Green groups attempt to stop Samar sand mining

Dozens of activists block company bulldozers from mining in area, leading to at least nine arrests.

By
December 28, 2011 20:39
2 minute read.
Samar sand dunes protest

Samar sand dunes protest_311. (photo credit: Dov Greenblatt, Society for the Protection of Natu)

 
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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 bulldozers.

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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Meanwhile, 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.

The 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 purpose.

SPNI Vice President Nir Papay, in a statement released by his office, called the decision to mine sand from Samar “extremely unreasonable.”

“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 said.

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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 Wednesday).

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 law.

“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.

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