The Kinneret Fence Debacle

Only stubborn and ongoing public pressure could conceivably bring about a change and force the government to pay for regular cleaning of the Kinneret beaches and to make sure that they are properly administered.

I would give a great deal to know the thoughts and feelings of State Comptroller Dr. Eliezer Goldberg during the meeting conducted two weeks ago by the Knesset State Control Committee, which discussed a chapter of his latest report. This is the chapter that deals with illegal fencing on Lake Kinneret beaches, and the high charge for public entry to them.

A representative of the comptroller's office opened the meeting, and, in a manner that was reminiscent of the reading of an indictment, he spelled out the findings concerning Lake Kinneret. He mentioned the erection of dozens of fences without building permits, and the high fees collected at the beaches, preventing the possibility of free entry to the shoreline, as required by the Regulation of Bathing Places Law. He also spoke about beaches that operate without proper permits, and about the shortage of essential lifesaving and first-aid services.

In front of the people from the comptroller's office sat the heads of the regional councils, in whose jurisdiction the vast majority of the Kinneret beaches are located. None of them looked embarrassed, and not one of them lowered his gaze before Goldberg's stare.

As soon as the state comptroller's representative finished reading, Yossi Vardi, the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, rushed to respond, and in a confident voice declared that the regional councils are the ones who have saved Lake Kinneret - thanks to their activities to organize and clean up the beaches, after hundreds of thousands of vacationers leave huge piles of garbage behind them. In order to conduct this activity, their small budgets were not sufficient, and they had to fence in the beaches and charge the visitors a fee.

The people from the comptroller's office, the head of the committee, MK Yuri Stern, and a few other MKs tried repeatedly to get answers to the questions of why there is a systematic violation of the law along the shores of the lake, including the erection of fences without permits, and why the fees collected go as high as NIS 100 for every car.

Virtually the only reply they received was a police document that Vardi waved, bearing a demand to erect a fence as a condition for receiving a permit to operate the beach. A police officer who was present at the meeting was quick to point out that this referred to a fence for a camping area, and not for access to the beach itself.

Goldberg continued to maintain silence most of the time, or to ask questions in a low voice and in a practical tone, but even he could not restrain himself after hearing the words of Pinhas Green, head of the Kinneret Administration. Green was asked why the administration had allowed the erection of fences in various places on the lake, and replied that actually it had removed the fences, but they were rebuilt two days later. He added that complaints against the fences had been made to the police, but they had replied that they would not deal with the complaints because of a lack of public interest.

"A lack of public interest?" shouted Goldberg, and now his voice could be heard clearly in the conference room. "You close a public beach, and it is possible that this doesn't interest the public, that it is not interested in the fact that it's impossible to enter for free? Why didn't you turn to us so that we could ask for explanations from the police?" he asked in astonishment - and did not receive a reply. He was convinced that the job of a body like the Kinneret Administration is to fight with determination, to bang on every door and to issue a warning at every gate about phenomena such as the erection of illegal fences in and around the waters of the precious lake.

Maybe he was also certain that in the wake of the report he had published things would begin to change. It's hard to believe that he still thinks so, after the meeting he attended, and apparently it is clear even to him that there is not much chance the government ministries and the regional councils will act on their own to remedy the situation. Only stubborn and ongoing public pressure could conceivably bring about a change and force the government to pay for regular cleaning of the beaches and to make sure that they are properly administered. That way, the regional councils will not be able to use the excuse of the need to pay for the cleaning to justify activity that bypasses the law and prevents the freedom of movement of visitors to the lake.