The Negev region where the rail link to Eilat is scheduled to pass through..
(photo credit: SPNI)
A group of 20 teenagers will take to their bicycles and walking shoes for a sixday trek from Dimona to Eilat next week, in protest of the railroad planned for the region.
Members of the Society for the Protection of Nature’s youth movement will depart on a six-day journey on March 27, biking and walking the 200 km. to raise public awareness about the environmental damage that they feel a train to Eilat would bring to the Negev and Arava deserts.
Their route will pass through many of the main locations that SPNI claims will be damaged by the railway project, such as Hamachtesh Hakatan, Nahal Sif, Maaleh Akravim, Hai Bar Nature Reserve and other places.
“If we do not stop this project now, our children will think that we fell off the rails,” a statement from SPNI said.
Leading the railway project, which calls for the construction of 260 km. worth of high speed train tracks from Beersheba to Eilat, are the Transportation Ministry and Netivei Israel: National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd.
The project is estimated to cost tens of billions of shekels.
SPNI alongside other environmental groups have long been fighting the plans, claiming that the train will cross through five nature reserves and cause irreversible damage to the landscape.
The cabinet approved plans for the rail line on October 6, 2013, following the authorization of the National Council for Planning and Building in March of the same year, which occurred after a February decision by the Southern District Committee for Planning and Building sanctioning the final stretch from Dimona to Hatzeva.
Environmentalists, including ecologists from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, had particularly opposed that final stretch, arguing that rail tracks there would be particularly destructive to the ecosystem that has thrived since the biblical era.
On January 5, the cabinet rejected an appeal filed by Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz on the issue, with only six voting in favor. Among these six, however, was Finance Minister Yair Lapid, SPNI said.
In addition to the spots along the way that may be harmed by building the railway, the future requirement of a land bridge to connect the Eilat port with the Eilat train terminal could threaten the unique coral reef in the Gulf of Eilat, research conducted by SPNI and the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies has pointed out.
“We demand, in the name of the public, a comprehensive examination of the needs, implications and the many question marks that have arisen – especially when risking natural treasures of the public from biblical times and the Gulf of Eilat,” the statement from SPNI said. “The Israeli public must know that every project, especially such a resource intensive project that will cost the state tens of billions of shekels, will be examined in a professional manner before racing to pour in extra funds.”