Israeli Minister Approves Construction for Maccabiah Games on Sea Turtle Habitat

Ayelet Shaked exploits a legal loophole to permit construction on Poleg beach, which connects two nature reserves and serves as an ecological corridor for wildlife

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Poleg beach, on Tuesday.
Poleg beach, on Tuesday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked signed an order this week allowing the construction of temporary facilities for the Maccabiah Games in July on an ecologically sensitive Mediterranean beach.

The Environmental Protection Ministry, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and residents of nearby southern Netanya opposed the decision, citing potential harm to Poleg Beach.

The order, which was recommended by the National Planning and Building Council, allows the construction of mobile, temporary buildings on 5,800 square meters of the beach, with no need to submit plans or obtain permits. It exploits a legal exemption intended for emergency use only.

The planned facilities include stages, bleaches, toilets, canteens, a climbing wall and basketball courts. The permit is for 40 days.

In a written submission to the planning council, the Environmental Protection Ministry argued that the decision ignored the area’s great sensitivity. Poleg connects two nature reserves and serves as an ecological corridor for wildlife. Moreover, sea turtles lay their eggs there.

A worker at the Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center cleans a sea turtle at their center in the Israeli coastal moshav of Mikhmoret, north of Tel Aviv.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

The ministry also argued that most of the facilities could be built farther from the coast, thereby significantly reducing the harm to the beach. It also objected to arranging for parking on nature sites near the beach.

SPNI said exemption has hitherto been used only for urgent national needs like an earthquake warning station or temporary power plants, and using it for a sporting event that can be prepared for in advance is unjustified. Moreover, it said, elements like wooden walkways and paved basketball courts would keep wildlife from traversing the beach, and the necessary construction work, which requires heavy equipment, might do real damage to the sands.

Shaked’s office said the Maccabiah has “international and national importance,” and most of its events require proximity to the coast. Moreover, an ecologist was involved in drafting the order, based on instructions from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority on issues like lighting and fencing to ensure turtles can continue laying eggs.

“This temporary event won’t cause significant damage to the environment,” it continued, after which the status quo will be restored.

The city of Netanya said it had applied for the order due to “the lack of time and the importance of the event,” and all the facilities will be dismantled after the Maccabiah. “Unfortunately, the ‘green’ organizations have once again chosen the path of extremism and are working to thwart the event,” it added.

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