Uniting Israel’s citizens to protect its shores
Environment: Battle for Palmahim Beach has became a symbol of national consensus for conservation effort for country’s coastline.
Israel's Coastline Photo: Sharon Udasin
Though it is just a sliver of beach on Israel’s southern Mediterranean shores,
the lush sand dunes of Palmahim Beach have become an icon of the larger public
struggle to keep the remaining fragments of their beloved beaches
“I want to create a massive movement of people that has this
very focused mission,” says Dana Lustig, an activist who has been fighting to
protect Palmahim for years. “It starts with the beaches and then moves into the
water and then on to many other things we can do as a whole united
After public protests that rallied the country’s biggest green
groups and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan together in the summer
of 2010, the government nixed existing plans to construct a large resort on
Palmahim Beach. Before this decision, however, the project’s developers had
already purchased the land and received government approval for construction of
the leisure complex.
Two-and-a-half years later, no financial
compensation agreement or site alternative has been decided on, and the project
has therefore returned to the tables of the Central District Committee for
Planning and Building – a step that is rattling the activists who originally
fought against the plan.
Last week, in anticipation of a central district
steering committee meeting that occurred this Wednesday, the Society for the
Protection of Nature in Israel launched a campaign that called upon Erdan and
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to maintain their original promise to protect
the Palmahim coast. Working with SPNI are a wide range of other environmental
organizations, such as Adam Teva V'Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense);
Green Course; Shatil; the Committee to Save Palmahim Beach; and the Israeli
Forum for the Preservation of Beaches. Through the campaign, members of the
public have so far submitted over 6,000 letters to the ministers on the Hasdera
Leading a rally on behalf of the Palmahim fight on
Tuesday afternoon was Prof. Alon Tal, chairman of the Green Movement and No. 13
on the Knesset list for the Tzipi Livni Party. At the beach that day, he played
the guitar for supporters while he and Livni sung a duet of the Israeli folk
song “Hofim” (“Beaches”).
“I think that Palmahim became a symbol of the
national consensus for a significant conservation effort for Israel’s limited
coastline,” Tal told The Jerusalem Post that day.
At a steering committee
meeting of the Central District Committee for Planning and Building on Wednesday
morning, representatives from the Environmental Protection Ministry and the
Israel Nature and Parks Authority presented a plan to transform the entire
Palmahim region into a national park and nature reserve. Under this plan, if the
steering committee and then the full central district committee decide to grant
their approvals, the stretch of coast alongside Kibbutz Palmahim would become
national park land and the coastal area from south of the kibbutz to Ashdod
would become an untouchable nature reserve.
In addition to proposing the
nature reserve and national park transformation, the INPA and Environment
Ministry officials also suggested granting an alternative location to the
Palmahim resort developers – a smaller site across the street, next to the
Palmahim air force base. The officials stressed, however, that they were
confident that the developers would not be happy with this suggestion and that
the only “real alternative” would be financial compensation.
committee members, however, did not immediately make any decision about the
proposals, an Environment Ministry spokesman said.
Lustig, 27, was one of
the founders of the initial struggle that began several years ago to save
Palmahim Beach from a resort complex planned on its sands. She now intends to
use that original – and still ongoing – campaign as a launch pad for a
nationwide coastal preservation fight on behalf of the public.
“It was my
sister and I that started the whole Palmahim struggle a few years ago,” Lustig,
who grew up in the nearby town of Beit Oved, told the Post on
For her new project, Mishmar HaYam (Sea Preservation), Lustig
is receiving funding and expert guidance through the American Express Young
Professionals program. The kickoff for her new campaign, which directly involves
Palmahim, is a 47-second YouTube video rallying famous Israeli personalities in
a last-ditch effort for the beach.
With sand sifting through a person’s
hand in the background, the video begins with quotes from Netanyahu and
First is a quote from Netanyahu, from July 4, 2010, which reads:
“The country’s beaches are a unique natural resource and we must ensure that
they continue to be open for the use of the general public.”
the words of Erdan, from June 13, 2010: “The coastal strip of Israel is supposed
to serve the greater public, and it cannot be that only captains of industry
will benefit from this unique and limited natural resource.”
statements, a number of famous faces – including actor Tal Friedman,
singer-songwriter Keren Peles, musician Mosh Ben-Ari, media personality Avri
Gilad, singer Shai Aviv, former model Lior Miller and rapper Mooke (Daniel Niv)
– all appear, saying “You promised,” one after another. At the video’s
conclusion, Dana Lustig and her sister, Adi, emerge with the sea in the
background, reiterating that the ministers must not break their promise to save
THE ENTIRE Palmahim coastal area is 41.4 hectares (102.3
acres), with the chunk of land purchased by the resort developers encompassing
about 7.2 hectares, Lustig explains. While the developers paid only NIS 8
million for their piece of land originally, Lustig said that they are now
demanding NIS 400m.
in order to cease the project. The government –
particularly the Israel Lands Authority and the Finance Ministry – do not want
to fund any compensation agreement, according to Lustig.
“They are asking
for an amount that isn’t reasonable with anything they’re planning,” she
“If they want to build this amazing resort, that means they want to
develop the whole area,” she stresses, noting that without the addition of all
kinds of infrastructure, the resort would remain an inaccessible
The entrepreneurs behind the project are Ofir Asher of the Evelon
group and Pinchas Malka, CEO of Maoz Daniel. In response to a telephone call
from The Jerusalem Post, Asher directed the Post to his company’s lawyer, Rafi
Navon immediately denies that the developers had asked for any
specific financial compensation value, and says that the figure of NIS 400
million presented by Lustig is entirely inaccurate.
“No one from the
government has been approaching us – the opposite, in fact,” Navon says. “We are
writing them letters and they are not responding.”
In these letters,
Navon says that the developers have been calling for the government to allow
them to build, to do what was prescribed by law. The government had issued a
public tender for the Palmahim resort project and this team purchased the land
from the country for NIS 8 million, according to Malka. That NIS 8m is but a
fraction of what the companies have already spent on engineers, an architect and
other project costs, Malka tells the Post.
The companies agreed in the
summer of 2010 to provide the government two years to suggest an alternative
plan. That time period expired several months ago, he explains. The government
had originally planned the Palmahim resort area as a part of Tama 35 (National
Master Plan 35), and according to Tama 12, such a plan can only be substituted
with a program of equal size and proximity to water, he adds.
no one from the government is talking to him, Malka said he is unable to say
whether he would agree to a compensatory settlement. “I can't consider something
that nobody offered to me,” he continues.
The developers were not invited
to the steering committee meeting on Wednesday and had no knowledge of the
nature reserve plans or of the alternative building location suggested, Navon
and Malka stress.
“If you want to offer something, let us be part of this
discussion,” Malka says. “We have sent letters to Netanyahu and Erdan and have
told them, ‘If you want us out, please let’s go and negotiate.’ Nobody is coming
back with an answer.”
The hotel is not supposed to be right on top of the
water and is actually planned for an area of the beach that is currently an
illegal parking lot, Malka explains. This spot originally received support from
the INPA because the organization deemed it much less ecologically critical than
other beachside alternatives.
“So what has changed today?” Malka asks.
“Nothing – just politics because some kids are shouting and sending
The reason they made the plans in the beginning was that Israel
needs places for tourism.”
In response to a query from the Post, an ILA
spokeswoman would only say that there has been no contact with the developers
thus far and that she would make journalists aware of any compensation
agreement, should one occur in the future.
Details from the Palmahim
project’s official development website describe the initiative as unparalleled
by any other resort that exists in Israel – a site that will “combine history
and modernity” with breathtaking views of the ancient Yavne-Yam port
Alongside the resort would be arts and cultural workshops and a
home for international summits, which are all able to benefit from the natural
The hotel would be of five-star standards, designed to
accommodate 1,200 people in 350 rooms of varying sizes. Within the facility
would be a swimming pool, a sauna, 16 treatment rooms, a fitness center and a
sun deck. There would also be a spacious conference hall, five meeting rooms, a
VIP area, advanced technological capabilities, public parking and beach access
for the disabled.
Next to the hotel would be a museum of underwater
archeology, as well as an area planned by the Israel Antiquities Authority with
ancient wine presses, mosaic floors and an Antilia well.
PART OF an
overall plan to rehabilitate the Nahal Sorek region, the hotel will help
preserve a historic site and save antiquities that are currently in danger of
destruction, the developers argue. Designed according to the principles of green
building, the resort would involve gray water recycling and the use of solar
Environmental groups and local activists, nonetheless, continue
to see the project as anything but “green.”
Going forward with her
coastal awareness campaigns, Lustig stresses the fact that what halted the
Palmahim building in the first place was that “the whole public came
“Everybody agreed that there are not many more beaches left,”
she says. “We say Palmahim, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of 30 kilometers
left out of 200 kilometers should be developed.”
Having grown up with
Palmahim as her “home beach,” the building plans there were a clear first target
for her efforts and those of her sister. But now she wants to expand the
campaign to fighting for “every single beach in Israel.”
“I’m just a
citizen that cares who wants to take forward what we did in Palmahim,” she says.
“We learned a lot in Palmahim and we gained some public trust.”
there is “not much beach left,” Lustig’s focus will be on any beach where
building plans arise. Some specific targets on her radar at the moment include
Nitzanim, Nahsholim, Habonim and Zikim, she says. In future fights to save the
coast, however, it will be impossible to spend five years to protect each beach
– and Lustig therefore plans to rally hundreds of people like herself to her
cause, she explains.
“It’s never-ending; We never know where another plan
is going to emerge,” she says.
Organizations like SPNI and Adam Teva
V’Din are powerful bodies whose support is critical to the beach preservation
war, but perhaps even more crucial is the participation of a “massive movement”
of the public itself, according to Lustig.
“Because Israel is right on
the coastline and there isn’t an Israeli who doesn’t love the beach,” she says.
“Most of us came through the ocean to Israel. We need to have respect and know
when enough is enough.”