After long battle, plan announced for public access to scenic kibbutz stream

Government proposes to expand section of Asi Stream to accommodate visitors, install bathrooms and provide shade, in a way that doesn’t disturb Nir David residents

The Asi Stream at Kibbutz Nir David. (Shlomi Mishali, Pikiwiki Israel, Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5)
The Asi Stream at Kibbutz Nir David. (Shlomi Mishali, Pikiwiki Israel, Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5)

The Justice Ministry on Monday detailed a long-awaited outline on allowing public access to a scenic stream in northern Israel that has been part of an impassioned legal battle between activists and residents of the kibbutz through which the waterway passes.

The new plan allows the public to enjoy the beautiful stretch of the Asi Stream that passes in Kibbutz Nir David, while limiting disruptions to the community’s serene lifestyle.

It comes after a years-long campaign by residents of the nearby city of Beit She’an, backed increasingly by social justice activists from all over the country, to gain access to the turquoise stream, which is actually a canal.

The plan is based on the opening and upgrading of the Green Shore section of the stream. The area will be open, free of charge, every week from Sunday until Thursday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., and on Fridays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Access to the area will only be via the southern bank of the stream, and not via the kibbutz’s main entrance, therefore limiting the impact on residents. Dangerous areas of the stream will be off-limits.

The state will fund an expansion of the beach, the construction of a new bridge connecting the banks, and the installation of bathrooms and shaded structures in the area. The outline caps the number of visitors at 50, but in the future after the upgrades, 600 people will be allowed at the site at a time.

The plan comes two years after state prosecution sided with the public and informed the Haifa District Court that public access to a stretch of the stream should be granted immediately.

The Amal or Asi Stream flowing through Kibbutz Nir David in northern Israel, August 9, 2020. (Menachem Lederman/Flash90

Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs Carmit Yulis praised Monday’s proposal as a balance between “the interests of the sides involved in the issue.”

“The arrangement is designed to promise free access to the public at the Asi Stream, by virtue of being designated land, along with preserving the quality of life of the residents of Kibbutz Nir David,” she said.

Asi (whose official Hebrew name is the Amal Stream) is a Hebraization of the stream’s Arabic name, al-‘Atsi. It starts from a spring at Gan Hashlosha, better known by its Arabic name, Sakhne, before flowing into Nir David.

The stream used to run through Beit She’an, but was diverted for agricultural and other uses in the 1980s, and that part has dried up.

After free access to other local bodies of water in the area ceased, residents from Beit She’an and other communities began to pour into the kibbutz to enjoy the stream’s waters and to relax on the manicured lawns carpeting its banks.

But at Nir David, some of the houses almost touch the stream. For the kibbutzniks, it felt like an invasion. They argued for their right to preserve their quiet lives after their forbears suffered scorching heat, humidity and malaria to drain the swamps, channel the water into a canal, build homes and landscape the area into what today looks like a Garden of Eden.

An aerial image of Kibbutz Nir David in the Beit She’an Valley in northern Israel. Illustrative. (liorpt via iStock by Getty Images)

They insisted that they need the stream to help finance the kibbutz through tourism and that they are not equipped to turn their village of several hundred into a public national park for thousands.

In 2015, activists turned to the Beit She’an Magistrate’s Court to force access. That prompted a compromise under which the kibbutz agreed to plan for a section of the stream, some distance from the houses, to be set aside for public enjoyment. It submitted the plans, but they were ping-ponged back and forth, and are still stuck in the planning system.

With frustration mounting, activists launched the “Liberating the Asi” campaign.

In 2010, feeling that its way of life was being compromised, the kibbutz blocked the entrance with an iron gate.

Groups of protesters gathered in front of Nir David’s gate, calling for social justice in the summer of 2020. Nir David responded by hiring a private security firm and confrontations between the two sides turned violent.

The saga has exposed deep ethnic and socioeconomic fault lines that still exist between Mizrahi Jews, particularly North African ones, and Ashkenazi Jews, mainly of European descent.

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