Eilat Mayor: Save the Samar Dunes!

The mayor of Eilat says the Samar Dunes are more precious that quarried sand -- and he wants to preserve Israel's 'national treasure.'

Chana Ya'ar ,

Israel's Sahara - Samar Dunes
Israel's Sahara - Samar Dunes
Israel news photo: courtesy of Taal Goldman, Arava Institute of Environmental Studies

The mayor of the Red Sea resort town of Eilat contends that the Samar Dunes are more precious than quarried sand, and he wants to preserve them.

Mayor Yitzchak HaLevi appealed Wednesday to Housing Minister MK Ariel Attias (Shas) and Environmental Protection Minister MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) to cancel plans to quarry construction sand in the area. He asked the two ministers to take into consideration the fact that the dunes are a national treasure from the period of the biblical Book of Genesis.

As such, there is a major difference between Israel's Sahara and that of Africa – that of life itself. Plants and animals both exist in the Samar dunes, whereas it is impossible for anything to exist in Africa's central Sahara desert. Scientists note that at least two unique species of spider exist nowhere else on the planet, and several other species have evolved differently in Samar than they have in other regions.

The developer to whom the government has licensed the rights intends to turn the dunes into concrete for construction in the resort town.  A deposit of NIS 1 million ($287,000) deposit was paid in the transaction. However, environmental groups and local residents won a temporary reprieve earlier this month, with the start of the project postponed due to protests and pressure from local residents and environmental groups.

HaLevi, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Green Movement, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies have been fighting the plan for months. A petition against the quarrying was rejected last month by the High Court of Justice, which said that since the plan had already been approved, it saw no reason to intervene.

A previous decision handed down by the Be'er Sheva district court had also rejected a petition by environmental groups against the quarrying.  Some of the area is designated to become a nature reserve, pending approval from the Israel Lands Administration, according to court papers.

Environmental groups contend that the necessary studies of the impact of the quarrying was also not carried out, and the last untouched dunes in Israel are in danger of being wiped out entirely.

The Samar sand dunes, originally about five square miles in area, today comprise less than one square mile in size. Part of the reason is due to agricultural use, according to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and much of the reason stems from carting away of the sand to make concrete.