The Association for Civil Rights in Israel is demanding that the Kiryat Ata municipality stop charging entry fees to the town's public Sport Park, which the association says are discriminatory and illegal.

Dozens of families from communities in the Kiryat Ata region who recently came to spend time in the park found to their dismay that it has been fenced off and municipal inspectors now charge entry fees at the gate: NIS 30 for adults and NIS 20 for children. For Kiryat Ata residents entry is free of charge.

Many of the visitors, who are used to spending time in the park, accused the municipality of charging money as a way to keep Arabs from nearby villages out of the park, as they are less likely to be able to afford the cost.

Sharf Hassan of the neighboring town Tamra and an ACRI member came with his wife, two children and other relatives to the park at the beginning of last week. To his surprise, they were stopped at the entrance and charged entry fees.

The new policy was mainly designed to prevent Arab families from entering the park, Hassan said.

"Obviously most of the out-of-town visitors come from the adjacent Arab communities such as Shfaram and Tamra, since the Jewish ones have plenty of other open areas and sites to spend time in. It's regrettable that such a place, which should be open to children of all age groups, has become a bastion of racism and hatred, and a barrier preventing Arab children from playing in the park. These children have no public areas and parks in their villages," he said.

ACRI has demanded that Mayor Yaakov Peretz stop charging entry fees to the park, which is contrary to the law banning payment to enter public parks. The decision to charge entry fees requires a special permit from the Interior Ministry and the Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, the association said.

In February 2007 the Knesset enacted an amendment banning entry fees to public parks within local authorities, to prevent discrimination against out-of-town visitors and enable equal and free access to open public areas, wrote ACRI's attorney Ashraf Elias.

Kiryat Ata's municipality commented: "The entrance fees to Sport Park are intended to finance the costs involved in operating the park, which consists of attractions requiring year-round management and upkeep. The public is invited to visit other open parks around Kiryat Ata that are free of charge."