Israel's Public Spaces Are Turning Into Somebody's Private Living Room

Too often, the authorities turn a blind eye as private events and construction encroach on parks and beaches

Beach construction continues as long as the authorites allow it to.
Nir Kafri

Beaches, recreation sites, parks and other public spaces are being increasingly invaded by private parties or municipalities, which use them for private events or construction. The authorities support some of these goings on, ignore others and generally fail to ensure that the areas maintain their original use. Consequently, the public is excluded from places that are supposed to be open for all and for the public’s benefit.

Residents of the Western Galilee recently reported a caravan settlement on a beach in the Achziv area. One resident said the “settlement” has existed on and off for several years.

The beach area has in fact been robbed by private individuals, who use showers and toilets with no infrastructure. The Nahariya municipality and Environmental Protection Ministry’s Green Police ordered the caravans to leave several times, but they returned to the beach a few weeks later and refused to relocate in a caravan park with all the necessary facilities 200 meters away.

Birthday parties held in parks are usually not an inconvenience, but when a private event is held in a public area adjacent to a residential area, it can cause a major hazard. For example, a few months ago a bar mitzvah party was held in a private home in Caesarea. The family put up a large marquee in a nearby public area for the event. One of the neighbors, Jeffrey Stone, said the marquee and celebration had not received the required permits and caused hazards that disturbed the neighborhood’s residents.

The Caesarea Development Corporation, which manages the town, said the event was not commercial but a one-time event of one family. Anyway, it said, the area had been appropriated long ago by the Hof Carmel Regional Council which, as far as the corporation knows, granted the required permits for the event.

The Hof Carmel Regional Council said no request had been made for the event, adding that the council takes a grim view of illicitly held events that are not coordinated with the authorities. The council said its inquiry suggests the Caesarea Development Corporation had in all likelihood approved the event.

The Rehovot municipality is planning to allow apartment buildings to be built on part of a park bordering on Taran and Shimoni streets. In exchange, the private entrepreneur who is developing the area will allow the city to open kindergartens on an area owned by the entrepreneur on the adjacent Menuha and Nahala street.

On another park in Rehovot the city intends to allow the construction of a building for an ultra-Orthodox organization, despite the acute shortage of green areas in the neighborhood. An undeveloped area near this park has become a parking lot, and it is likely that more buildings will be constructed in the neighborhood in the future.

The neighbors admit the park is on an area intended for public structures, but what the neighborhood really needs is kindergartens, not a building for an ultra-Orthodox organization, they say.

The Rehovot municipality said the area on Menuha and Nahala street is required for three or four kindergartens, due to the lack of public facilities on this street. The remaining public areas are under construction or intended for construction. As for the other neighborhood, the city said “that’s Sha’arayim, whose population is aging” and doesn’t need kindergartens.

The residents, however, say the neighborhood’s future depends on bringing in young families, who will hardly want to move to an area with no kindergartens or schools.

In recent weeks the media reported a bat mitzvah party held by a Jewish family from the United States on Masada. Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz even summoned Israel Nature and Parks Authority director general Shaul Goldstein to discuss the matter.

Goldstein said the authority was obliged by law to create links between communities and youth to its sites and heritage. One of the ways to create such a link is to hold “certain ceremonies at the sites, including bar or bat mitzvah parties, marriages and soldiers’ swearing-in and graduation ceremonies.”

He also said the event on Masada was held in a rocky area with no archaeological remnants, and the structure made for it was supervised by the site’s staff and caused no damage. Cancelling the event would have caused huge damage to the family and to Israel, he said, adding: “If in future holding these ceremonies will be stopped, the damage to the public would be inconceivable.”