent construction along the coast, and suddenly there's a decision to erect a huge antenna on the beach," said Boaz Ra'anan, who heads Ashdod's Environmental Forum.

While Israel has several cellular antennas on top of structures near the coast, no such antenna has been erected on a bathing beach.

The environmental groups also objected to the height of the antenna.

"Erecting a broadcast structure that is 11 times the height of the existing construction will no doubt seriously damage the landscape, affecting not just those living nearby but the entire public," the groups wrote. "The seashore is meant to be a place to escape the visual stress and noise of the city."

The groups also said the antenna would keep people away from the beach, since they would assume that it posed a radiation risk, whether or not this is the case.

The Forum of Cellular Operators said it was working to assure clear cellular reception in Ashdod while operating within the guidelines of the health and environment ministries.

"This action is being worked out with the authorities in accordance with all the planning and safety demands set down in National Master Plan 36 and the strict safety requirements of the Environmental Protection Ministry," the cellular operators said in a statement. "Any antenna that goes up in Ashdod, as anywhere else in the country, will be erected legally, with all the required permits."