(photo credit: SPNI)
A grassroots struggle to save Palmahim Beach from big business interests that began in 2008 has reached a successful end. On Sunday, the Central District Committee for Planning and Building officially terminated plans to build a resort complex at Palmahim. A national park that ensures access to all will replace it.
The successful campaign against the vacation village sends out a clear message against apathy and indifference and in favor of civic responsibility and the empowerment of the “little guy” that is the foundation of a healthy democracy.
One of the central figures of the struggle is Adi Lustig, an articulate, photogenic young lady with dreadlocks, who was joined by young activists like herself. Unwilling to lose access to their beloved beach, Lustig and the others joined forces with Green Course, a student-run green organization and began campaigning against the vacation village, setting up tents on the site to garner media coverage.
Activists created the Committee for the Protection of Palmahim Beach, which won the Green Globe Award for its efforts. The Israel Union of Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’Din) and the Society for the Protection of Nature were enlisted, as was then-environment minister Gilad Erdan.
Eventually, the young demonstrators attracted the attention of then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who investigated and issued a report critical of the decision- making process that led to the approval of the vacation village. Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein meanwhile ruled that it was lawful for the cabinet to ask the regional building council to reassess its original decision, even if there had been no flaws in the council’s performance.
Eventually, the cabinet voted to freeze the project and ordered the regional council to review the vacation village project in light of the shore preservation law and the public’s increased sensitivity in recent years to environmental issues.
Nevertheless, the Palmahim case also raises serious questions of how best to balance free market forces that drive growth and innovation with environmental responsibility.
Maoz Daniel, the construction firm behind the nixed tourism project at Palmahim, invested millions of shekels over the years. The ambitious project to build a 350-unit vacation village would have attracted tourism revenues without fully blocking access to the beach.
The investors behind the project did not break any laws.
All stages of development received official authorization.
The project was approved before the 2004 Law on the Preservation of the Shore Environment went into effect, restricting building any closer than 300 meters from the seashore.
In fact, the Central District Committee’s decision to terminate the plan and create a national park at Palmahim was made only after it received a promise from the government to provide compensation to the businesses that will be hurt by the decision.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, with the backing of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Israel Lands Authority and the Fund for Open Spaces, will be responsible for providing the compensation.
Palmahim should serve as an example for future environmental battles over Israel’s coast. Additional building projects approved before the 2004 Law on the Preservation of the Shore Environment went into effect are in the offing.
Lustig and her friends are gearing up to fight plans for a vacation village in Achziv, near Nahariya.
But as in Palmahim, the retroactive termination of plans that have already received initial approval will inevitably hurt business interests.
The beauty of capitalism is that it unleashes the innovative potential of individuals and encourages economic growth which benefits society as a whole. We must not foster a culture that is inimical to the dynamism of capitalism.
At the same time, Palmahim Beach is a priceless resource that belongs to the public and should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Individuals should never feel helpless in the face of big business interests and should be encouraged to engage in civic activism.
We must find a way to balance these sometimes contradictory values in future battles that pit grassroots movements against capitalists.