As surfers splashed through the turquoise waves and campers emerged from their tents this Thursday morning, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz pledged to continue the fight to preserve the popular Palmahim Beach.

After nine years of heated dispute as to whether a resort could crop up on the Palmahim shores, the Central District Committee for Planning Building decided to consider transforming the beach into national park and nature reserve land, if the National Council for Planning and Building agrees to rezone the land.

Since 2004, when developers first signed an agreement to build a hotel on the site, environmentalists have been up in arms about the impact such a plan would have on treasured open spaces of the public and the rare flora and fauna that reside there. In 2010, then-environmental protection minister Gilad Erdan brought the issue to the attention of the the government, which launched a reevaluation of the project after a State Comptroller’s Report against it.

In January, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry jointly submitted a comprehensive plan to the Southern District Committee’s steering board to transform the entire beach into a national park and nature reserve.

At Palmahim on Thursday morning, INPA executive director Shaul Goldstein and other officials from the organization briefed the new minister on the entire saga as well as the new plan that is under consideration.

“This is the only beach that doesn’t have a background of a city,” said Amir Chen, the INPA’s Palmahim site manager.

Walking around the beach, Peretz met with families camping over Passover, as well as surfers who requested a reduced parking fee at the site.

“Palmahim is our home,” one surfer said, praising the INPA and Environment Ministry’s efforts to keep the place in the hands of the public.

One elderly man told Peretz that he had been visiting the beach here for years, and hoped that he would be able to continue.

“I came here to see the place, to make sure sure you can come here for another 20 years,” the minister responded.

At the conclusion of his Palmahim tour, Peretz stressed how important it is to continue to maintain the site and transform it into a nature reserve and national park as planned by the INPA, emphasizing “the need to protect” open spaces in general around Israel.

“After the tour here, there’s no doubt,” Peretz said, pledging to continue the fight in the government.

Following his visit to Palmahim, Peretz continued his day meeting families and enjoying parks around Israel, with visits to Tel Afek, Tel Beersheba, Mishor Yamin and Mamshit.

All in all, Israel’s nature reserves and national parks received more than 300,000 visitors on Thursday, with 90,000 visiting paid sites and the remainder traveling to free open spaces, according to INPA data. Tel Afek was one of the most popular places on Thursday, hosting more than 8,000 people, while Ein Gedi received 5,000 and Caesarea and Masada each had about 4,000, the INPA said.

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund also reported very high numbers at the organization’s sites throughout Israel, with tens of thousands arriving only by midday, and venues received about 10 to 15 percent more people than they did during the same period last year.

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