The Nazareth District Court did the right thing when it made clear to the Afula municipality that closing the municipal park and charging entrance fees was illegal.
“Just as you don’t close a street, you don’t close a park,” said Judge Danny Sarfati, who ordered the park opened on Tuesday. While the judge did not address the claim that the city’s decision to close the park was an attempt to block residents of nearby Arab villages from visiting it, he stressed that “Even if the place was being closed solely to discriminate [in favor of] local residents, by law charging a fee to enter public parks is illegal.”
Unfortunately, the threat of closing off public spaces hasn’t passed. The Interior Ministry is advancing regulations that would allow municipalities to charge entrance fees to public parks – ostensibly out of consideration for cities that invest large sums into maintaining and operating the parks under their jurisdiction while they struggle with the financial burden.
One mustn’t be deceived by these arguments. In practice, charging entrance fees will pose an obstacle to poor populations and make enjoying a park a privilege reserved for the wealthy. No less grave is the likelihood that such regulations will help localities filter out people they don’t want in their midst. Thus, under the guise of giving preference to local residents, cities can block the entrance of those they consider undesirable – in other words, Arabs.
There are no parks in many Arab towns. Sometimes there are even no public spaces that have the potential for building parks for residents. That’s why it just makes sense, especially in outlying areas, that the larger cities, which are used for shopping and to obtain public services, allow access to their amenities as well.
There are many examples of municipalities that give residents discounts for local activities that are still available to nonresidents at full cost. Tel Aviv residents, for example, get parking discounts; there are regional councils that hold festivals which residents can attend for free or at minimal cost. But parks are supposed to provide leisure and recreation for everyone, including those who cannot afford much else. In a country where the cost of living is only increasing, the have-nots must also be allowed to enjoy nature and fresh air.
It’s forbidden for a private business like a café or a pub to prevent anyone from entering based on their religion, race, gender and so on. That being the case, why is the state stubbornly trying to permit this kind of discrimination to local authorities in a roundabout fashion? Public parks and green areas should be left accessible to all.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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