Sharon's Professed Love of Sand

Should the planning institutions fail to say amen to the cabinet's orders, Sharon's men will make sure to exert steamroller pressure to make them fold.

At Sunday's cabinet meeting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed the Greens' fears of the Gush Katif residents' planned move to Nitzanim. Sharon promised that there was no intention of harming the sandy plains in the area, and that its natural resources would be preserved.

The prime minister considers himself a great lover of Israeli nature and landscape. But all his attempts to camouflage the environmental repercussions of the move by professing his love for the coastal sands are useless. The move is intended to serve short-term political needs, and will turn the sands of Nitzanim into a nature reserve under constant siege.

The deceptive show put on by Sharon and the planners of the new communities in Nitzanim is based on the argument that these communities will be on the margins of the sand tracts and will not harm nature or scenery. However, the modern concept of nature preservation is not based merely on the small area of the reserve itself as an entity detached from the outside world. Rather, nature reserves and parks are intended to be as connected as possible to the contiguity of open territories and protected by an envelope of open area, which though less important environmentally than the reserve itself, still fulfills a vital role in its protection.

Widespread construction adjacent to the nature reserve creates fringe effects that are detrimental to the environmental conditions. The smaller the reserve area is and the wider the built-up area, the more significant these fringe effects. These influences consist of the penetration of foreign species of fauna and flora, which spells a death blow to the indigenous flora and fauna. They also consist of environmental hazards caused by garbage, pesticides, noise and light, which disrupt the natural balance.

On the outskirts of built-up communities, a host of environmental hazards usually appear. These include polluting gas stations, pollution-emitting commercial and industrial facilities, and motor traffic around the nature reserve and on roads entering it.

The fringe effects will spill over to the depths of the sandy region the day the new communities want to expand. For it is clear that the settlers of Gush Katif will wish to develop the communities to which they move, and seek additional sources of employment or leisure and recreation sites. Their expansion to the sandy plains will be inevitable.

The environmental damage is only one aspect of the far-reaching implications of the Nitzanim plan; it will also strike a harsh blow to Israel's planning system, which is supposed to be based on a balanced examination of plans and their alternatives.

The pattern emerging from the Nitzanim plan looks like the course favored by Sharon, in which the cabinet invents a rapid legislation process, or sets up a committee with special authorities, in order to approve plans convenient to its needs.

The motto Sharon loves so much - "get to work" - replaces action deriving from calculated planning.

Should the planning institutions fail to say amen to the cabinet's orders, Sharon's men will make sure to exert steamroller pressure to make them fold.

Presumably, they will do the same the next time settlements are evacuated and their residents covet some new community, perhaps on the border of the Carmel Park, or adjacent to a national park in the mountains of Jerusalem.

Sharon will be remembered in the future - and not only due to Nitzanim - as the one who sent bulldozers time and again to destroy the most beautiful and unique landscapes in Israel, and as the one who undermined the planning procedures intended to protect these resources.

While he is advancing the construction of new communities that will harm the Nitzanim sand dunes, his cabinet is busy giving the stamp of approval to communities that will harm the Halutza sand dunes, the Gilboa ridge, the Yatir Forest region, and the hills of Alonim and Shfaram. All these are categorized as regions of major environmental importance, or as vital ecological corridors.

In these regions the communities will be built either adjacent to areas earmarked for national parks and nature reserves or at their expense. As in the case of Nitzanim, Sharon's cabinet chose to build them all for political or security considerations.