Interior Minister Arye Dery announced on Monday that he would ban charging entry fees at 10 bathing beaches under the responsibility of local authorities.
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The minister stated that his decision affected 10 beaches: Nitzanim and Zikim in the south, Hatzuk in Tel Aviv, Achziv, Shavei Zion, Galei Gil, Dor and Argaman in the north and Ganim and the Separate Beach in Tiberias. Dery’s predecessor, Silvan Shalom, had begun the process of eliminating the entry fees.
Dery agreed with the Finance Ministry that the state would compensate local authorities a total of 7 million shekels ($1.8 million). In response to a Haaretz query, the Interior Ministry stated that only the Tel Aviv municipality would not receive compensation for the ban at Tzuk because of its robust financial situation.
This decision does not require legislation. The Interior Ministry will hold a hearing for local authority representatives, in which it will inform them of the expected change. Some of the local officials had not known of the decision and expressed fear that they would not be properly compensated.
“The decision will help in the fight to lower the cost of living and reduce gaps,” said Dery. “The decision will allow every citizen, rich or poor, to bathe for free in the sea and enjoy Israel’s natural resource without extra costs.”
Dery is seeking to eliminate the fee at five other beaches under the responsibility of the Nature and Parks Authority – Beit Yanai, Palmahim, Ashkelon National Park, Habonim and Achziv. The decision on this matter has been passed along to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
Of Israel’s 306 kilometers of beaches, only 18.8 kilometers are allocated for bathing. In the coming bathing season, which commences May 9, 140 organized bathing beaches will be opened, 93 of them along the Mediterranean cost. Another 27 are along Lake Kinneret, while there are 16 at the Dead Sea and 4 at the Red Sea.
The state began managing the beach fee issue in 2007, following a petition by the Israel Union of Environmental Defense (Adam Teva v’Din). Local authorities were allowed to charge 12 shekels entry per person over 13, on condition of approval by the interior minister. According to the law, an entry fee may only be levied if the beach provides additional services beyond restrooms, lifeguarding, cleaning and drinking water, and if there is another part of the beach that can be reasonably reached that is free.
Still, some beaches still charge for parking, sometimes for tens of shekels. For example, the Society for developing Caesarea began charging last year for parking at the Aqueduct Beach. Parking along the Kinneret is charged by the hour, although the rate was lowered. Beaches along the northern edge of the Dead Sea, located beyond Israel’s internationally recognized border, have also charged in recent years a high price for entry. Their operators asserted that because of their location in Judea and Samaria, the obligation to request approval from the interior minister does not apply to them.
Adam Teva v’Din’s Yael Dori welcomed Dery’s decision, but said he solved only part of the problem. “The injustice is that the ones that will receive compensation from the Interior Ministry are the authorities that have charged money,” Dori said. “Those who behaved and did not charge entry fees and took maintenance upon themselves are being deprived. Beach maintenance costs a reported 1.2 million shekels. If the decision affects nine beaches, the amount the Interior Ministry offers doesn’t cover this. The Interior Ministry needs to create a mechanism to take care of all the beaches and allocate funds annually to maintain and care for the beaches so they will serve the public for free but also pleasantly because today the beaches are very neglected.”
Yoram Yisraeli, the head of the Mateh Asher Regional Council, said: “If only very Israeli citizen would continue enjoying the amzing beach we have in the Western Galilee and enter for free, but it can’t be that the cleaning burden falls on residents of a small regional council at the edge of the country. It costs millions of shekels annually, and someone has to fund it. I hope the state that is cancelling our ability to charge for entry will find a way to provide us a designated budget for cleaning the beaches so all the Israelis will continue enjoying.”
Carmel Sela, head of the Carmel Beach Regional Council, said the issue is loaded and complex. “I think it’s a good breakthrough,” said Sela. “It’s only the beginning, and I hope the state will understand we can’t carry everything on our backs.”
The Tiberias municipality commented: “The decision to eliminate entry fees to beaches will be looked at with Interior Ministry officials,” stressing it knows how to work with and find a reasonable compromise with the Interior Ministry.
The City of Nahariya commented: “The municipality has no objection to the new regulation. We will operate according to law with the Interior Ministry.”
The Tel Aviv municipality commented: “The municipality is not familiar with this kind of directive from the Interior Ministry. It will learn the directives when it gets them and act accordingly.” The city stressed that entry to all city beaches are free save for Hatzuk, which charges anyone over the age of 13.
Yair Farjoun, the head of the Ashkelon Beach Council, also welcomed the decision. According to him, entry fees the council charged were dedicated for beach maintenance, paying lifeguards and funding cleaning services and emergency medical services. “The subject arose some months ago with the previous minister,” said Farjoun. “I didn’t express any objection, but I made it clear that such a step needs to be made with indemnification to the authorities.”