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A walk in the park divides Israeli mayors

August 21, 2012 | 10:49 pm

JERUSALEM -- Israel’s religious-secular battle has an odd new front: public parks.

The mayors of Modiin, a mixed religious-secular city, and the adjacent Modiin-Ilit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement  just over the West Bank's Green Line, are threatening to ban each other’s residents from entering their respective parks, according to Haaretz.

It began last week when Modiin-Ilit Mayor Yaakov Gutterman told a religious newspaper that he was planning to restrict visits to a newly renovated Jewish archaeological site in his town to ultra-Orthodox visitors only. He said the move would “keep it a proper place” where ultra-Orthodox could visit without the “fear of hearing false opinion.”

The site, dating to the Second Temple period more than 2,000 years ago, is a farming village that includes a synagogue, wine press and ritual bath. The federal government recently paid to preserve it.

Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas fired back with a letter to Gutterman, threatening to ban ultra-Orthodox residents of Modiin-Ilit from using his city’s central park. He said his city's residents had complained that too many ultra-Orthodox families from the neighboring settlement are using the park because Modiin-Ilit lacks family recreation sites of its own.

“National heritage sites are places central to the history of the Jewish people and should be open to everyone, whatever their world view or religious affiliation may be," Bibas wrote.

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