Commercial Ventures Have No Place on Israel's Beaches, Top Court Rules

Ruling now gives the state authority to remove 'massive encampments' which it deems to exceed 'reasonable activity'

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Tents are seen on beaches south of Haifa, in 2019.
Tents are seen on beaches south of Haifa, in 2019.Credit: Hof Hacarmel Regional Council
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The High Court of Justice on Monday made clear that it accepts the state’s position that commercial projects do not have a place on Israel’s beaches. All existing commercial ventures which have so far been operating illegally will now have to be suspended, giving the state the authority to pursue legal action to remove them.

The petition, which was filed by companies that rent out equipment for beach events, asked the court to order the state to suspend its actions to block their operations. A panel of three judges, headed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, supported the state’s wish to prevent long-term structures being built on beaches.

In recent years, several beaches, mainly Habonim, Neve Yam and Ma'ayan Zvi, south of Haifa, have become a focus of activity for event organizers, setting up complexes with large tents, amplification systems, refrigerators and kitchen equipment, with the purpose of renting them out. The law, however, does not define the extent of activities or the allowed duration for remaining on beaches.

The Hof HaCarmel Regional Council has been trying to put a stop to these events for a number of years, in an attempt to stop people from remaining in the area for prolonged periods, in tents and other improvised structures.

In some cases, event organizers hired guards so that an area picked for an event would be kept for groups that had rented their services. To bring in equipment for these events, vehicles were used in violation of the law prohibiting the use of vehicles along the water. Enforcement agencies demanded that equipment be removed, but this was ignored. The regional council, in response, erected a railing along four kilometers (2.5 miles), in order to stop vehicles from reaching the beach.

Tents used for commercial activity are seen on Neve Yam Beach, June 8, 2016.Credit: Moshe Gilad

Some of these companies then filed a petition with the High Court against the regional council and the Israel Land Authority. They argued that their activity served the recreational wishes of the public and did not prevent others from using the beach. They also claimed that the regional council had acted without authority, since the relevant beaches were not official swimming areas.

The Land Authority responded that it was protecting beaches as a national resource and that these ventures were blocking access to the beach by the general public. It also claimed that these events created hazardous waste, noise and bright lights that disrupted nature in the area. In one example, after tents had been taken down in one stretch of beach, there was a significant rise in the laying of sea turtle eggs there. The state argued that “the Land Authority does not prohibit short-term stays in permitted areas along some beaches, but objects to extensive and massive encampments on state land which exceeds reasonable activity.”

The Society for the Protection of Nature was allowed to present its views at the hearing. It said later that “beaches are a public asset, of foremost social and environmental value, but are subject to unceasing pressure. One cannot agree to small groups taking over this resource at the expense of the public for financial gain.”

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