There are places where one can find generous servings of the frustration, hopelessness and the bitter lesson that are part of the fight to preserve the little bit of nature still left in Israel. One of these places is the beach at Palmahim, where for a few weeks a group of young people has been trying to block the construction of a resort close to the shoreline.
For those not familiar with the place, it can be described as a beach that imposes an almost immediate sense of tranquillity, along with a feeling of relief that there are still places where the sea, the sun and the limestone hills come together. That combination has become a very rare one on the coast between Ashkelon and Herzliya, the area in which most of Israel's population is concentrated.
When the fight against the planned resort began to gain momentum, even rating a discussion by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, it became clear that there were serious arguments in favor of the plan. These were voiced by a broad range of planning bodies, government officials and the Gan Raveh Regional Council, in whose jurisdiction the beach falls. All of them explained the legal process by which the plan was approved and how well it matched the council's program for developing the area's tourism industry and economic foundation.
But when one visits the beach and understands what will be lost if the tractors - whose operators are waiting for the construction permits - start rolling, one can only be astonished at the failure, not only of the planning committee but also of bodies like the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, to put up strong opposition to the plan.
The issue currently worrying the organizations that are supposed to be the staunchest protectors of the coast is the question of whether the fence built by the developers should be moved to the precise distance from the shoreline specified by law. They have nothing to say about the area directly behind the shoreline, which will never return to its present state of beauty once it is built on.
Resorts are appropriate and important to a country such as Israel, which seeks to attracts tourists - as long as their location is not at the expense of our very limited coastline. Tourism development along the coast must be based on existing communities, and in any event must not be in close proximity to the shore.
Unfortunately, in the case of Palmahim, there is no chance that the same arrogant, self-assured petty officials who explained to the MKs why it was justified to build on the beach will do something to turn back the clock. "It is possible to do anything, including cancelling the plan," an Interior Ministry adviser said before the session, "but no one can come up with the money to compensate the developers."
If the Israel Lands Administration saw as one of its duties the preservation of land with value because of its natural character, one could expect it to take rapid action to offer to reimburse the developers for their outlay. That would enable the development plan's cancellation. Of course this will not happen, because the ILA has a deep commitment to its own decisions, especially when it comes to turning an empty, beautiful beach into an income-generating property.
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