People power on Palmahim beach

Teenagers fight to keep the shore open.

Issai Kulvianski, 'Tel Aviv Beach' (photo credit: Issai Kulvianski)
Issai Kulvianski, 'Tel Aviv Beach'
(photo credit: Issai Kulvianski)
Few can resist the charm of Adi Lustig, an articulate, photogenic young lady with rastas, a wholesome smile and a mission. But two-and-a-half years ago, when Lustig and her teenage friends launched a campaign to save the Palmahim beach from an ambitious plan to build a 350-unit vacation village, they were fighting against the odds.
A regional building council had approved the project.
The Environment Protection Ministry had voiced no opposition, accepting the developers’ argument that the village would boost tourism. The beach had already been fenced off and contractors had begun preparing the beach for construction. The project had been approved over six years ago, just before the Law on the Preservation of the Shore Environment went into effect, which meant that it could be built just 100 meters from the seashore, instead of 300 meters, as stipulated in the new law.
But Lustig and her friends were not deterred. Since an IDF base controls large swathes of beach-front in the area, Palmahim is the only shore in the vicinity open to the public. Unwilling to lose access to their beloved beach, the young activists joined forces with Green Course, a student- run environmental group, and began campaigning against the vacation village, setting up tents on the site to garner media coverage.
Activists created the Committee for the Protection of Palmahim Beach, which won the Green Globe Award for its efforts. The Israel Union of Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’Din) and the Society for the Protection of Nature were enlisted, as was Environment Minister Gilad Erdan.
Eventually, the young demonstrators attracted the attention of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who investigated and issued a report critical of the decision-making process that had led to the approval of the vacation village.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, meanwhile, ruled that it was lawful for the cabinet to ask the regional building council to reassess its original decision even if there had been no flaws in the council’s performance.
Last week the battle waged by Lustig and her friends finally paid off. The cabinet voted to freeze the project and ordered the regional council to review the vacation village project in light of the shore preservation law and the public’s increased sensitivity in recent years to environmental issues.
“It was a tough fight,” said Lustig. “We were ridiculed and our friends laughed at us. But we discovered that our struggle is a ray of hope for many other environmental and social causes.”
THE SUCCESSFUL campaign against the vacation village sends out a clear message against apathy and indifference and in favor of civic responsibility and the empowerment of the “little guy” that is the foundation of a healthy democracy.
Although activists have stopped large building projects in the past, such as the Safdie plan in west Jerusalem and a proposed settlement in the Gilboa area, the Palmahim victory is unique in the sense that activists managed to halt a project after it had been approved by a regional building council. Contractors can no longer be sure that their “approved” building project will not be blocked due to a successful campaign led by a charismatic activist like Lustig.
In fact, the Palmahim case raises the question of how best to balance free market forces with environmental responsibility. Maoz Daniel, the construction firm behind Palmahim, invested millions of shekels over the years with the aim of building a vacation village which, it promised, would attract tourism revenues without fully blocking public access to the beach. Maoz Daniel’s management did not break any laws. All stages of development received official authorization. Indeed, the cabinet’s decision to reassess the project in the wake of Lustig’s grassroots activities appears to be a clear infringement of Maoz Daniel’s contractual rights.
However, this perspective ignores one important point.
Though capitalism advocates protecting peoples’ freedom to voluntarily exchange goods and services without coercion or intervention, Palmahim beach is a priceless resource that belongs to the public and cannot be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Clearly, though, Maoz Daniel must be compensated for its losses, and, if possible, be offered an alternative building site.
Our businesses’ liberties should not be be infringed – within reason. And reason requires that our natural resources should not be endangered.