Outcry over privatised beaches in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay, August 18, 2011

The Israeli public and tourists are barred from more than a fifth of Israel's beachfront, according to an official report released recently.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, a governmental agency, has found that some 10.3 per cent of the beachfront is closed due to army installations and a further 0.5 per cent is inaccessible for "security reasons". On top of that, 9.5 per cent is inaccessible because of civilian infrastructure.

Environmental groups are outraged. "The beaches in Israel are natural resources and should be kept for the public," said Amit Bracha, executive director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defence. "We say it's a basic right to be able to access what is ours."

Alon Tal, co-chairman of the Green Movement, said that the figures reflect an Israeli "obsession with the privatisation of public resources".

In 2004, Israel passed the Protection of the Coastal Environment Law, which set out to "preserve the coastal environment and coastal sand for the public's benefit and enjoyment and for future generations".

It specified that no building could take place within 300 metres of the coast. According to Dr Tal, a "somewhat lackadaisical implementation of the law" has contributed to the large proportion of beachfront that is inaccessible. The Ministry of Construction and Housing did not respond to a request to comment on this matter.

As well as determining how much beachfront is inaccessible, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has calculated how much is in use for bathing, but only for those who can pay. Private beaches account for 1 per cent of the coastline, and a further 1.9 per cent is under control of local councils that charge for access.

And while there are plans for the army to remove some installations, Mr Bracha said that he is concerned that the space will become pay-for beaches rather than free beaches. He said: "The fact that this is a country without much open space makes cost-free access to beaches a very important battle."

Last updated: 11:50am, August 18 2011