One of the last natural beach cliffs in central Israel is under threat due to environmental hazards and visitors’ SUVs, but the Environmental Protection Ministry has failed to take steps to preserve it.
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The beach cliff is located north of Herzliya, near the community of Arsuf – some 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Tel Aviv – and is meant to enjoy the protected status of a national park. Recently, a group of local residents tried to promote the cliff’s defense, but to date the ministry, which is responsible for the issue, has not taken the necessary action.
The area received approval to become a national park several years ago, but was never officially declared one. Only in an officially declared national park can the Israel Nature and Parks Authority enlist all the necessary measures to preserve the area. The present delay is because most of the land is privately owned, and compensation for the landowners has yet to be discussed.
Without sufficient protection, the site is at the mercy of the elements and visitors. SUVs have destroyed significant parts of the sandstone ridges and have forged paths, damaging vegetation, harming wildlife and changing the way the rainwater flows, which has worsened the problems of drainage and soil erosion.
According to the INPA, there is also illegal waste-dumping in the area and nightly parties are damaging the flora and fauna. The INPA says there are several rare species of wildflowers in the area, among them the purple iris. There is also a rich variety of insects, a steady population of gazelles and also porcupines and rabbits.
With the support of the regional council, a group of residents established a group called the Cliff Defenders. “Our aim is to defend the area and make sure it stays preserved and accessible to the general public for hiking,” says Danny Manheim, one of its activists. Among other things, the group keeps the area clean and conducts informational activity to prevent the entrance of off-road vehicles.
Although the park has yet to be officially declared, it is still possible for the state to protect the area under a law that bans vehicles from beaches. A clause in the law states that the Environmental Protection Ministry can designate an area a “protected area” and take measures, like erecting a barrier or a gate to prevent SUVs from gaining entry.
Recently, the INPA and the local Sharon Coast regional council asked the ministry to declare a large part of the beach cliff as a protected area. “Given the rapid and drastic reduction of open natural spaces in the center of the country, the issue is critical and requires the mobilization of the ministry as soon as possible,” wrote Michal Wimmer-Luria, who coordinates sustainability activities for the council. Members of the Cliff Defenders have marked a path adjacent to an existing road, which could be gated off and prevent the entrance of off-road vehicles. Although the request was made nearly a year ago, the ministry has not made any moves in this direction.
The ministry responded, “The ministry supports advancing the declaration of a protected area. Only recently the INPA informed us that most of the area in question is privately owned, and it was asked to provide documents to proceed in dealing with the legal aspect. At the end of the processing, subject to the process of examination and approval, and in accordance with the guidelines of the attorney general, an order will be submitted to the new environmental protection minister when he assumes his post, since only he is authorized to sign the declaration.”