The Modi'in-Maccabim-Reut municipality has closed the main public park in Modi'in to nonresidents of the three communities in its jurisdiction. The move is the latest in an ongoing battle among residents and local governments over the character of the area.
Signs posted recently at the entrance to Anabe Park advise residents to bring their ID cards: "During holidays and vacation days the park is open to Modi'in-Maccabim-Reut residents only," the signs warned. In addition, arrangements were made to station security guards at the entrance to the park and the adjacent parking lot to check visitors.
On Thursday, the municipality announced that during the weeklong Sukkot holiday, which begins tonight, only Modi'in-Maccabim-Reut residents and their guests will be allowed into the park. It cited overcrowding during past holidays as the reason for the decision.
The park is popular with residents from the immediate area as well as the wider Modi'in region, including ultra-Orthodox communities such as Modi'in Ilit, and has become a flashpoint of tensions between Haredim and less observant Jews. In August, Modi'in residents demanded that the city begin charging entry fees to nonresidents in a bid to keep out the large numbers of Haredi families that come to the park during the intermediate days of the holiday, when travel is permitted to observant Jews.
Such fees, however, would violate a 2007 ruling by the High Court of Justice concerning a similar case over a public park in Ra'anana. After the High Court ordered the Ra'anana municipality to stop charging entrance fees to a city park it began charging nonresidents for nearby parking near the park, an idea some Modi'in residents have proposed. City officials ruled out this option, noting that there are three parking lots near Anabe Park that the municipality operates together with Israel Railways, and the city does not intend to charge people who park there.
During Sukkot last year, the city held residents-only activities one day, but officials said it was a special case and the park would be open to all during the other days.
The issue came to the fore again last month when Modi'in Ilit Mayor Yaakov Gutterman announced that non-Haredi visitors would be barred from the Second Temple-era farming village Khirbet Bad-Issa, an archaeological site slated to open soon in his town. Modi'in Mayor Haim Bibas responded by threatening to bar ultra-Orthodox visitors from Anava Park. "Up to now, I have refrained from discriminating between ultra-Orthodox and secular visitors, despite the multitude of petitions by Modi'in residents complaining that the park is being taken from them," Bibas wrote in a letter he sent Gutterman at the time, adding, "If the municipality you head doesn't reverse its decision and will in fact bar secular visitors [from Khirbet Bad-Issa] Modi'in will bar residents of your municipality from Anava Park."
In a legal opinion that was solicited and funded by the Modi'in municipality, Prof. Ariel Bendor, an expert on constitutional and administrative law at Bar-Ilan University, wrote that the city was within its rights in choosing to restrict enjoyment of city services including Anabe Park to community residents and their guests, especially during periods when the park accommodates large numbers of visitors.
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