Israel creates plan to develop, protect Sea of Galilee

The Galilee Sea development plan aims to regulate the local tourism industry and protect the region’s sensitive ecosystems.

al-monitor People gather near an island that was exposed by low water in the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel on Aug. 30, 2018. Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images.

Topics covered

holy sites, pilgrimage, christianity, development, environmental protection, tourism, galilee

Jul 13, 2020

An Israeli subcommittee approved a development plan for the Galilee Sea and its environs on June 30. The National Planning Committee is expected to adopt the plan soon, opening the way to the much-needed development of the area after decades of neglect, addressing bureaucratic obstacles and protecting sensitive ecological areas.

The Sea of Galilee region offers visitors an exceptional experience with a unique natural habitat, beautiful pebble beaches, water attractions, archeological digs and Christian holy sites. The east bank of the Galilee Sea, which is actually a lake, looks over Israel’s border with the Hashemite Kingdom.

The Galilee Sea — Kinneret, as it is called in Hebrew, after its violin shape — is the only natural freshwater lake in the country, and its history is long and rich. The site of Nahal Ein Gev, three kilometers east of the lake, contains a village from the late Natufian period. The hot springs of Hamat Gader, five miles southeast of the lake, were built by the Romans 2,000 years ago and are still functioning. Another attraction is an ancient wooden boat discovered in 1986 and dated to the period of Jesus. Christian pilgrimage sites include the village of Capernaum on the old road that led from Tiberias to Damascus, as well as places where Jesus performed some of his miracles according to the New Testament, such as walking on water. There are plenty of reasons for tourists from Israel and abroad to visit.

Over the years, the authorities have fought with entrepreneurs who took control of the beaches and made them profitable private tourism enterprises. Buildings were constructed all around the lake with little thought to protecting the environment.

A major step toward changing the situation came in 2006, when the National Planning Committee adopted a proposal by the Society of the Protection of Nature in Israel for the construction of a circle-Kinneret trail. The plan allowed the authorities to force the entrepreneurs that controlled some of the beaches to open the way for hikers. They then began looking into ownership claims on the beaches, buildings constructed without permits, boat rentals operated without authorization and so on. They had their work cut out for them.

A second major step came in 2010 with the establishment of the Kinneret Urban Union, a forum of all the municipal councils around the Galilee Sea that ultimately formed this new plan for the preservation and development of the region. The idea was to put together a comprehensive development plan to address the tourism potential of the region and enable the public to enjoy the beaches while nurturing and preserving the open spaces, preserving the Galilee as the country’s largest open water reservoir, developing the religious sites and protecting the ecological heritage.

Former journalist Idan Grinbaum has been serving for several years as both chair of the Jordan Valley Regional Council and as head of the Kinneret Urban Union. Having grown up in the region, he knows it well and cares about it deeply. Grinbaum also knows the Kinneret plan inside out.

Grinbaum considers the plan very significant for the future of Israel’s national lake. "The plan regulates the different uses that would be authorized along each of the lake’s 65 kilometers [of shoreline]. It includes areas designed for the development of tourism and areas where nature will be protected and preserved, and so on. For instance, the plan recommends moving Highway 92 from its current route along the east coast of the lake. Doing so will enable widening the beaches for the benefit of everyone," he explained.

He also emphasized that contrary to some reports, the plan will not stop the construction of two vacation villages that were previously authorized, but merely regulates issues with the entrepreneurs in the villages. He added that the plan offers residents as well as entrepreneurs a clear framework for future development of the lake.

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