The past two decades have seen an almost relentless assault on Israel's Mediterranean coastline. The assailants have been its coastal developers, resulting in the twin scourges of blocked sand and blocked beaches.
In the late 1980s, government coastal surveys identified 55 "seaward-projecting and offshore structures," along Israel's 205 km coastline, including harbors and port facilities, marinas and anchorages, intake and cooling ponds for power plants, breakwaters and artificial islands. During the subsequent decade these structures increased almost exponentially with the addition of marinas in Ashkelon, Ashdod and Herzliya, and the construction of huge beachfront residential developments such as the Sea and Sun complex north of Tel Aviv and Carmel Beach Towers south of Haifa.
By 1998, the Geological Survey of Israel concluded that sand depletion along Israel's Mediterranean coastline was already far exceeding the natural replenishment of sand carried northward from the Nile River delta by ocean currents.
The Geological Survey's published report, "Marine Sand Resources Offshore Israel," placed the blame for the problem primarily on beachfront and offshore structures that block the natural flow and depositing of sand. The report concluded that the loss of sand - and resultant damage to Israel's beaches - was expected to become even more severe as additional development projects worsened the already serious interference with natural sand replenishment.
That prophecy continues to be fulfilled.
Environmentalists and citizens' rights groups have long held a special grudge against the development of Tel Aviv's shoreline, in which a long stretch of beach was cut off from the city by a line of hotels and a major road. The decision to allow that construction, these groups say, not only resulted in the crowding of some 250,000 beachgoers on a narrow strip of sand between the ocean and the private development but also set the stage for further and more glaring abuses of the public's right to appropriate space along Israel's shoreline. Helter-skelter coastal development over subsequent years has left Israelis with no more than 50 km of undeveloped coastal space.
But the people are fighting back.
In its first coastline protection case in 1997, the IUED aimed its sights on the Carmel Beach Towers complex. Developers had already erected one enormous building and were planning to construct four more in an attempt to create a private, upmarket residential complex that would have blocked off nearly a kilometer of Haifa's public beach. IUED intervention persuaded the National Planning and Building Council to freeze further construction.
A year later, the IUED filed suit against the Sea and Sun residential complex. A court ruling in IUED's favor led to an agreement under which Sea and Sun's owners and developers must remove extensive earthworks, walls, private gardens and barriers and restore the beachfront to its natural state. The SPNI is working with the government in planning a coastal park in north Tel Aviv, along with a beachfront reclamation project for the Yarkon River peninsula. And along with the IUED and other environmental NGOs, the SPNI helped ensure the enactment of the landmark Coastal Protection Law of 2004.
It appears that the public's awareness of attempts to privatize Israel's coastline has finally caught up.
As an Environment Ministry statement put it: "Today, a growing number of Israelis have made it clear that they are not ready to pay the price of heedless development for the benefit of the few, that the pleasures of the beach and coastline cannot be bartered or sold to the highest bidder." - C.H.
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