Victory for environmentalists as court quashes bid to build on Palmachim beach

Victory for environmentalists as court quashes bid to build on Palmachim beach

While citing ‘great injustice’ done to developers who won tender 16 years ago, judge rules that holiday resort, conference center on coast would be ‘tragedy for generations’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Israelis enjoy the Palmachim beach in southern Israel, October 21, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israelis enjoy the Palmachim beach in southern Israel, October 21, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

After 16 years, environmentalists can finally celebrate victory against developers who wanted to build a holiday resort and conference center on the Palmachim beach between Ashdod and Bat Yam, on the Mediterranean coast.

The area, south of Kibbutz Palmachim, will instead become a national park — an addition to the existing Palmachim Beach Nature Reserve just to the south.

Some 16 years after developers Pini Malka and Ofir Asher won an Israel Lands Authority tender to build on the site, Judge Zvi Dotan of the Central District Court in Lod ruled last week that the public interest superceded that of the developers, and that the project, if approved, would have been a “tragedy for generations” to come, causing irreversible damage.

He also wrote, however, that “injustice, great injustice” had been brought upon the entrepreneurs, who are now expected to petition for millions of shekels in compensation.

They originally bought the land for approximately NIS 8 million ($2.3 million).

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a 2009 report, then state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss cited numerous deficiencies in the way the tender for the land was issued, noting that the sales price was tens of percentage points lower than the market value at the time.

In 2010, a public campaign began to protect the beach, one of the last remaining stretches of coastline that has not been altered by construction.

The local regional council had backed plans for a holiday village that would have included 350 rooms and a conference center along a 1.6 kilometer (1 mile) stretch of coastline.

Over the years, until Judge Dotan’s judgement, the case was tossed back and forth between various levels of the planning authority.

View of the Palmachim beach, southern Israel, November 3, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Welcoming the ruling, Amit Bracha, executive director of the environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din, said that the stretch of coastline was just one of many for which the uses permitted by old plans needed to be urgently changed.

Adam Teva V’Din was instrumental in drafting an amendment to the 2004 Protection of the Coastal Environment Law. That amendment, whose progress through the Knesset has been stymied by two inconclusive election results and the resulting lack of a functioning government for over a year, aims to mandate the re-examination of all building plans approved before the law came into force and to give planning institutions the authority to cancel or alter such plans, with the state providing compensation to landowners either in monetary form or by transferring land and building rights elsewhere. “It is only with a comprehensive process that we can prevent years-long struggles that are beneficial neither to the public, the developers or the state coffers,” Bracha wrote on Facebook.

Adi Lustig. (Facebook)

Adi Lustig, 30, who at the age of 18 set up a protest camp at the site and became the public face of the environmental campaign, said on Facebook that the struggle was “worth every minute. It was worth it because our beach will stay our beach, because we learned that we have the right to receive and to demand what is ours, and that we can [succeed] with belief, action and persistence.”

Lawyer Tsvi Shoob, an expert in planning and construction, real estate and urban renewal, told the Ynet news site that the companies involved had invested substantial sums on the basis of explicit agreements with the state and plans that had been approved and that a “tremendous injustice” had been done to them.

The state should have decided from the start that it wanted a national park on the site rather than letting the case drag out for so many years,” he said.

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