Greens Fight to Save Samar's Sand From Eilat Building Boom

Residents of the Arava campaign for the preservation of dunes' unique environment, host to a varied habitat of wild vegetation and animal life.

A significant portion of one of the last remaining dunes in the southern Arava is expected to disappear in the coming weeks. The sand of the dune, located near the community of Samar, is set to be used for construction projects in the resort town of Eilat.

Environmental activists are trying to block the measure through an appeal to the Supreme Court, but at this stage it does not appear that the Israel Lands Administration's initiative to remove the sand is likely to be stopped.

Arava dunes - Yuval Tebol - Sept. 17, 2010
Yuval Tebol

Residents of the Arava set up a movement called Healthy Environment for the Arava and have been campaigning for the past two years, alongside the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, for the preservation of the dunes near Samar.

The unique environment around the dune is host to a varied habitat of wild vegetation and animal life, which have evolved over millennia to survive in the harsh desert climate.

A month ago, however, a construction company that won a tender from the Israel Lands Administration was given license to remove the sand, with work expected to begin in two weeks.

Two years ago, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense filed a petition with the Be'er Sheva District Court to block the sand removal. After the petition was rejected, an appeal was filed with the Supreme Court. Two weeks ago the environmentalists asked the court to issue an interim halt to the sand mining until the appeal is heard, but that has not yet happened.

State argues shortage in sand

On Wednesday, the State Attorney's Office presented its response to the request for the interim halt, arguing there is no legal ground for delaying the sand removal.

The state has held that there is a severe shortage of raw materials for construction in the Eilat area, and without the sand from Samar it will be forced to transport sand hundreds of kilometers by truck, causing both traffic hazards and pollution.

The state also argued that transporting the sand in this way would make cement more expensive in Eilat and will raise the cost of construction in the area by 0.75 percent.

The Environmental Protection Ministry is also opposed to the removal of the sand and has agreed to help fund a survey of sand dunes in the area that have remained pristine, to help convince the ILA to consider alternative areas for mining sand.

The Israel Lands Administration has refused to delay the plan to allow it time to review the survey, despite a direct appeal from Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.