No plan exists for opening new beaches

Interior Ministry concedes it has not drawn up a budgeted program; Knesset c'tee told of severe lifeguard shortages.

Herzliya beach 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Herzliya beach 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There is no master plan that governs the opening of new, recognized beaches, where swimming is allowed and life guards are stationed, Interior Ministry representatives said on Wednesday. During a Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee meeting on the opening of the bathing season, representatives conceded under repeated questioning that the ministry had not drawn up a budgeted plan according to which a set number of new beaches would open each year. Committee head MK Ophir Paz-Pines strongly urged the ministry to do so, adding, "You've recently started talking about forbidding swimming at unofficial beaches. Your position would be much stronger if you could show that you were opening a set number of official beaches each year." Despite the lack of a plan, three new authorized beaches have opened this year - at Mateh Asher, Nahariya and Tel Aviv, the ministry's National Beach Inspector Yosef Amar told the MKs. The swimming season opened last Friday without incident, Amar said, at the 91 authorized beaches along the Mediterranean, 25 along Lake Kinneret, 22 along the Dead Sea and five along the Red Sea. One beach near Ashkelon was closed to the public this year, after it was decided that it was actually a private beach for Electric Corporation workers, Amar said. Eight people drowned during the off-season, from the end of October 2007 to May 6, 2008, he told the committee. One man has drowned since then after wading into the water drunk, 600 meters from an authorized beach. Lifeguards at the meeting proudly noted that no one had died at authorized beaches and that no one has sued them for failing to do their duty. However, they also said there was a severe shortage of qualified lifeguards that made it hard to staff all the lifeguard stations. The head of the Beaches Branch in the Interior Ministry, Asher Garner, said there was a significantly increased risk of drowning in the Kinneret because of the vastly lower than usual water level. Paz-Pines suggested in response that more lifeguards be stationed along the Kinneret for the next few years. Lifeguard Union head Avi Afia once again advocated opening the beach season earlier, because "I suspect that all those [eight] drownings happened during Pessah." Opening the swimming season just before Pessah has been debated for the past few years. Part of the resistance to the idea stems from the additional cost of doing so. Health Ministry representative Zeev Fish said that 70 beaches were closed at one point or another last season because of pollution, a dramatic rise from previous years. This was attributed in part to improved detection equipment in place along the Mediterranean. Fish said the beaches around Acre were particularly problematic. The bulk of the Knesset committee meeting was devoted to discussing the Interior Ministry directive that governs beaches, lifeguards and lifesaving equipment. The directive has been criticized by lifeguards for a variety of reasons. Afia told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting that the lifeguards objected to the ministry's attempts to shift responsibilities to the local authorities. "With the local authorities' budget issues, this would put all the beaches in jeopardy if they felt they couldn't afford to keep them open every day," he said. Afia also said that the new position of beach administrator created by the ministry was all well and good, but that there needed to be a professional liaison who understood the ins and outs of lifeguarding. Afia also lamented the fact that the directive had relaxed the criteria for lifeguards. Instead of two "Type 3" lifeguards (the highest credential level), the directive mandates just one, while the second one can be a "Type 2" lifeguard. The Interior Ministry said that there were seven beaches where a NIS 10 fee would be charged: Gan Raveh, Hatzor, Dor, Argaman (on the weekend), Acre (on the weekend), Nahariya and Mateh Asher.