Abandoned coastline near Gaza border to become Israel's first 'green beach'
Banana Beach Group, a private company, has invested NIS 500,000 to revamp the once thriving area.
By MARGARET STONER
After the recent war in Gaza, Ashkelon's Zikim Beach was left to ferment under the sun, covered in bottles and other garbage. Fearful of rocket fire, beachgoers had abandoned the scene.
However, Banana Beach Group, a private company, has invested NIS 500,000 to revamp the once thriving area.
Banana Group, headed by manager Eyali Kali, plans to approach Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan with a request for recognition as the country's first "green beach."
But amid the excitement of yet another green initiative, the threat of violence looms. There is a concrete bomb shelter on the beach, which borders the Ashkelon power plant to the north and the Gaza Strip to the south, Kali said on Tuesday.
Kali insists the beach faces no real threat from rockets or mortar shells.
"When something happens there [in the Ashkelon region], they never target the beach. They try to hit where people are living. No bomb has ever fallen on the beach; they always target villages, moshavim and kibbutzim," he said.
Nevertheless, he recognizes the legitimacy of the public's fears.
"When something happens, people get stressed and run anyway - it [the beach] is very close to Gaza, and no one wants to be close to bombs," he said.
Despite the fears, the plans for the beach continue full speed ahead, and Banana Group vows to make environmental sustainability Zikim Beach's top priority.
Banana Group's other beaches, located in Tel Aviv, Michmoret, north of Netanya, and Achziv, north of Nahariya, have been criticized in the past for their condition, and are often strewn with trash and plastic bottles, as are many public beaches in Israel.
Rani Amir of the Environmental Protection Ministry, though unfamiliar with Banana Beach's green initiative, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, "We've been dealing with this problem [polluted beaches] for four years already with our clean coasts program."
Amir emphasized the importance of "changing the attitude of the public in regards to the state of the beaches on the Israeli coastlines."
Kali insisted that litter would not be welcome at Banana Beach's newest beach, and said that Banana Group is trying to "fix the atmosphere" at Zikim.
The group promises to provide a compost machine that converts trash into resource rich compost, which will be distributed to local moshavim that also suffered during Operation Cast Lead.
Two recycling containers for plastic and glass will be constructed. Biodegradable bags will be provided to the public in an effort to limit the use of plastic bags.
The group pledges to set up "comfortable seating and relaxation areas reminiscent of those on the beaches of Sinai and Mexico, decorations and unique night lighting, audible world music, and a restaurant with reduced prices for food and alcohol," according to a statement issued on Monday.
To attract the thousands of visitors who visited Zikim before the offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the Zikim will host "a lot of activities for the whole family. Many people already have returned on the weekends. There is a jamboree for children, and at night we are having parties, jams and shows. Soon there will be a surfing center with kite surfing. We already have beach volleyball set up," said Kali.
The Banana Group hopes Zikim will receive official recognition as a green beach this summer.
"We think that if we can turn the beach into the first green beach in Israel, we will feel great about it and will also be able to pass on a very important message, especially in this age when the world is working together for the purpose of improving the environment," Kali said.
The newly named 4.2-km.-long "Banana Beach Zikim," officially opened for business three weeks ago.
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