28.04.19 | Miriam Donin-Shoob
Recently, the Knesset Committee of Internal Affairs met for a futile discussion, at the end of which it announced that it would act to postpone the closure of Sde Dov on the assumption that by November the problem will solve itself. There is apparently no limit to cynicism, since the closure of Sde Dov is a fait accompli, and it is a pity that false hope is sown among the residents of Eilat.
In recent months, we have witnessed a well-oiled and public relations-driven campaign to keep Sde Dov in its current place, as a permanent fixture on the Tel Aviv coastline. Conductor of the orchestra is the mayor of Eilat, Meir Yitzhak-Halevi. According to Yitzhak-Halevi, moving the airfield from its location would place a death sentence on Eilat’s cancer patients, as it would make it difficult for them to reach the hospitals.
Playing the wind and percussion instruments are Knesset members who are toeing the line and making political capital out of defending oncology patients, ecological beaches and the economy of the southern city and the periphery.
And completing the line-up, on the triangle – the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, whose main argument is that Ben-Gurion Airport is not set up to absorb all the passengers and that the closure of Sde Dov would burden Ben-Gurion Airport, which is at the end of its capacity limit. So thinks Huldai when he asked at The Globes Conference (reported on March 18), “What meaning do 3,000 residential units on the Sde Dov land have compared with our connection with the outside world?” In fiery speeches, all of these protagonists join hands without allowing the facts to confuse them. Except that there are times when it is necessary to ruin a good fairy tale with the facts.
First of all, we will respond to the claim of a burden on Ben-Gurion Airport, that Huldai’s claim is not supported by any professional opinion or fact. The opposite is true: all the planning bodies responsible for the subject – such as the Airport Authority, the Air Force, the Ministry of Transport or the Planning Administration, who are authorized to express their opinion – not only did they not object to the closure of Sde Dov, but approved relocation of its operation.
The transfer of airport activity to Ben-Gurion Airport is not a whim, and even the Supreme Court rejected the claim. Sde Dov is built on privately-owned land, which is not at all intended for use as an airport. The airport does not appear in national outline plans and has been operating since 1958 by virtue of a military order. In fact, as early as 1973, its status was amended, and Plan 1111 determined that it should be moved away. Since military use of the airfield is no longer required, since for years there has been a good and available alternative for military activity, the owners of the land agreed to waive half of their rights in order to finance relocation of the airfield.
An airport in a closely-confined area, surrounded by existing residential neighborhoods and others intended for construction in the future – casts a heavy shadow on the vicinity, restricts construction on the land adjacent to it, and causes disturbances to neighbors and enormous damage to its owners. For this reason, the Municipality of Eilat, concerned for the lives of its residents and their rights, initiated the closure of the Eilat airport at its inner-city location and its relocation to Ramon – a significant journey length from the city, in order to develop the land previously occupied by the civilian airport. The residents of Tel Aviv deserve to enjoy the same quality of life as Eilat residents do and not have to live in close proximity to an airport.
Following our rebuttal of the security-military argument, the economic-social argument, and the transportation-tourism argument, we will address the most cynical argument so far – the health-related one. Inspection has shown that most of Eilat’s residents are insured by Clalit Health Services and are treated at the HMO’s hospitals in the center of the country – Beilinson and Hasharon Hospitals in Petach Tikva and Sheba Medical Center. These medical centers are in fact close to Ben-Gurion Airport and not to north-west Tel Aviv.
The need to release land in the center of the country is the order of the day. It is a social order. The State acted correctly when it initiated the plan decades ago. It did so wisely, with a look to the future – and indeed, all the planning institutions supported and continue to support the plan led by outgoing Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Engineer, Oded Gvuli.
The struggle of the residents of Eilat may appeal to the politicians, but the decision-makers in Israel should not be dragged after them and not allow irrelevant considerations to delay the removal from the Tel Aviv shoreline of the nuisance born in sin, and the sooner the better.
The writer is an attorney, a partner at law firm Hamburger Evron & Co., specializing in real estate and planning and zoning and represents many owners in the Sde Dov site.