Tents on Habonim Beach - Itzik Ben-Malki - 15032012
Tents on Habonim Beach last summer. A compromise may have saved one of Israel’s most beautiful beaches. Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki
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A plan for tourism development along one of Israel's most beautiful beaches has been significantly scaled back in response to a battle waged by local residents.

The compromise reached over Habonim Beach by residents and the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council will now be submitted to the Interior Ministry's planning division for approval.

Habonim is considered one of Israel's most beautiful coastal areas, due to both the unusual landscape formed by its coves and its natural sand beach. Part of the beach is already designated as a nature reserve, and its unusually salty northern section is home to many rare plants and animals. Additionally, the beach, along the Carmel coast, is an important egg-laying site for sea turtles.

The regional council has been seeking to develop the beach, and it argues that development would actually help funnel visitors away from the most ecologically sensitive areas. To this end, it prepared a two-part plan. The first part would expand the existing tourist infrastructure at Habonim's central section by building a learning center, kiosk, storage shed and office. The second part called for building a large parking lot and a concrete path, as well as a restaurant, cafeteria, camping ground and toilets, a bit farther north along the beach.

But both the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Cahol Yarok ("Blue Green" ), an environmental group founded by Hof Hacarmel residents, objected to the plan and waged a public campaign against it. They charged that both the construction and the subsequent increase in tourist traffic would do great damage to the beach.

Ultimately, Mayor Carmel Sela decided to compromise, and last week the parties agreed that the northern half of the development would be scrapped almost completely. In exchange, residents approved an expansion of the development along the beach's central section, including the addition of a cafeteria and coffee shop. The one part of the northern plan that will remain is the camping ground, but it will be located more than 100 meters from the beach and will have minimal lighting.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said he welcomed the agreement, but thought the planned construction should be cut back even further. SPNI echoed this view, saying in a statement that "development at the northern end will undoubtedly cause severe damage to nature, including by disrupting the turtles' egg-laying. A 5.5-kilometer stretch of natural beach should be left intact, between Dor [Beach] in the south and Neveh Yam in the north."