The perennial struggle to keep the nation’s beaches open to the public chalked up two successes this week. In Eilat, the municipality regained control of a beach that Trans-Israel Pipeline had held for decades. Further north, planning authorities rejected plans to build a resort village on Palmahim beach.
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However, many other beachfronts remain in constant danger of being buried under construction projects. Even in places where building is clearly banned, commercial companies or private individuals encroach on the beaches or organize events that are closed to the public.
In the next few weeks the National Council for Planning and Construction will start discussing the approval of a national master plan for the country’s beaches, which would aim to improve the beaches’ protection on a 100-meter-wide coastal strip directly adjacent to the waterline.
The plan will ensure that sports facilities or kiosks will only be allowed further east of the 100-meter swath and prohibit parking lots or tents on it. Structures already on the strip will not be allowed to expand toward the sea.
However, the plan makes it easier to build a little further from the waterline, on the coastal hinterland – consisting of cliffs and dunes that are inseparable from the coastal environment.
These areas consist of some 20,000 dunams, some of which are in urban areas like the south of Bat Yam and north Tel Aviv. There are also areas adjacent to the beaches of Dor, Nachsholim and Sdot Yam, whose protected status will change to enable construction on them.
The environmental group Adam Teva V’Din recently filed a petition to the High Court of Justice against the new master plan, warning of the danger to the coastal hinterland.
These areas’ future is due to be determined in the near future by the National Council for Planning and Construction.
The new master plan revokes the protected status of some areas that have nonetheless been built on over the years.
Close to 16,000 dunams of the hinterland is in areas belonging to the defense establishment, which controls a large part of Israel’s open area. These are well preserved areas that have not been built on, such as in the Palmahim Air Force base, the Zikim beach area and the Rafael facility in the Krayot area.
The national planning authorities tasked the Nature and Parks Authority to discuss these areas’ future with the defense establishment. According to the authority’s planning director Nir Engert, some headway was made. Part of the area in the Rafael facility, which consists of important sand dunes, will be under various construction restrictions. Other areas in military facilities in the Palmahim area will also be restricted for construction.
However, the future of a large area occupied by military facilities is not clear. The army and military industries have no intention of leaving them in the coming years, but the army has evacuated bases in the center of the country in recent years. The military industries are supposed to evacuate 8,000 dunams near Ramat Hasharon.
Under the new plan, it’s not clear how protected these areas will be if the army and defense establishment evacuate them, even partially.
Engert proposes leaving the areas’ relatively protected status under the previous master plan intact. “We call on the planning administration that created the problem to take responsibility, agree to preserve the original goals of the master plan and thus solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction,” he wrote to the planning authorities.
The Environmental Protection Ministry and Israel Lands Authority have recently beefed up their efforts to prevent private people or companies from taking over beaches and fencing them off for various events and commercial purposes. This activity takes place unhindered during the summer and prevents the public at large from enjoying the beaches.
On Nitzanim beach, for example, events are still being held. On Dor beach several businesses have set up illegal structures, which are used for private events. The authority sent some of them warning letters. The authority recently removed a few mobile homes that settled on Atlit beach. In Eilat mobile homes are parked on a beach with the municipality’s consent.
Environmental Protection Ministry officials say these mobile homes cannot remain on the beach because they are brought by vehicles and the law prohibits cars from driving within the 100-meter coast strip.
Residents in Sdot Yam say various entrepreneurs operate game facilities and hold events on the beach, leaving piles of garbage there. Cars drive on the seafront unhindered. These goings on are prevalent on many beaches all over the country, preventing access from the public.
A Sdot Yam resident recently complained to the Regional Council Hof Carmel about the continued obstruction of the beach.
“We have no authority or enforcement power,” the official in charge of beaches in the regional council, Yossi Gabai, told him. He also said the illegal activity near Sdot Yam is prevalent on all Israel’s beaches.
Gabai said the individuals who rented the encampment on the beach on weekends tend to be violent and that he plans to go there with a policeman.
Gabai wrote that the council asked the Income Tax Authority to find out who put up and leased a tent on the beach “so that criminal investigations may be opened against them for allegedly illegitimate business activity on the beach.
“I hope the state realizes that this illegal activity is spreading year by year and enacts laws against both the structures’ owners and renters,” he said.
The Israel Lands Authority said in response that it deals with beach invaders constantly, but the beach near Sdot Yam is not state owned, so ILA inspectors have no authority there.
The ILA’s Israel Skop said the practice of setting up tents and mobile structures on undeclared beaches for prolonged periods of time is expanding. “This is taking over public land,” he said. “They throw garbage, come to the waterfront in cars and take up a large area the public cannot use. Some encampments are equipped with generators and refrigerators.”
He said the authority is taking legal measures against several businesspeople who have set up illegal structures on the beach.