A Minister Takes Action

Since gov't ministries cannot tackle issues like the Kinneret's beaches without incessant pressure, we must hope that the High Court of Justice will do its part.

Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz decided last week to take action. In light of the ongoing scandal of fencing off Lake Kinneret and charging exorbitant fees to enter its beaches, the minister responded with appropriate severity and set out to survey the scene - and journalists were invited to join the tour, of course.

During the tour, the minister promised to bring in additional inspectors and step up enforcement. He announced that the leaders of the regional councils whose territory includes these beaches would be summoned to the Interior Ministry for a hearing. I did not participate in the tour, but I am sure he spoke with the requisite determination and assertiveness.

But the many visitors to Lake Kinneret are not interested in the minister's tour and his announcements to the media every time he hears about the situation on the lakefront. They would be very satisfied if the fences disappeared - with or without the press releases - and the beaches were opened without the need to pay high entrance fees. (The law permits charging a fee to enter some of the beaches, but stipulates various conditions that the beach operators at Lake Kinneret have not met.) The visitors arriving at the lake would already know whom to thank and bless.

There is no need for the media-covered tour by Pines-Paz to learn about the situation at the lake's beaches and the urgent need to change it. Several years ago, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel exposed the fact that these beaches do not belong to the public, but are the domain of beach operators and the regional councils that operate them in violation of the law. A report by the state comptroller about six months ago confirmed the findings of the environmental organization.

In a series of articles in Haaretz this month, David Ratner documented the obstacles and tribulations of someone wishing to visit the beaches of the only lake in Israel. The series exposes an amazing range of groups, companies and private individuals who have found various excuses and explanations for themselves to close the beach and charge entry fees of up to NIS 100, even in places where there is no lifeguard and swimming is prohibited.

Until a few months ago, the interior minister did almost nothing in the face of all this, and the situation has not really changed in recent months. The minister is collecting data, drafting indictments and has even taken the dramatic step of sending an inspector to check the entry fees to the beaches.

The Interior Ministry's weak approach was reflected during the discussion held by the Knesset State Control Committee about four months ago. Asher Grand, the ministry official responsible for the beaches, mainly offered excuses about a lack of authority and budgets.

Grand later added that the minister had instructed him to set a maximum fee for beach entry, but that he could not say when the ministry would complete this process. The possibility of visiting the beaches without payment was not even considered by the minister and his officials. Who ever heard of such a thing - that people would just drive to Lake Kinneret and arrive at the beach without paying?

Since government ministries are unable to tackle issues like the lake's beaches without incessant external pressure, we must hope that the High Court of Justice will do its part, and then perhaps the Interior Ministry officials and other governmental groups connected to this issue will also discover an ability to do things.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Ada, Teva V'Din) submitted a High Court petition several months ago against the hindered public access to the beaches of Lake Kinneret and the Mediterranean Sea and the illegal charging of entry fees. Last month, the court instructed the interior minister to report within 90 days on his actions to change the situation at the beaches, including "a report on the beginning of actual law enforcement regarding the collection of entry fees by the authorities."

Let's hope the court will not just be impressed by the promises to change the situation, but instead will require the appropriate organizations to take steps that by next summer would enable free access to the beaches where entry fees are prohibited and a much lower price for beaches where entry fees are permitted.