Mount Arbel: Greenwashing golfing greens

by Maskil on 12 May 2008

According to this recent ISRAEL21c article, the Israel Land Authority has given Joseph Bernstein’s development company, Israel Resorts & Clubs, the final approval necessary to develop a golf resort on the ecologically sensitive Mount Arbel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

The new $150 million resort, which should open in 2011, will have an 18-hole championship golf course sculpted by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., a renowned golf course designer. There will be social, golf and residence club programs, with cultural, spiritual, sports and touring activities organized for members.

The development, on land owned by the agricultural farming cooperative Moshav Kfar Hittim, will cater to between 600-900 people in large suites and villas. It will be home to a world-class spa, a culinary program, an organic farm, a winery, a beach club, and a tennis academy.

Similar golf resorts are planned for elsewhere in Israel; the goal is to build three or four at various locations across the country. In my comments on the article, I said:

Despite Mr Bernstein’s assurances that he “intends the resort to be environmentally friendly”, it’s hard to believe that this proposed golf estate will be less of an environmental disaster than any other golf course or golf estate elsewhere in the world. I hope that the green movement in Israel will mobilise to prevent this development from taking place.

In a country where both land and water are at such a premium, can there really be a justification for squandering them on this elitist venture?

Some of the ecological and other impacts of golf estates and golf courses include:

  • The use of large tracts of land, reduction of biodiversity and destruction of habitat and wildlife
  • Valuable agricultural land taken out of use, with the resultant impact on food production
  • The introduction of alien vegetation
  • An unsuitable use of scarce resources such as water in an arid zone country like Israel, especially given that Israel is currently experiencing a water crisis. Even the use of treated waste water is not without adverse effects.
  • The pollution of water sources through the fertilizers and pesticides that always accompany golf courses
  • Aggravation of existing urban sprawl problems, especially in areas such as this without existing infrastructure
  • The creation of elitist socioeconomic enclaves, with none of the promised benefits to the local community.
  • Where jobs are created, they tend to be unskilled or menial
  • Money tends to be spent within the confines of the estate or the golf tourist’s home country
  • Given the sport’s increasing popularity, its ecological footprint is greater than ever, even where courses and estates are planned and managed in a sensitive manner

An ecologically sensitive site such as Mount Arbel can only be “mined” once by means of a damaging and elitist project such as this. Once the development has taken place, the site will have been stripped of all other long-term, sustainable goods and values; its memory, historical, archaeological and spiritual connotations, free access for locals, tourists and pilgrims, agricultural productivity, its value as a vista and a visual resource, its existence as an open space and a habitat for creatures we haven’t given a price tag. All of these will be gone, or at least degraded beyond recognition or redemption.

Israel needs tourism. What it doesn’t need are the dubious benefits of golf tourism for the privileged few. It should instead focus on sustainable programs to accommodate and promote ecotourism, agrotourism and geotourism over the long term. This, along with Jewish and Christian tourism in the contexts of pilgrimage and support for Israel are what should be powering the tourism agenda and industry (while also leaving these national treasures intact for a time when the global tourism bubble bursts).

I know that the guardians of Israel’s environment are already having to confront a huge and growing list of threats, but perhaps the fight against golf courses and estates in a small, arid country is one more item that simply has to become part of that agenda.

US-Israeli developer brings golf to Israel’s historic Mount Arbel – ISRAEL21c

World Golf News – ARBEL by the SEA to become Israel’s premier golf resort

Israel’s Sacred Golf Course Converts Bomb Craters Into Bunkers

America’s 18,000 Golf Courses Are Devastating the Environment

The Impact of Golf Estates – Environment South Africa

Is Tiger Woods Bad for the Environment? | MetaFilter

Ecotourism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Agrotourism and agricultural diversity

Geotourism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Geotourism Trend Aims to Preserve Local Charm – MSN Travel Articles

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