Samar sand dunes protest_311.
(photo credit: Dov Greenblatt, Society for the Protection of Natu)
When contractor Yossi Harel arrived at the Samar sand dunes to begin mining
Wednesday morning, he found dozens of green activists blocking his company’s
By noon, at least nine activists had been arrested and taken
to Eilat’s police station after about 30 police officers stormed the area,
according to the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI).
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the incident – the latest move in an attempt to prevent the disruption of the
sands’ ecology – led Israel Lands Authority officials to cancel a compromise it
had offered on mining the sand, and to continue work as planned.
activists – members of SPNI, Green Course and Arava communities – had come to
protest the start of a contentious mining project in the Samar sands, which are
located north of Eilat and are slated to be used in construction there.
Following previous mining projects, only around 20 percent of the original 1,100
hectares (2,718 acres) of sand remains, and according to green groups, these
sands contain genetically diverse flora and fauna thought to be connected to
species in the Sahara Desert.
For months, environmental activists have
been battling the decision to mine the sands, arguing that alternative – and far
less environmentally sacred – sites nearby could serve the same
SPNI Vice President Nir Papay, in a statement released by his
office, called the decision to mine sand from Samar “extremely
“There is no place at all for the destruction of valued
nature and landscapes as unique as those in the Samar, especially in light of
the fact already proven that there are other, better alternatives for the sand
mining, that provide a long-term solution and not a fatal blow to nature,” he
The ILA had recently proposed a compromise, offering to mine in
only one of three lots – lot gimmel – instead of in both lots gimmel and daled,
as planned. This would cut the amount of sand mined by two-thirds (the
administration had already decided, independently of the compromise, to step
away from the third lot, heh, and append it to an adjacent, 150-hectare
(371-acre) nature reserve, according to an ILA statement released
An official from the Environmental Protection Ministry said
that less important than the exact quantity of sand being mined was the impact
that the mining would have on nature and animals.
The green groups,
meanwhile, did not agree to the compromise, vowing instead to continue their
fight at “full strength.” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan backed
the activists’ decision and phoned ILA head Benzi Lieberman on Tuesday to inform
him that he, too, would not agree to the settlement.
In response to this
opposition, the ILA said in its Wednesday statement that its officials thought
the compromise was a “far-reaching” deal, an offer certainly not required by the
“The bid on the mining of the Samar sands was executed properly and
in accordance with the law,” said ILA chairman Ariel Attias, who is also
construction and housing minister.
After both the rejection of the
compromise and the green groups’ attempt to stop the mining physically on
Wednesday, Attias and Lieberman agreed to cancel their concession offer and
stressed that the mining in both lots gimmel and daled would continue as
planned, according to their office.