As Mercury Rises, Herzliya Lifeguards Fall to Mysterious Illnesses

Beaches closed as 8 of Herzliya's 21 lifeguards call in sick; Some say they are protesting poor working conditions.

The Herzliya municipality announced yesterday morning that it was forced to temporarily close two more beaches, after already closing two others a week ago. City officials said the move came after eight of the city's 21 lifeguards had called in sick. Individuals close to the matter, however, told Haaretz that the lifeguards are protesting what they consider poor working conditions.

As of yesterday, four of the city's seven beaches had been temporarily closed.

Herzliya’s Sharon Beach yesterday. Eight of 21 lifeguards showed up with doctors’ notes.
Moti Milrod

City director-general Yehiam Hashimshoni said municipal bylaws dictate that lifeguard towers must be manned by at least three certified individuals at any time. As the city employs only 21 lifeguards for its seven beaches, the absence of even one due to illness or any other circumstance means one of the beaches must be closed.

The municipality therefore asked the ministry that some of the stations be opened with just two lifeguards and an assistant, even if the latter is not certified.

"Such requests have been approved in the past, but this time they were not," Hashimshoni told Haaretz. "We think this is the wrong decision. The public would benefit if the stations were opened with two lifeguards and an assistant."

He added that the city had been trying to hire new lifeguards for three weeks, "but no one has come. Apparently this country has no lifeguards."

Hashimshoni said the municipality cannot use lifeguards employed by other cities. "As far as I know," he explained, "other cities are also in dire straits in terms of lifeguards. I can't take the employees of another municipal authority."

The director-general said the spate of illnesses began a week ago. "There were no problems for 26 years, and then they all started at once. I don't know if [the lifeguards] have a hidden agenda, but they all presented doctor's notes and I'm required to accept them," he said.

"Still, it seems strange that so many lifeguards are sick. And those who are sick tend to trade places [with the healthy] every two days," he said, noting that he was unaware of any specific request or dissatisfaction on the part of lifeguards.

Yaakov Shemesh, a member of the city employees committee and a lifeguard himself, added, "There is no conflict and no dispute. We don't want anything from the city, not funding or anything else. It's just coincidence, fate. I've been working for 35 years and have never been ill. A week ago I got sick."

Interior Ministry officials said their office had not ordered the beaches to be closed, and that the decision had been made by the municipality alone.

"The Interior Ministry did not instruct the Herzliya municipality to close the beaches within its territory," the officials stated. "By law, the municipality is in charge of opening beaches within its jurisdiction and ensuring the presence of lifeguards. The ministry charged the city with finding alternative lifeguards so that the beaches could remain open to the public."