State Watchdog Lindenstrauss Steps Into Kinneret Construction Controversy

Comptroller recommends adopting Palmahim precedent to stop hotel complex.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss visited the Ashalim beach on Lake Kinneret yesterday. Lindenstrauss was invited to the beach by a group protesting the plan to build a hotel near the beach, and indicated that he might tackle the issue. Sources at the comptroller's office told Haaretz that Lindenstrauss might similarly address the issue of a hotel being built to the north of Tiberias, whose infrastructure demands the draining of several dunams of the sea.

During the visit, Lindenstrauss said that "in other, previous struggles that seemed very difficult, such as the struggle against building on the Palmahim beach, the comptroller's office assisted in a substantial manner by opposing powerful state authorities." The Palmahim project was eventually shelved.

Micha Lindenstrauss - Gil Eliyahu - October 2 2011
Gil Eliyahu

Lindenstrauss also held meetings yesterday with other authorities dealing with the project, such as the Golan Regional Council, the Israel Lands Administration and the Union of Kinneret Cities.

The Ze'elim-Ashalim beach, otherwise known as Diamond beach, was untouched by human hands until eight months ago, but since February the area has been fenced off and bulldozers are working on the infrastructure for a hotel area, that was approved by the authorities five years ago.

The Nakash brother's Jordache-Israel group, which also own Arkia Airlines, plans to build the Orchid-Galilee hotel on a 100-dunam (25-acre) area, which will include 50 holiday units facing the lake. Past estimates claimed that the project would cost $40 million.

The plan still leaves a 50-meter wide stretch of the beach open to the public, which will be built as a promenade, but the group protesting the project claims that according to past experience, entrepreneurs tend, in time, to grab adjacent areas of the beach - and in any case, they also protest the idea of a man-made promenade.

Following the project's approval a group of young people from the Golan Heights organized a protest group to save the beach, the preferred beach for wind surfers. Olympic medalists Gal Fridman and Shahar Zubari are among the surfers who joined the protest, as well as former Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz who showed up yesterday to present his point of view to Lindenstrauss.

Ran Kaminsky, coordinator of the protest group, told the comptroller that "this is a travesty. The plan for the hotel area was drawn up in a manner completely unaccepted nowadays in Israel and throughout the world, where authorities now prefer to build only close to already constructed areas. What they're doing here is dropping a load of concrete and cement in an open area, in order to build a holiday area for the super-rich. This is the last natural beach of the Sea of Galilee that still remains as it was created by God, and now they want to ruin it as well."

Tamar Zohary, Senior Scientist and Head of the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institution, told the comptroller of the fears that "overconstruction around Lake Kinneret will harm the lake and the future generations."

The comptroller asked Zohary about an article he read in Haaretz, concerning an east-Asiatic snail that somehow managed to reach the Kinneret and has since become the dominant snail in the lake. Zohary replied that it was yet another example of "human interference that does irreversible damage."