To the satisfaction of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) has agreed to cease mining sands in the Samar region of the Arava Valley, the two agencies announced on Wednesday, ending a five-year battle.
Although the sand mining taking place has been occurring legally and all court proceedings to stop its occurrence have been rejected previously, the INPA has continued to lead a struggle against it since 2010, arguing that the mining is destroying a variety of unique plant and animal species in an ecologically diverse space.
“In recent years, the INPA has invested great efforts in returning the amazing dunes of the Samar sands to nature,” said INPA director-general Shaul Goldstein who worked with ILA officials and the Hevel Eilot Regional Council to find a solution to the problem, leading to the cessation of mining four months prior to the end of the operator’s contract in the area.
“These efforts bore fruit precisely because of the support of the public and residents in the fight,” he added.
Goldstein praised both Hevel Eilot Regional Council chairman Udi Gat, as well as the managers of the ILA, for their instrumental role in ending the mining.
In the past, the Samar sands area encompassed about 7 sq. km., of which only about 1.9 sq. km. remains today, the INPA said. Within that 1.9-sq.-km. plot, about 1.2 sq. km. are zoned as a nature reserve and another 0.7 sq. km. was blocked for sand mining.
Following mining, destroyed habitats can require dozens or even hundreds of years to be fully restored, according to the INPA.
The head of the ILA’s southern district, Eran Reuveni, confirmed that his authority was able to implement an unusual process that allowed for the premature termination of the mining contract after verifying with the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry that the amount of sand being quarried from Samar was relatively small and that plenty of suitable alternatives in the region existed.
The Samar sands area is characterized by unique desert flora and fauna, some of which are species in danger of extinction in Israel, the INPA said, adding that the beautiful landscape provides an attractive place for visitors from all over the world.
“I hope that the declaration of the area as a protected nature reserve will occur quickly and that we can inform all the dune dwellers – from the snakes to gerbils, geckos to deer – that we have brought peace to their home,” Goldstein said.