Northern Israeli City Closes Park to Nonresidents Over Summer Vacation

Mayor’s campaign ad states ‘Park built for Afula residents must remain theirs. … We must proudly wave Israeli flags in entire park and play music in Hebrew’

The park in Afula, last year.
Gil Eliahu

The northern city of Afula announced Monday it will close its main municipal park to nonresidents over the summer, except on Fridays. In recent years, Afula residents have complained of Arabs from the area using the park, and have protested against Arabs buying homes in the city.

The mayor of Afula, Avi Elkabetz, was responsible for building the park during his previous terms in office from 2005 through 2013. His election campaign last year featured a slogan calling for Afula to maintain its Jewish character. Before he was elected, he took part in protests against the sale of homes in the city to Arabs. After the election, members of the city council were sworn in with an oath that they would protect the Jewish character of the city.

As part of Elkabetz’s election campaign, he wrote the following on Facebook: “The occupation of the municipal park must end. It is not a political issue. It is not an election issue. It is simply a fundamental matter of principle. A park that was built for the residents of Afula needs to remain theirs … We must proudly wave Israeli flags through the entire park and play music in Hebrew,” he wrote.

A week and a half ago, Elkabetz again participated in a protest against the sale of a house in the city to an Arab family.

The city said the municipal park was built with public funds and Afula residents pay for its maintenance. The park will be open to the general public on Fridays for free and during the rest of the week it will serve as a community center in every way, similar to other places around the country that are open to local residents only.

Residents can enter the park for free by showing their ID card and children who don’t have an ID card can purchase a wristband to identify them for a one-time fee of 10 shekels ($2.80). 

The park will be run by the city’s Shakim Afula community centers organization, which posted on its Facebook page on Monday: “Good news for Afula residents,” saying it will produce dozens of community and culture events over the summer vacation, including sporting events, shows, family get-togethers, workshops for children, a small zoo and more. It asked the public to wait patiently until it publishes its full program and details, “and not to believe rumors from unfounded reports.”