Geek Invasion Keeps Residents Out of Jerusalem’s Main Park During Holiday

A high-tech festival, initiated by the city, has left most of Sacher Park off limits to Jerusalemites — unless they buy a $37 ticket.

Sacher Park, Jerusalem, April 24, 2016.
Emil Salman

Jerusalem’s biggest and most heavily used public park is largely off limits to the public this week due to a high-tech festival being held there. City Hall closed most of the grassy areas of Sacher Park for the holiday week in order to accommodate the “Geek Picnic” international festival for science, technology and futuristic art.

The festival, which began on Monday, was launched at the initiative of the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs. City hall claims that the festival is already a success, with 30,000 tickets sold in advance. However, residents have complained that most of the park — which is usually used by thousands of Jerusalemites and visitors during the holiday — is closed to them. The park is located in the center of the city, between the neighborhood of Nahlaot and the Israel Government Complex.

“Sacher Park is an open space that serves the diverse needs of Jerusalem’s residents around the clock, seven days a week,” says attorney Yossi Wolfson, a city resident. “Surrounding it with fences and closing it to anyone who can’t afford expensive tickets is a robbery of public space for the benefit of commercial interests. This is how a municipality that is alienated from its residents behaves, becoming addicted to grandiose initiatives that are intended for affluent tourists from Israel and abroad, treating public spaces as if they were real estate belonging to municipal functionaries” he says.

Tickets to the festival cost 144 shekels ($37) for an adult, 114 shekels for a child or 404 shekels ($104) for a family ticket. The municipality and the festival’s organizers are offering various discounts for city residents and for members of certain associations.

The city responded that this is the first time the festival has been held in Jerusalem or in Israel and that it attracts large numbers of visitors, thereby supporting hotels, restaurants and businesses across the city. “Those interested in enjoying the park still have over two acres of open spaces left, as well as playgrounds. Other parks are also available, such as Independence Park, the Jerusalem Park, Gazelle Valley Park, Bloomfield Park, Rose Park, the Jerusalem Forest, the White Valley and others. In 26 parks, the municipality will hold free events for the first time.”

Officials added that “such complaints are never heard when similar events are held in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and in other locations. There is no reason that Jerusalem should be different.”