Watchdog Okays Building Greenhouses on Rare Dunes Next to Israel's Border With Gaza

The dunes near Netiv Ha’asara, which cover some 6,000 dunams, is one of the last large dune areas in the coastal plain region

The dunes Netiv Ha’asara in southern Israel, next to the border with Gaza, on May 27, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has dropped its objection to allowing ecologically significant dunes near Moshav Netiv Ha’asara in the northwestern Negev to be used for greenhouses.

The decision makes the plan more likely to be approved; however, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel still objects to the plan, and wants an alternative site for the greenhouses to be found.

The District Planning and Building Committee has recently been discussing a plan to earmark 800 dunams (200 acres) of dunes for Netiv Ha’asara’s agriculture. There is also a plan to turn much of the dunes into a forest, the planting of which could change the area’s character and damage biodiversity. A number of groups have filed objections, which the committee is to discuss soon, ahead of its final decision.

The dunes Netiv Ha’asara in southern Israel, next to the border with Gaza, on May 27, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The dunes near Netiv Ha’asara, which cover some 6,000 dunams, is one of the last large dune areas in the coastal plain region. They are home to herds of gazelles and rodents unique to the Eastern Mediterranean, including Anderson’s gerbil and the jerboa. It is almost the only natural area on the coast where the gray monitor lizard, the largest lizard species in Israel, can be found. All in all, 15 species of endangered vertebrates inhabit the area, which puts it on the list of the 10 sites in Israel with the highest number of endangered species.

The parks authority has been able to have the area intended for a forest to be declared a nature reserve. But it had also originally opposed the greenhouses on the dunes. In its statement to the committee, it said: “Despite the distance from urban centers, this habitat is in real danger of extinction and the desire to allocate part of it for agriculture certainly does not benefit it, but rather expedites its extinction.”

However, about 10 days ago the director of the authority’s central district, Menahem Fried, informed the committee that the agency was lifting its objection. The decision was made after meetings between the Agriculture Ministry and the nature and parks authority.

The dunes Netiv Ha’asara in southern Israel, next to the border with Gaza, on May 27, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The authority stated: “When we submitted our objection we thought the community would receive another solution for its agriculture needs, but that is not the case. This is a community in a special place on the Gaza border, which makes it living from a very specific type of agriculture. We decided to place the emphasis on declaring the rest of the area a nature reserve as an effective response in terms of managing and protecting the area. As for the agricultural area, we demanded that the plan be carried out in stages and, in keeping with a plan, that it will indeed be used for greenhouses. It should be noted that in the case of the Nitzanim Dunes farther north, compromises were also made; alongside a nature reserve, areas were earmarked for a hotel business and tourism. We try to understand national needs and find the appropriate balances.”

The secretary of Netiv Ha’asara, Karen Ifargan, recently approached the committee in the Agriculture Ministry responsible for allocating land for cultivation, noting that the moshav had been given land farther away, but that it was not enough to meet the residents’ needs.

“The agricultural activity in the moshav is intensive flower growing, nurseries and in particular the raising of vegetables for seeds,” Ifargan said. “This activity requires that the areas be close to the community, both in terms of operations and agronomy.”

Other ecological groups, represented on the committee by Shay Tahnai of the SPNI, still object to the plan. In their objection, Tahnai wrote: “A look at the areas at the disposal of Netiv Ha’asara shows many unused areas and that many greenhouses are neglected and do not serve their purpose.” The SPNI also said that alternatives could be found suitable for the greenhouses. “It is unreasonable to cut into the dunes, whose ecosystems are a rare public resource, for the sake of greenhouses,” the Tahnai wrote. The ecosystems can’t exist in any other location, Tahnai added, while the greenhouses can.