The Last Sand Dune

Within a few months a process will begin that spells the end for what scientists and environmentalists call the last sand dune of the Arava.

Once there were red loam hills and calcareous sandstone ridges in this small land. There were sand dunes that shifted from one shore to another, and loess deposits covered the northern Negev. Despite the great aridity, there were nonetheless abundant seasonal pools of water in the winter.

"Naive landscapes," the author S. Yizhar dubbed these places, which are rapidly disappearing. They are disappearing in favor of construction, and the developers - whether public or private - insist that it is for the good of the land and its inhabitants. But exactly what land would that be? What will it have to fall in love with, to cling to, to miss and to want to return to anew time after time?

Within a few months a process will begin that spells the end for what scientists and environmentalists call the last sand dune of the Arava. It's a rather modest dune, near Kibbutz Samar, just a little over 2,000 dunams (500 acres). But according to Prof. Haim Tsoar, a world authority on sand dunes from the Department of Geography and Environmental Development at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, there is no dune in the world like it because it is covered with vegetation and sustains life in spite of the area's difficult climatic conditions. In effect, the climate is similar to those of the Central Sahara Desert, but the dunes there are devoid of flora or fauna.

The dune, after being nibbled away from every direction in favor of farming, mining and quarrying, now stands to have the little that remains of it destroyed completely - this time for what the Israel Lands Administration defines as "the construction and paving economy of the Eilat region." According to the ILA, other options for acquiring the sand needed for these activities, such as bringing it from the Rotem Plain (about 150 kilometers away), are much more expensive.

At first glance this is a hard argument to deflect because it presents as critical the need to obtain the sand at a reasonable price. There is a price tag behind the argument, which makes it easy to negate the existence of that which has no price - some isolated sand dune that has managed to survive.

The late American plant ecologist Frank Egler noted that there are ecosystems whose value cannot be calculated in economic terms. He added, however, that there are many things that are considered valuable even if their value cannot be calculated. Unfortunately the people at the ILA do not know how to put a price on sand dunes, unless it's the price of sand that can be moved from place to place so that it can be used as a construction material.

The Arava dune is rich in flora and fauna, including unique species such as the Lesser Gerbil, the only rodent that can survive in shifting dunes. That said, it would be unfair to the gerbil to put its existence up against that of Eilat. The issue at stake is the entirety of the landscape and the environment, and the cycle of life that exist within them - and these are precious to everyone who lives in the area.

For the sake of their preservation, other alternatives should be examined, such as the import of sand from Jordan, or use of the sand remaining in the area's gravel quarries. It's more complicated and more expensive, but it's worth every agora if it can save what will never return.