Modi'in residents want the municipality to institute an entrance fee to the city's Park Anabe, which they think may stem the flow of ultra-Orthodox from surrounding towns to the popular park.
The park, near the center of the city, features grassy areas, a lake with paddleboating, a large playground and is open to all, with no parking or entrance fees. Since opening last year it has becoming a popular idyll for city residents and outsiders, including ultra-Orthodox residents of nearby Modi'in Ilit.
Recently, a Facebook page was started by residents calling for a fee. Last week, online forums serving the city became populated with calls for the park to be cleaned up and a debate over the institution of a fee for outsiders, eventually sparking a petition.
"If someone wants to enjoy the facilities, they are welcome, but it is appropriate that they pay!" the petition reads. "There is an absurdity in Modi'in where the citizens no longer visit the site because it is overcrowded and dirty. This must be brought to an end."
As of yesterday the online petition had garnered 60 signatures.
Avi Elbaz, a former city council member active in the Free Modi'in NGO, wants the city to maintain a secular character. He says that "there is an awakening here, and I have also experienced it. [At the park], every night there is a celebration of hundreds of Haredi families coming here. They come in masses, with organized transportation from all over."
Elbaz says those who take the most from the park are outsiders.
"The citizens of [Modi'in] paid with their taxes for the construction of the park, while those who mostly enjoy the use of the park are outsiders, and it does not really matter if they are Haredim or others," Elbaz said. "Some of the city residents avoid going to the park because of the crowding with the Haredi families which come there in droves. They leave a lot of trash behind them, disorder and dirt. They do not clean and do not upkeep the place, and do not pay for the payments made by the municipality each month for cleaning the place and upkeep."
A quick visit to the park revealed that indeed, the place is crowded in the summer. People are there from nearby Modi'in Ilit, Ramat Beit Shemesh and other areas.
Charging for a park would run counter to a 2007 decision that parks cannot charge fees. That year the the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee rejected an Interior Ministry proposal to alter the rules governing entrance fees for parks following a legal challenge to the Ra'anana park's practice of charging an entrance fee. Following the decision, Ra'anana instead began charging non-residents for parking near the park, an idea that some in Modi'in would like to see in their city as well.
The municipality admits that the situation is problematic, saying they can't restrict entry, but cleanup and maintenance in the summer is costly. But they say residents need not fear the Haredization of the city.
"We do not advertise the park too much," a municipality source said. "It is convenient that it is known only to the local residents and those of nearby communities. However, some of the residents are experiencing a genuine phobia against Haredim, especially those who fled Jerusalem, and now fear that they will have to flee the turning of Modi'in into a Haredi town. This is not the case."
In its official response the municipality said that the park sees thousands of visitors daily and is well-maintained. But they added charging for parking is not an option. "The municipality has set up three parking areas, with the cooperation of Israel Railroads nearby, and we have no intention of limiting parking or charging a fee for it," the city said.
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