SPNI: Gov't Plans to Ban Swimming at 90 Percent of Country's Beaches

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is calling on Interior Minister Sheetrit not to approve the plan.

The Interior Ministry is planning to ban swimming at more than 90 percent of the country's beaches, according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The group is calling on Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit not to approve the plan.

Information received by the SPNI indicates that Sheetrit intends to sign an order turning all beaches where swimmers are responsible for their own safety into beaches where swimming is banned. This would increase the proportion of banned Mediterranean beaches from 35 percent today to more than 90 percent. Along Lake Kinneret, about half the beaches are prohibited to swimmers today, but if the plan were to go into effect, that proportion would shoot up to 97 percent.

This translates into each person in Israel getting a mere 2 millimeters of the Mediterranean and 0.2 millimeters of the Kinneret in which they are allowed to swim, according to the SPNI.

"A comprehensive swimming ban is not the way to reduce the state's risks," said SPNI director Gershon Peleg. "Such a ban is intended to relieve the Interior Ministry of responsibility for the matter of arranging swimming in a suitable fashion. According to this method, trips can be prohibited across the Negev, in the northern valleys, in the mountains of Eilat, and in every charming corner of our country because it's dangerous to travel and because the state is liable to be sued."

The Interior Ministry said the legality of the beach closures was under examination and that no decision has so far been made.

Beaches banned to swimmers are considered dangerous, and violating the ban constitutes a criminal offense. The public will now have to choose between crowding the few permissible beaches or swimming in prohibited ones, at the risk of incurring a fine or even jail time, the SPNI said.

The organization said the Interior Ministry conducted a risk assessment of the beaches but is ignoring the data it collected. The SPNI also argued that it will be impossible to enforce the altered status of the beaches.