The waves that come crashing into Tel Aviv’s Gordon Beach are usually inviting. But this summer, they’re repugnant.
On July 11, for the third time since the bathing season began in May, Israel’s Health Ministry declared the water polluted, reporting traces of sewage and warning the public not to enter the water.
If you’re setting off for Israel over the summer, the news may seem alarming, and the idea of sunbathing on the country’s Mediterranean beaches off-putting. After all, how can you know that a given beach is safe?
First, the Health Ministry closes down any beach posing what it considers a serious danger — as it has done at Gordon. But Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has just enabled the public to make informed choices among open beaches, launching a “Beach Ranking” index following a successful pilot project last year.
The ministry has sent inspectors to each of the 95 lifeguard-patrolled beaches along Israel’s Mediterranean and Red Sea shores. They have given grades to each, which were published in early July and are due for an update in August.
The inspectors assess the beaches based on a range of criteria, chiefly the cleanliness of the sand and of the water. Facilities, including bathrooms and showers, are also graded, and beaches are penalized when jellyfish are found.
Beach managers have responded to the scrutiny by upping the ante, according to Ronen Alkalay, the Ministry of Environmental Protection official in charge of the index. “I didn’t believe it would push them to improve the beaches, but it has created competition among them, and they are doing so — benefiting the public,” he said. Deborah Terit, a mother of two, echoes those sentiments. “You don’t really see the state of the sand until your kids… start digging sand for sandcastles, but mine have been digging all morning and haven’t come across any trash,” she said of Tel Aviv’s Mezizim beach.
The index contains information valuable to tourists. It allows travelers to choose a destination based on the beaches, or to find the highest-ranking beach — as decided by experts — within the city in which they are booked to stay. The only downside is that the index is published solely in Hebrew.
Here are the five things beachgoers should take away after reading the index:
1 Tel Aviv is still safe
Despite the situation at Gordon Beach, you’re still safe swimming elsewhere in Tel Aviv. All the other beaches sans one, Bograshov, scored the maximum possible marks for clean water and sand (Bograshov was penalized five of a possible 25 points for lesser water quality). In fact, all Tel Aviv beaches received an overall percentage score in the 90s, except for Frishman Beach (87%) and Bograshov (67%). Frishman scored lower due to poor facilities.
2 Same city, different standards
It’s worth going the extra mile, literally. In many places, beaches that are close together vary vastly in quality. If you are going to the northern city of Nahariya, head for the Galei Gil Beach (which scored 94%) instead of the other option, Sokolov (63%). In nearby Acre, you may as well go for Tamarim Beach (90%) rather than Argaman (79%). Hadera’s beaches fared among the worst of those ranked, scoring between 57% and 72%, and several were reported litter-strewn. But head to Hadera’s Olga Central, which scored a respectable 86%, and you will have an enjoyable and litter-free day.
3 Great beaches can be found off the tourist track
If you fancy avoiding the crowds of other overseas tourists and exploring a new stretch of coastline, the index offers encouragement. Two regions that scored highly for each and every beach under their control are Kiryat Haim (all beaches got 90% or more) and Mateh Asher Regional Council (all beaches scored 85% or more). A stunning region of the Western Galilee, Mateh Asher offers beautiful greenery as well as blissful beaches; Kiryat Haim is near Haifa, so you can enjoy the contrasting seaside and Carmel Mountain landscapes.
4 Unequal distribution of resources
Segregated bathing is available — but comes at the cost of quality. There’s an unequal allocation of resources between mainstream beaches and those six beaches that local municipalities designate separate gender. The segregated beaches are responsible for such amenities such as showers, bathrooms and shaded areas in exactly the same way as are mixed beaches, but they are provided with less funding from the state and municipality. Segregated beaches are also less welcoming to disabled visitors in terms of easy access to the sand, facilities and the sea itself. Mainstream beaches in Ashkelon averaged 34 of 40 points available for amenities and disabled access, while its segregated beach was awarded just 18 points. In other cases the gulf is larger: In Acre and Eilat, mainstream beaches scored 29, but their segregated beaches scored 23 and 18, respectively. The only place where segregated bathers get better facilities is in Bat Yam, which scored 17 points for amenities and accessibility for segregated bathers; the average mainstream beach scored 14 points.
5 And the winners are…
If you are a perfectionist and want to go to the winning beaches, they are North Tzuk Beach, in Tel Aviv, and North Akkadia Beach, in Herzliya, both scoring 98%. In second place were Nordau Beach (a great alternative for people wanting separate-gender bathing; while not segregated, it is open to men and women on alternate days) and Mezizim Beach, both in Tel Aviv and scoring 97%. Herzl Beach, in Netanya, and Jerusalem Beach, in Tel Aviv, came in third, scoring 96%.
Contact Nathan Jeffay at email@example.com