Ein Bokek - Daniel Bar-On
Ein Bokek. The decision to allow a gas station and commercial center in the middle of a unique desert is surprising, said Amit Bracha. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Environmental groups are accusing the Israel Nature and Parks Authority of putting its financial interests above the Dead Sea landscape in last week's decision to back the construction of a gas station and commercial center south of the Dead Sea.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense, known in Hebrew as Adam Teva V'Din, has argued that the construction near the Ein Bokek nature reserve will damage the local landscape and the authority is "abusing its position" by allowing it.

"The authority's judgment in allowing a gas station and commercial center to be build in the heart of a unique desert region is surprising, to say the least," said Amit Bracha, the group's executive director.

Bracha said the plan was particularly problematic because there is already a gas station and commercial center on the other side of Route 90 from the site near the strip of hotels at Ein Bokek. "The side of the road where the gas station is planned to go has so far maintained its natural state, and it looks like external considerations guided the authority - which, by its vote, has decided against preserving the area and in favor of commercializing it," Bracha said. "In doing so, it is abusing its position."

The plan that allows for the construction also calls for an access road to the Ein Bokek nature reserve that would allow the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which is responsible for the reserve, to charge an entrance fee.

The nature authority says the area had been earmarked for development in any case, and that it reduced the scope of the planned commercial center. Authority officials said the entrance fee would end up protecting nature by imposing order on visits to the nature reserve.

A subcommittee of the National Planning and Building Council rejected the construction plan six months ago, saying the construction was slated to take place in a sensitive landscape area where no additional development should be allowed. But last week's vote by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority representative on the national planning council tipped the scales in favor of the construction.

The business people behind the initiative have said they will make an effort to blend the newly built sites into the landscape by using desert colors.