Our Duty to Preserve Israel's Coastline

Jobs and increased access to beaches are not enough to excuse building over an area that is vital to both the ecosystem and to visitors.

Construction and surfers on the beach in Ashdod.
Construction and surfers on the beach in Ashdod.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The National Planning and Building Council was due to convene this week to discuss a new master plan for Israel’s Mediterranean shoreline, proposed by the Finance Ministry’s Planning Administration. At the heart of the plan was authorization for the construction of cafés, restaurants and other buildings within 100 meters from the water. In the end the proposal was dropped due to objections from the finance and environmental protection ministers, but the decision to develop an alternative plan does not eliminate this threat to the coastal environment.

The new plan is intended to replace the national master plan for the coast, approved 30 years ago, which includes protections for cliffs, sand dunes and other unbuilt areas. Some of these are designated for public use, others as farmland.

The old plan was based on the correct understanding that the shore was not merely a 100-meter-wide strip of beach, but rather a rich natural and scenic environment that is surrounded by a larger area that is vital to both the ecosystem and to visitors. It is obvious, for example, that the experience of visitors to the especially fine beaches of the Hof Hacarmel Regional Authority would be changed entirely if resort villages, banquet halls, luxury neighborhoods or giant high-rise apartment buildings, of the type that injure the coast south of Haifa and near Hadera, were to be built adjacent to them.

The new plan would eliminate the protections for these adjacent areas. Some of them might remain protected under the new plan, but it can be assumed that the Planning Administration, which supports the elimination of restrictions on development, will want to take advantage of the new opportunity to permit construction in these areas. Excuses will always be found, such as providing jobs and increasing access to the beaches. In this regard the Administration has the backing of the Prime Minister’s Office, which seeks to abolish a significant amount of the regulatory mechanism whose purpose is to protect natural resources for the benefit of the entire public.

The wider public and the environmental organizations must tell the ministers of finance and environmental protection that their duty to protect the coast does not stop at the 100-meter line. Of course it is permissible to amend the old master plan in accordance with present circumstances, but this must be done while at the same time taking care to protect the broader coastal environment. Any new construction that is undertaken to meet the legitimate needs of tourism or urban expansion should only be permitted within a framework that continues to offer comprehensive protection of the coast, leaving as much of the open area as possible undeveloped. Vacationers today and in future generations will be grateful for the opportunity to continue to hike over the rocky cliffs and the sand dunes, enjoying views of the Mediterranean Sea.

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