Samar dunes
Visitors strolling on the Samar dunes. Photo by Mori Chen
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A petition against the quarrying of sand from the Samar dunes in the Arava was rejected yesterday by the High Court of Justice.

The court said that as the plan had already been approved quite some time ago, it saw no reason to intervene.

The petition, filed jointly by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Arava Institute's Center for a Healthy Environment in the Arava, sought to reverse a decision handed down by the Be'er Sheva District Court, which had also rejected a petition against the quarrying.

The Israel Lands Administration had initiated excavation from the Samar dunes, the last untouched dunes in the Arava, to provide sand for construction projects in Eilat. But the environmental groups claim the excavation causes irreversible damage and that the necessary studies of the endeavor's environmental impact had not been conducted.

Only a third of the original Samar dunes remain untouched today. Some of these dunes have been quarried for construction purposes and some of the remaining area is designated to become a nature reserve, pending approval from the Israel Lands Administration.

During the hearing, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein proposed that the state and the company that won the tender to excavate the dunes begin quarrying in a small area, while giving planning institutions an opportunity to examine alternatives. But the idea was ultimately rejected.

According to attorney Assaf Rosenblum, who represents the Union for Environmental Defense, other possibilities should be explored, including the use of sand from quarries rather than dunes. In the past, he said, this material, which is widely available, could not be used to make cement, but the standard has changed and it's now permissible.

The environmental groups are now hoping to persuade the District Planning and Building Council in the south to revisit the issue of the Samar dunes and to study alternatives, using Rubinstein's suggestion as the basis of their argument.

The groups are also fighting to prevent construction of a hotel at Timna National Park in the Arava region. One of the founders of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Prof. Amotz Zahavi, said last week, "Most of the open areas in the Arava have disappeared due to development. We must protect the little that is left."