A Sea of Illegal Practices in the Galilee

The law at the Sea of Galilee's coast has fallen into the malicious and confident hands of criminals who violate it at every opportunity.

The publication of the findings of the state comptroller's report seems - now that a week has passed - like a forgotten and insignificant event. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile discussing these findings again, especially against the background of the state prosecutor's remarks about what every Israeli citizen knows: Law enforcement is a story of failure.

One of the more infuriating chapters in the comptroller's report does not deal with individual corruption or political appointments, but with fences. These are the fences that beach operators along the Sea of Galilee have erected without legal authorization, thus blocking free access to the lakeshore. And this has occurred under the auspices of the local authorities or while they almost completely turned a blind eye to this, together with the Israel Lands Authority and the Interior Ministry.

The law at the Sea of Galilee's coast has fallen into the malicious and confident hands of criminals who violate it at every opportunity. Officials from the State Comptroller's Office walked along the Sea of Galilee and found that with the exception of one beach, all of the bathing beaches around the lake were fenced and required a fee to enter.

The comptroller's findings on the shores of the Sea of Galilee were nothing new. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel mapped the fences and reported its findings to the authorities, but to no avail. The authorities have left the beaches of the Sea of Galilee, intended for the general public, in the hands of operators who have become accustomed to regard this rare and irreplaceable asset as their private domain.

The kibbutzim in the area also participate in this party, and two of them charge a fee for entrance to the beach, without a permit from the Israel Lands Authority. The regional councils around the Sea of Galilee argued impudently that the fencing of the beaches was done for security purposes in accordance with the demands of the Israel Police. An investigation by the comptroller found that the police did not issue any such directive to fence the beaches of the Sea of Galilee, just as it did not order the fencing of the Mediterranean beaches.

The police, in general, are busy fighting terror, explained the state prosecutor, and for this reason it is difficult to enforce the law in Israel. But this is an insufficient explanation, and the state prosecutor and police must find ways to carry out the commitments made by attorneys general in recent years to enforce planning and environmental protection laws.

To make this challenge more tangible, the authorities can be presented with the "kiosk test," named for the kiosk built by Ashdod resident Zion Biton on a local beach. Today, this kiosk is about twice the height stipulated in the building permit, soaring to a height of four stories. Officially, it is still a kiosk, and environmental groups refer to it as "the world's biggest kiosk."

Biton's four-story kiosk has already received approval from the planning board of the southern region. The environmental groups appealed the decision to the appeals subcommittee of the national planning council, which determined that the structure should be restored to the height stipulated in the original permit. Biton appealed this decision in Be'er Sheva District Court, but his appeal was rejected last month.

The kiosk test of the enforcement system is to compel Biton to demolish what was illegally built, and thus send a clear message to other building transgressors. This test applies to many kiosks, cafes, restaurants and wedding facilities that were built without legal permits or in violation of legal permits on public lands like national parks and beaches, where the operators do whatever they please. And, of course, the fences at the Sea of Galilee must not be forgotten.

The interior minister has promised to take determined action against the blocking of free access to the beach, and the attorney general stated last year that planning boards must refrain from "koshering" building violations. The planning councils of the central region decided to check the status of 70 wedding facilities that were illegally built and even refused several requests to grant permits to some of them. One does not have to be a prophet to predict that in one of the next reports of the state comptroller, he will cite these promises and decisions in an additional chapter on illegal construction that is still continuing and is not being handled as it should be.