Haifa Sea Scouts Prepared to Brave Kishon Waters

Alex Babin, 16, has become bored of having to take a boat into the water off Acre every Saturday. He wanted to take a boat out, as he used to, into the Haifa port so that he could gaze from the sea toward the buildings of the city on the slope of the Carmel, including his school. "I miss going to sea near home, rowing out from there or back to it from the sea," he says.

"Home," by his definition, is the Haifa Sea Scouts building, located in the area of the estuary where the Kishon River meets the Mediterranean Sea.

For more than three months now, the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry have been prohibiting Babin and 70 other Sea Scouts from engaging in any seagoing activities in the area of the Kishon River estuary. The ministries suddenly decided to implement a July 2001 recommendation by the Shamgar Committee to the effect that "diving by Israel Defense Forces soldiers must not be allowed in the Kishon. This prohibition will also apply to aquatic youth movement exercises."

At the time the committee made its recommendations, the Kishon was polluted by heavy metals and chemicals that flowed from manufacturing plants on its banks. Since then, a lot of water has flowed into the Kishon: The plants have been required to install waste purification systems, the quality of the water in the stream has improved and plant and animal life has returned to flourish there.

Laboratory tests that were commissioned by parents of the scouts last August revealed that the water of the estuary resembled the water at other municipal beaches in Haifa deemed safe for swimming and that the index of pollution in the stream was 33 times lower than the level allowed by the Health Ministry.

"The results show clearly that any pollution that is known to affect the health of someone who enters the water in the area where the Haifa Sea Scouts are active has indeed been eliminated, and the current situation addresses the Shamgar Committee recommendation that after the water has been purified, it will be possible to renew aquatic activity," wrote Professor Michael Torten of The Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona and the medical school at Tel Aviv University.

Nonetheless, the education and health ministries are insisting on prohibiting the Scouts' aquatic activity, resulting in the decline of the veteran troop, which was established about 75 years ago and became a home away from home for hundreds of scouts, among them senior navy personnel who spent their teenage years there, where they first learned to paint, file and propel seagoing vessels.

"There is no one who is more concerned about our children's health than we are...," says Dr. Zohar Segev of Haifa, whose daughter is a Sea Scout. "When an authorized laboratory determines that the quality of the water is up to the necessary standard and is no different from the public beaches, I don't understand what the problem is. The refusals by the various ministries do not include reasons and we are sent on a runaround, and we still don't know who can give us an answer.

"There is a system here that doesn't work and we are simply exploding," adds Dr. Segev.

The response from the Education Ministry was that, regarding aquatic activity, it receives instructions from the Health Ministry and the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Haaretz has also been told that as long as instructions from the Health Ministry remain unchanged, activity in the Kishon will not be allowed. The response from the Health Ministry was that the area of the Sea Scouts has been defined by the Shamgar Committee as forbidden for boating and that, moreover, a committee of directors-general headed by the director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry has been appointed "to examine the progress in the purification of the Kishon, and when it sees fit it will recommend possible changes in the recommendations of the Shamgar Committee. The committee has met several times but has not yet recommended any change. Therefore, the Health Ministry is unable to approve boating in the Kishon area that was forbidden by the Shamgar Committee."

The Environmental Protection Ministry has responded that the decision to allow the activity is in the hands of the Health Ministry.