Barring of Non-residents From Modi'in Park Sparks Confrontations

The move to close the park to non-residents has drawn fire from those who believe its purpose is to keep the large ultra-Orthodox families from neighboring Modi’in Illit out.

Modi’in municipality's decision to bar non-residents from the main public city park during the intermediate days of Sukkot led to some confrontations at the park's gate, when out-of-town visitors asked to enter the park.

The move to close the popular Anabe Park to non-residents, of questionable legality to begin with, has drawn fire from those who believe its purpose is to keep the large ultra-Orthodox families from neighboring Modi’in Illit and elsewhere from visiting the park.

Ahead of Sukkot's intermediate days (Hol Hamo’ed), a security guard was stationed at the park's entrance and signs were hung announcing that the parking area is reserved “for residents of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut during Hol Hamo’ed and summer vacation,” in other words, times when Haredi families are more likely to come to the park. The signs say nothing about Shabbat or holidays, when ultra-Orthodox families do not travel.

The ramifications of the decision could have been seen even before one sets foot in the Park, by the large line-up of cars approaching the parking lot. From the beginning of Hol Hamo’ed, young city residents have been stationed on the main road, checking identity cards of those asking to park their cars, and explaining to non-residents that the lot is too small to hold all those wanting to visit, even when it is nearly empty.

Anyone not a resident of the municipality is told he cannot enter. Most shrug and back off. But not everyone.

Elimelech Tirnauer, who came on Wednesday from Jerusalem with his wife, daughter, and three grandchildren, could not believe he would not be allowed to enter.

“This is anti-Semitic, it’s against the law, I want to go in,” he said as he tried to convince the guard, who responded by murmuring, “Those are the instructions.” City inspectors were summoned, photographed Tirnauer’s license plate and threatened to write him a ticket for disrupting traffic.

As the argument continued, a Modi’in resident, Eli Fischer, decided to see whether everyone was really being barred from the park, or only those in ultra-Orthodox garb.

“He’s my guest, let him in,” said Fischer, in an effort to help Tirnauer, at first without success. The guards checked Fischer’s identity card, and then started questioning Tirnauer and his family about their relationship. One of the ushers called a municipal security guard to help.

“He’s not really your guest, he’s here to make a provocation,” the security guard told Fischer. But Fischer persisted after the getting approval of his superiors the security guard allowed Fischer and his new acquaintances into the park.

“The park is empty, and I wanted to see what would happen, since according to the instructions that were publicized, [the park] is reserved for Modi’in residents and their guests,” said Fischer. “I don’t know why they were questioning me.”

The municipality said that the confrontation involving Tirnauer and Fischer was the first to occur since the instructions were issued, claiming it was a planned provocation by the media.

“During all the days that entrance to the park was restricted, there wasn’t a single incident, except for one in which a visitor who isn’t a city resident came with a reporter to create a provocation and get a headline,” the municipality said.

“The city’s decision proved itself. During the holiday residents of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut and their guests could enjoy the park that was built for them.”

The municipal inspectors at the site, however, said it was the second time they had been called to deal with an argument over entrance to the park. Moreover, shortly after Tirnauer’s family was admitted, there was another confrontation that nearly came to blows. Police were called to the park and calmed the angry visitors.

As Tirnauer’s grandchildren frolicked on the grass and enjoyed the park’s extensive playground equipment, he did not deny that he had hoped to cause a scene.

“There’s no place in the State of Israel that one can’t enter,” said Tirnauer. “I stood at the entrance on purpose, so that they’d make a story out of it and we’d have a breakthrough for the future.

“I wouldn’t go to the High Court of Justice with this, but this kind of separation is not acceptable in the State of Israel. We are all brothers despite our differing opinions. What will happen in the end? Tel Avivians won’t be allowed into Ramat Gan? Every city will close itself in? It’s not normal.”

Ashraf Elias, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said that the municipality’s instructions are illegal.

“The park is not the private property of Modi’in residents, but an open space that must remain so,” Elias said. “The legislature dealt with the issue when it forbade the charging of admission to public parks, to prevent exactly these types of phenomena. Every citizen, including Modi’in residents, must have the right of entry to every public park, without discrimination.”