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The garbage and filth visitors reported finding at the free public beaches on the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret were in harsh counterpoint to the festive statements made before the holiday by the Kinneret Association of Towns, inviting the public to come and enjoy the beaches during the holiday.

"It's a catastrophe," said Shai, who had come to Lavnun Beach from Azor, with 11 of his friends. "It's like being inside a garbage can," he said.

The Kinneret Association of Towns issued a press release before Pesach, announcing that no entrance fees would be charged during the holiday week at three beaches on the eastern side of the lake - Kursi, Halukim and Lavnun. In addition, the boulders preventing parking along the beach were to be removed.

"The association requests that visitors keep the beaches and environs clean," the announcement said.

Visitors were handed garbage bags and an explanatory flyer at the entrance, and there were many inspectors on patrol. Nevertheless, the beaches were scattered with garbage, broken glass, and charcoal from beachgoers' barbecues. In addition, wooden beach shelters were destroyed, and toilets - upgraded in advance of the holiday - were broken and filthy.

The Kinneret Association of Towns was created two years ago, when the Knesset passed a law creating a single organization, with enforcement powers, to regulate and protecting the shores of the lake. It was charged with upgrading and supervising beach services.

Last week the association took control of three beaches on the eastern shore that had previously been managed by a franchise-holder.

"The association made a big show before the holiday, but the garbage is overflowing, spread around at night by jackals and cats, people drove their cars onto the grass and there are barbecue grills scattered all over," Golan Regional Council member Yehuda Glickman said. Lavnun and the other two beaches are in the council's jurisdiction.

According to Glickman, when Lavnun was run by franchise-holders it was properly maintained.

Shlomo Guetta operated the beach for nearly 30 years before he was convicted of illegally erecting fences and various structures on the beach and was forced out.

Guetta, who was also at the beach during the holiday, likened the association's attempt to manage the beaches to someone who "tries to hijack a plane after killing the pilot, before learning how to land the plane alone. There was a crash here. People were promised free beaches and what they got was garbage in their faces. I protected the beach for years and in the end they made me the bad guy who took it away from the public. But why do you think people came here all those years? Because the beach was kept up properly," Guetta said.

Eli Raz said that he comes to Lavnun Beach every year, from his home in Jerusalem. "This was the Kinneret's most beautiful beach, now I've got to get out of here," because of the filth.

Shai and his friends from Azor said they would have been willing to pay an entrance fee in exchange for being able to vacation on a clean, well-maintained beach.

"The Knesset passed a law that the public has to have free access to the beaches, and people deserve that, just like access to the Western Wall is free," Glickman said. "To that end the association got NIS 10 million in state funds. The state pledged to keep the beaches clean, but that is not what happened. The state threw the previous beach operators to the dogs and it cannot manage the beaches on its own."

According to Kinneret Association of Towns public relations director Yael Sela, "two teams worked around the clock to clean the beaches that were opened to the public. We made every effort. Masses of people throw garbage around and we pick it up. Huge numbers of visitors came to the free beaches - more than 200,000, according to estimates."

Sela, who noted that the beachgoers were given trash bags and explanatory leaflets, said that while at certain periods during the holiday there was garbage on the beaches - "for a few minutes, maybe a few hours" - it was taken care of right away. "We cleaned all the time, there was no loss of control" over the situation," Sela said. We spent a lot of money on cleaning and on educating the public [about not littering]."

Sela also noted that this was the beginning of a process that would take some time. "We ask the public to take responsibility. If the public does not cooperate, all these projects won't take off," she said.