Until court rules otherwise, bathers at Kinneret will have to pay to play

Visitors to Lake Kinneret's 36 official beaches will continue to pay NIS 50-70 per day to park their cars, despite a law forbidding charging for admission to public beaches, pending a ruling on the issue by the High Court of Justice. All but a tiny minority of Israel's beaches are public; many bathing areas around Lake Kinneret have been illegally fenced off and are accessible only to hotel guests. Until a year or two ago, many beaches charged admission. To get around the prohibition, many now charge parking fees instead. A few places, such as Herzliya, still charge for admission. The state is expected to submit its response to the petition soon and, if no agreement is reached between the parties, the High Court is scheduled to rule on May 17. According to Pinhas Green, director of the Lake Kinneret Authority, 14 kilometers of the Kinneret shore are officially designated as beaches and have life guards, kiosks and lavatories. Twenty-four kilometers of the Kinneret shores are "unofficial" and people swim there at their own risk. "Since people come to Lake Kinneret and stay there for few days, they are charged for parking per day," said Green. "The parking lots are operated by concessionaires who got their franchises from the local authorities. The money goes to the concessionaires, services for the bathers, and the local authorities, while bathers who don't come in their own vehicles pay nothing for entrance to the Lake Kinneret beaches." Yossef Amer, the Interior Ministry's national supervisor for bathing sites, said it was illegal to collect entrance fees to bathing beaches without a specific order from the interior minister. "However this entire ban is not fully implemented and in many cases bathers have to pay a parking fee instead. This sensitive issue is waiting to be determined by the High Court. Until that happens, entrance fees are collected at some of Israel's 142 public beaches, as well as parking fees, especially at the Lake Kinneret," Amer said. Attorney Amit Bracha, deputy director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, said the NGO'S petition to the High Court had already produced significant progress a year ago. "The court's interim ruling was that no local authority can charge an entrance fee to the beaches within its jurisdiction unless it offers unique services or attractions to bathers, beyond basic services. Even in these cases, they have to receive the interior minister's permission. "The parking fee became another way to collect entrance fees and we are waiting to reach an agreement on this issue, too. However, Lake Kinneret's status is quite special, since it is considered a national attraction. It is not fair to expect three local authorities to bear a national burden. We hope to achieve some sort of subsidy from the Interior Ministry."