The Knesset’s Economics Committee has recommended that the Israel Lands
Authority freeze mining of the Arava’s Samar sand dunes and look into
alternative options for providing the sand necessary for construction in Eilat,
among other projects, the committee said in a statement.
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The Samar sands,
viewed as the last dunes in the Arava Desert, are thought to be a continuation
of the Sahara.
The desert is home to animals whose genetic makeups are
closer to their counterparts in Mali and Mauritania than to animals in nearby
areas in Israel, according to Dr. Uri Shanes, senior lecturer in the Biology and
Environment department at the University of Haifa and a long-time researcher of
Only 2.3 square kilometers of the original 11 sq.-km. plot
currently remain, Shanes told the committee, according to the
“In the sands, there is something special that needs
exploration in the coming years, and there is also tremendous potential for
tourism and scenery,” Shanes said.
Wednesday’s Knesset discussion,
initiated by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), featured participants from the Knesset, the
Environmental Protection Ministry, the ILA and various environmental
“It is necessary to use the Samar sand dunes only as a last
resort, but this is not currently the situation and it is outrageous to me that
the vision is so short-term,” said Cabel, according to a statement from the
A representative from the Planning and Development division of
the ILA, David Dashen Deutsch, objected to what he called a cynical use of the
words “the last dunes,” explaining that if Israel wants to build up Eilat,
double the number of hotels, expand the airport and the Arava Road, sand is
necessary, the committee’s report said.
When MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima)
asked if the state was turning to Jordan as a potential import source for sand,
Deutsch responded that he knew nothing about the state’s appeal. But he said
that experts had indicated this option would be more expensive than previously
calculated, the statement said.
MKs Dov Henin (Hadash) and Nitzan
Horowitz (Meretz) suggested exploring alternative options, while a
representative from the Ben-Ari group – which holds the tender to the area –
said the company had continually been trying to withdraw its bid to the area, as
the delay has caused more damage than a cancellation would, according to the
Meanwhile, a representative from the Environmental
Protection Ministry, Menachem Zalutzki, said the ministry adamantly opposed
mining the sand dunes, and called the plan “destructive,” the statement
During an interview with The Jerusalem Post
in May, Environmental
Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said the ILA must “find replacements” for mining
the Samar sand dunes, particularly in the Timna region or underneath the areas
of the region that had been mined in the past.
“Samar is considered to
have one of the most special biodiversities in the entire world. This is the
last big dune you have in the Arava area,” Erdan told the Post.
with Ben-Ari, who won the bid to mine there. He’s willing to give it up, but
he’s afraid that if he doesn’t start the mining, the ILA will take away the
funds he has already deposited for the bid,” Erdan said.
“We have to find
a replacement method for bringing sand to Eilat,” he continued. “We don’t need
to damage a place that is so important for its landscape and its special
At the conclusion of the Economic Committee’s meeting, the
members recommended seeking alternative options to supply Eilat's development
needs. Meanwhile, it called for the Housing and Environmental Protection
ministers to work with the ILA to bring an immediate end to the
The committee also requested that the National Infrastructures
Ministry pass within six months a national program regarding sand mining in
Israel, and asked that the Regional Development Minister examine options for
purchasing sand from Jordan, the statement said.
championed this decision, saying the biodiversity in the region was too unique
to mine away.
“The ILA promised in the past to examine other options, and
has not come through with its promise to date,” Shay Tachnai, nature
preservation coordinator for the southern district at the Society for the
Protection of Nature in Israel, said at the meeting.
“As already proven,
there are good alternatives to mining sand from the Samar – for example, using
sand from areas already infringed and leaving the Samar sands
The Green Movement, whose members played an active role in
pushing this decision forward, were also encouraged by the committee’s
“The ILA has taken a position diametrically opposed to the
principles of sustainable development. Its job should be the optimal management
of national lands and not maximizing government revenues and selling off our
most valuable ecological resources for the proverbial bowl of lentils,” Green
Movement co-chair Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University told the Post on
“The claim is that six trucks of sand would be
produced per day for the next two or three years. This would have practically no
impact on development in Eilat, but it would decimate a national
Tal explained that an unlimited amount of sand could come to
Eilat from Rotem, just two hours away; and like Erdan, he mentioned the
possibility of taking sand from underneath the already mined areas of the
“We got a good decision today,” Tal said. “We’re delighted that
the Economics Committee has adopted our position.”