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A number of separation fences have been built of late in Israel, though that's not the name by which their builders describe them. The fences in question don't constitute a continuous security barrier. They have been built on a permanent or temporary basis at various locations and their function is to separate the residents of Israel from the beaches that should be theirs to use.

The fences can be found along the shores of both Lake Kinneret and the Mediterranean Sea. You will encounter them if you attend public events held in the area of Nitzanim beach near Ashkelon or if you try to get to the beach in areas that have been sealed off by private entrepreneurs in Acre or at Achziv beach in the north. Recently, a fence has also gone up in Caesarea, and people coming to the beach are being charged an entry fee. According to the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, that fence was erected without a permit.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) says there are also fences that have been put by the police, for security reasons, which prevent free access to the beach. When inspectors from the Interior Ministry demand that these fences be taken down, they discover that the body responsible for enforcing the law, the Israel Police, has put them up. In reaction, the Public Security Ministry says that the minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, has not yet received a copy of the SPNI's complaints and therefore is unable to comment on them.

People who manage to bypass the fences or who find an unfenced beach will have a hard time enjoying the serenity and expanses that are supposed to be part of the beach experience. Sewage has run into the sea from a few cities lately, while other locales, including Tel Aviv, have experienced breakdowns in the past few months that repeatedly made it impossible to enter the sea.

Visitors to the beach at Ashdod will encounter a four-story structure standing in isolation in the middle of the strip of dunes. If the visitor asks a local person what the structure is, he will be told that it's a kiosk. This is the most overbearing kiosk on the shores of the Middle East, and so far neither environmental organizations nor the Ashdod Municipality has succeeded in restoring the kiosk to its original dimensions.

If the beachgoer visits the Atlit area, in the north, in the hope of viewing one of the most beautiful bays in Israel, he will be in for a severe letdown, because what he will see mostly is a fence behind which is a series of structures built by the Israel Defense Forces.

The would-be bathers on the beaches of Tel Aviv are no longer exposed to the massive flow of sewage into the sea, but they will have a view of refuse of all sorts wherever they decide to lay down their towels, and the water is rich not in fish but in plastic bags and other items of garbage.

This list, which is hardly complete, attests to the melancholy situation of one of the most precious resources available to Israel's residents. A good many official bodies share responsibility for the neglect, the blocking of the beaches and the large-scale pollution, but some of them deserve special mention.

The Ministry of Defense received from the public (via the agency of the state) the right to use the beach at Atlit for defense purposes. That right, though, does not mean that it has the freedom to ruin one of the most beautiful parts of the Israeli shoreline. Instead of making a special effort to avoid the destruction of the beach, the army launched its project without getting a permit from the committee for defense facilities, which operates within the framework of the Planning and Building Commission in each district of the country. It was only after an environmental advocacy group, Blue and Green, went to Haifa District Court and then to the Supreme Court, that the committee held a discussion on the subject, a month ago, but no representative of the public was invited. The army made do with sending a letter to the environmental group noting that the committee had approved the project as long as certain architectural and landscaping requirements were met, though no one outside the committee has any idea what they are.

For the other beaches the responsible bodies are usually the relevant local governments. They are responsible for fencing off beaches in many cases or for preventing private persons from fencing them off in other cases. They are also to blame, as in the case of Tel Aviv, for the filthy state of the beaches.

In a few months, local elections will be held. Where relevant, a key consideration in deciding for whom to vote should be the candidate's activity in the realm of preserving the beaches.