Independence Park in Tel Aviv has for years been known as a meeting place for gays looking for casual sex as well as relationships. Poems and books have been written about the park, and it inspired several films. The park retained its popularity as a discreet and convenient location, even as other venues catering to the LGBT community emerged in Tel Aviv over the years.
Now, community members say, the Tel Aviv municipality is trying to evict them from the park - installing stronger lighting, getting rid of bushes and trees, and increasing harassment by municipal patrols.
Visitors say that for the last two months, city inspectors have been blocking them from entering areas with shrubbery.
The new policy is divisive even within the LGBT community itself, as some of its leaders sided with city hall. Yaniv Weizmann, founder of the Proud Youth organization and a city council member, told Haaretz that the park's historic role was over.
"The community has matured," he said. "We can walk around in broad daylight in Tel Aviv. Something that was relevant when we were a persecuted and oppressed community is no longer relevant today."
Others see establishment leaders like Weizmann as traitors to the cause.
"There's a coalition of homophobic straights and lush, fat, bourgeois gays who forget where they come from," said Lior Kay, who heads Hadash's Red-Pink forum. "They forgot how they, as petrified teenagers, would sneak off to Independence Park.
"If Weizmann wants to be a representative, he should be representing all of us, not just people who stepped out of the closet and into a penthouse," he said.
Director Zohar Kaniel, who frequents the park, believes the municipality's measures will not deter people.
"I don't want to go and pay money to meet people in some club or sauna. As a cruising spot, this place predates the state itself. You have parks like this one even in the most retrograde of countries. When I see a straight couple making out I don't bother them, so why should anyone bother me?"
Tel Aviv municipality said, "Over the last week, we witnessed activity in the park that appears to be illegal. Law enforcement authorities were instructed to take care of that activity, to allow the entire public to enjoy the park. We should stress there's no policy of driving away the gay community, but merely maintaining the park, just like all other parks in the city."
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