Israel Fighting Developers Over Public Access to Beaches

State getting tough on restaurant developments, taking owners to court over illegal structures even if it means beach may suffer neglect as a result.

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A Rishon Letzion beach in 2014
A Rishon Letzion beach in 2014. Restaurants were taken to court over illegal awnings and structures, and agreed to demolish them last year.Credit: David Bachar

Israel is taking an increasingly tough stance against developers who open businesses that restrict public access to beaches.

In the latest example, a businessman has been told to demolish his restaurant because it restricts public access to a beach in Netanya, even though the move could result in the beach becoming neglected.

Israel’s beaches – on the Mediterranean, Lake Kinneret and the Gulf of Eilat – used to be an easy target for developers, who built businesses on them and lay claim to the water line, restricting public access. It took the authorities a long time to react, but things changed with the establishment of a forum devoted specifically to beaches in the State Prosecution’s civilian enforcement unit.

The purpose of the forum, which was launched three years ago, is to ensure that all relevant authorities, including the Israel Land Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry, work together to enforce the Beach Environment Protection Law. Such enforcement, carried out in cooperation with the Justice Ministry, allows orders to be issued to prevent damage to the beaches, including demolition orders for illegally built structures, and criminal indictments for building infractions.

The Netanya restaurant is on Ne’urim Beach and is owned by Avraham Dabush. The state took Dabush to court, demanding that he vacate the area. He was charged with illegal construction, conducting prohibited commercial activities and obstructing public access to the beach. The suit, filed in Netanya Magistrate’s Court, charged that Dabush “has made it a practice to take over public beaches and do whatever he feels like with them.”

In response, Dabush claimed that the illegal structures on the beach have been demolished and that the restaurant operates legally according to an agreement with Emek Hefer Regional Council and a permit granted by the council. He said he also works to maintain the beach.

The state countered that not only were the illegal structures still standing, Emek Hefer Regional Council’s planning and building committee had recently issued an indictment against the restaurant for not fulfilling the previous court order to demolish the structures.

A month ago, Netanya Magistrate’s Court’s senior registrar, Yifat Unger Biton, delivered her ruling on the matter. She said she had initially worked with the two sides to reach understandings because of her concern that, without the restaurant, the beach would become neglected and the scene of illegal activities.

No such understandings were reached, though, so Biton determined that the agreement with the regional council had lapsed three years ago and, in any case, the agreement did not permit Dabush to conduct activities or build structures without approval of the state, which owns the land.

The ruling also stated that while Dabush did maintain the beach, and neglect could result from the evacuation of the structures that would go against the public’s interest, there was no choice but to enforce the law.

Dabush was ordered to vacate the area by the end of this month.

In other cases, the Environmental Protection Ministry issued demolition orders against five restaurants on Rishon Letzion beaches last year for illegal awnings and chairs. The restaurant owners challenged the orders in Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court, which rejected their challenge. The owners then appealed to Lod District Court, and an arrangement was reached by all parties that the owners would demolish the offending structures themselves. This was done about a year ago.

In Ashkelon, meanwhile, a suit was recently filed to have illegal structures belonging to restaurants removed from the beach. At Lake Kinneret, a demolition order was issued to remove barricades put up by a kibbutz on the road to the beach; legal proceedings have also begun on that case.

In the Haifa Bay suburb of Kiryat Haim, a suit was filed against the owner of a water park to remove illegal structures in the beach area and the structures were demolished last year. An evacuation order was also issued against the operator of a boat parking area on a Tiberias beach.

So far, the special forum in the State Prosecutor’s Office has dealt with only a handful of the infractions pertaining to Israel’s beaches. But if enforcement persists and is backed up by the courts, the deterrence will have its effect. Developers who fantasize about opening a restaurant at the water’s edge will have to suffice with one from which diners can enjoy a view of the beach to which the public has open and unobstructed access.