Rightist NGO Elad Defied Court Over City of David, Report Reveals

Report shows parks authority did not live up to promises to High Court over Elad's operations.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has not upheld its commitments to the High Court of Justice regarding the way it supervises a right-wing NGO's management of the City of David National Park, an internal report has revealed.

The internal report, prepared by an external supervisory firm and submitted to the INPA’s management about three weeks ago, found many flaws in the way the right-wing NGO Elad runs the national parkland surrounding the Old City walls, especially the City of David, the best-known and most profitable part of the park.

In 2005, Elad signed an agreement with the INPA under which it assumed management of the site. About three years ago, the non-profit Ir Amim, together with academics and archaeologists, challenged the agreement at the High Court. Their petition claimed that transferring the management of the national park to a private political organization constituted illegal privatization of government powers. Several Knesset members even drafted a bill to bypass the court. In the end, the bill proved unnecessary when the justices dismissed the petition and accepted the position of the INPA, which promised to maintain closer supervision over what was done at the national park and in Elad.

But the report revealed that the supervision that had served as the basis for the High Court’s rejection of Ir Amim’s petition was actually nonexistent. For example, the report notes that Elad continues to charge money for activities that are held in the park, despite having no written contract with the INPA.

One important topic that the report discussed was the guided tours in the City of David. The report shows that Elad continues to exert tight control over the guided tours there and that the INPA offers very few. Among the reasons for this are that Elad attracts groups by funding transportation and security. In addition, the report states that “Elad acts independently by giving its own guided tours, and there is no feedback or ongoing reporting ... The site, which is the most significant section of the park, is closed on the Sabbath and Jewish festivals, even though there is high potential for tourists and hikers on those days. Elad’s tours make no mention of the INPA's values in terms of protecting the environment and preserving the national park.”

The report notes that in 2012, 10 schools canceled trips to the City of David “for political reasons that go against Elad’s activity.”

Under the agreement between the INPA and Elad, an official with the title of “park manager” was to supervise the park and Elad’s activities closely, on a daily basis. But the report showed that the official, Assaf Avraham, was employed in a “non-standarized position” and that Elad, the very organization he was supposed to supervise, paid 50 percent of his salary. Elad also fully funded the cost of his car and its maintenance.

Another person who figures prominently in the report is Evyatar Cohen, the head of the INPA's Jerusalem district. The area’s Palestinian residents feel that Cohen, a former high-ranking Elad official and a settler, uses his position to push a right-wing political agenda.

“The report reveals that the INPA deceived the High Court,” commented attorney Michael Sfard, who is representing Ir Amim in its petition against the contract between the INPA and Elad. “The court was promised that Elad would not operate the national park. The report proves what we told the court − that the INPA had abdicated its authority and allowed this sensitive park to fall into the hands of a private organization with an agenda that favors the settlement movement. We now know that the wording of the contract with Elad had a single purpose: to set the minds of the High Court justices at rest.”

Elad commented in response, "It is important to note that after the High Court ruling on operating the City of David tourism site, an agreement was signed regulating the labor relations between the Elad NGO and the Nature and Parks Authority. Orderly reports were submitted and we strictly observe proper conduct in compliance with the High Court directives. The Elad NGO and INPA maintain close cooperation in developing the park and making it accessible for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year."

Emil Salman