Israel's Interior Ministry Advancing Plan to Let Cities Charge Admission to Parks

Physicians’ groups, environmentalists oppose program, say it will hurt poor people

A park in Jerusalem, June, 2019.

The Interior Ministry is working toward approving regulations that would allow municipalities to charge entrance fees to city parks if certain conditions are met, among them the existence of facilities or attractions that require extra maintenance. The regulations require the approval of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.

Physicians’ groups and environmentalists oppose the proposed regulations, saying they would hurt weaker populations who need access to these open spaces for both health and recreational purposes.

Under the new regulations, an advisory committee to be established by the ministry could, under certain circumstances, permit a municipality to charge entrance fees for a municipal park. The interior minister would set the fee, and he could also decide that different fees could be charged to city residents or nonresidents.

The regulations state that a city can get a permit to charge entry fees only if the park has an area of at least 100 dunams (25 acres) and has special installations and activities that require exceptional outlays for maintenance, like a petting zoo, a train, an artificial lake, or “extreme” installations like large slides or a zip line. Another condition would be that next to that park there are other public parks with no entrance fees. Preference would also be given to charging parking fees over entrance fees, so that people arriving on foot, by bike or by public transportation could still enter for free.

The new regulations are aimed at implementing an amendment to the Municipal Ordinance that was approved in 2007, stating that in exceptional circumstances the interior minister could approve entrance fees. The amendment was legislated after the High Court of Justice dismissed a petition by the environmental group Adam Teva V’din against a decision by the Ra’anana municipality to charge nonresidents entrance fees to one of its parks. Though the amendment was passed, regulations detailing how it would be implemented were never issued.

In its dismissal of the petition, the High Court wrote, “Taking into account that the park is the property of the municipality and it was built and funded by residents’ money, and given its proximity to their place of residence, the municipality was authorized to distinguish between Ra’anana residents and nonresidents with regard to the charging of entry fees.”

Recently the Afula municipality decided to close the municipal park to nonresidents during the summer school vacation and said that at other times it plans to charge nonresidents a high entrance fee.

The Israel Medical Association and the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians filed an objection to the new regulations with the Interior Ministry, saying that spending time in public parks and gardens has health benefits. The doctors said there is a link between time spent in green areas and decreased mortality from respiratory and heart disease, a reduced risk of low birth weight, lower blood pressure and improved brain development in children. The health impact is particularly significant for the poor, they said.

Adam Teva V’Din also reiterated its objections to charging entry fees. “Enjoying public parks is the basic right of every person, whether he is a resident of a city or not,” said the organization’s director, Amit Bracha. “The draft regulations are inconsistent with the purpose of the legislation and the sole aim is to push certain populations out of public parks. This is a slippery slope that undermines social and environmental justice.”

The Interior Ministry said in response, “Following requests from local authorities to the interior minister and in light of the petition filed on the matter, the ministry is examining the enactment of regulations. The draft regulations were issued for public comment, and the ministry is now reviewing the comments submitted. It should be clarified that the regulations permit charging an entry fee only in exceptional cases, when the services provided constitute a significant expense to the local authority, and as part of a list of cumulative conditions.”