Kinneret construction, Yaron Kaminsky
Construction work on a hotel on the northern shore of Lake Kinneret in July. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Work began in recent days to dump dirt into Lake Kinneret near Tiberias' northern beach. The aim is to push the Sea of Galilee shoreline back in order to enable construction of a hotel, reroute the road around the lake and provide suitable traffic arrangements near the hotel.

In fact, the operation will remove the barrier stopping developer Moti Zisser from begining construction work on one of the most prestigious hotels in the country. As part of this project, another piece of the lake, approximately 15 dunams (some four acres ) in size, is expected to be drained, as previously reported.

The hotel, slated to be built on the northern strip of Tiberias' shoreline, is considered the most significant project in the town in the coming years. This, after 25 years during which no large hotel was built in Tiberias. Tenders to build hotels on the northern shore, published in the 1990s, failed.

The Elbit Imaging company won a tender for the land in July 2007. At that time the plan was for a hotel of about 800 rooms, at an investment of about NIS 300 million. However, now it looks as though the project will become a luxury hotel for the wealthy, as reported in TheMarker. According to reports in the past, the company will invest a total of about NIS 290 million in the project.

Tiberias residents are hoping the hotel will provide hundreds of jobs. Plans for a major tourism project on the site, approved back at the start of the 1990s, also included draining part of the lake. In the approved plans, the project will spread over about 46 dunams (11 acres ). Because building on the shoreline is prohibited, draining the lake will distance the water line from its present location and allow the hotel to be built close to where the shore is today. According to the urban master plan approved more than a decade ago, the area to be drained will be considered an open public space and a promenade will be built there.

No land left?

Upon hearing about the work in progress yesterday, sources at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel asked: "Is there no more land left in Israel so that it is necessary to drain Lake Kinneret for the purpose of building hotels? Is this the state's answer to the water crisis - building on the lake's water line where the water level is dropping? SPNI believes there is scope for building hotels in the Tiberias area, but construction that involves draining the lake is harsh, degrades the values of the place and is inappropriate."

Tiberian fishermen also sounded worried yesterday after they saw the trucks pouring dirt into the lake's waters. "When they approved the building plan, everyone told me not to worry because it wasn't going to happen," said Tiberias Fishermen's Organization chairman Ya'akov Fadida. "Suddenly I see they are dumping material into the water."

According to Fadida, "This will harm our livelihood. Where have all the 'green' organizations disappeared to suddenly? When they threatened to build at Nitzanim Beach the whole country stood on its hind legs and there we're talking about the Mediterranean, not Lake Kinneret. It looks as though everyone has fallen asleep on their watch. The Kinneret is the State of Israel's water bottle. The place where the work is underway is the surfers' beach. It is untenable that they will harm this beach, which his considered one of the best places to fish for mullet."

Fadida noted that today the fishermen will be holding an emergency meeting at which they might decide to go out and demonstrate, and they will also consider requesting a stop-work court order against the work on the beach.

A spokesperson for Tiberias municipality said, "This isn't about drying the water, but rather pushing it back another meter. The hotel will be 50 meters from the water line. As part of the municipal vision, this will create a fascinating meeting point between the public and Lake Kinneret - the impressive promenade that will be built at the site will be open to the public and visitors. The future hotel will be built in accordance with an environmental mindset. The change of the original plan from 800 rooms to 130 rooms alone testifies to the desire to create a pastoral atmosphere that preserves environmental quality. The process in question and its implications have received renewed approval from all the relevant and authorized bodies, including the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Tiberias Research Station and the Kinneret Administration."