Israel privatizing national parks to sustain occupation

The Knesset approved a first reading of a bill that would privatize the administration of its national parks, all in an effort to protect the control of a settlement organization over an archeological site in East Jerusalem.

While thousands of Israelis are protesting the price of goods and housing in Israel, reminding the Knesset it is there to serve the interests of its citizens, the Knesset is busy with something more urgent: protecting the settlement project.

The Knesset approved a first reading of a bill that will allow the privatization of administration and management of Israel’s national parks. The amendment in question allows both non-profits and corporations to take over the management of parks from the government. But what Israelis don’t know is that the real intent behind the bill is to legitimize the occupation of territory in East Jerusalem.

This legislation is not about improving administration or management in Israel’s national parks at the hands of the private sector. According to Haaretz, the Israel Parks and Nature Authority already alerted the government against transferring the management of national parks to non-governmental third parties, warning that it has no capacity to supervise such arrangements. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense is also opposed to the new amendment for fear of commercializing the national parks.

This legislation is a move to counter a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by Jerusalem NGO Ir Amim, against allowing Elad, a settlement-advancing organization, to control the City of David archeological site in East Jerusalem, which sits on top of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

Currently, Elad manages everything in the park – from the archeological digs to the administration of the site. Instead of admitting that allowing a political organization to control a national heritage site is illegal, the Knesset’s solution is to allow private companies and organizations to control all national heritage sites in Israel. Basically, Israel is willing to give away professionalism, archeological standards and the public interest for the sake of sustaining the occupation in East Jerusalem and advancing the growth of settlements in Silwan.

The new law is likely to result in an end to any possible archeological and historical integrity of national parks, once these are leased to private groups. Private corporations will seek profit and non profit organizations will seek to advance political agendas at historical sites.

I wonder if the Israeli public will take notice of this legislation or will they sleep on it like they did with the housing problem until it is too late.

What will it take for Israelis to notice? Maybe only when national parks are announced for special sale on Walla’s auction site, because they aren’t bringing in enough profit, will Israelis rise up. Or perhaps when a new NGO administering Masada decides to only allow visitors into the site if they promise to sacrifice their life for the country. Or maybe when it decides the Masada synagogue is too “Orthodox” and not nationalistic enough, and outfits it with a giant statue of Ben Gurion and paints the seats with Israeli flags.

Israelis are paying a very high price for the occupation without even knowing it. Today, they are paying by giving away their national parks for commercial use and pure political agenda advancement. Today we learned that Knesset members are more concerned about the advancement of the settlement project and the Judeazation of Jerusalem than advancing the interests of Israel’s broad population. The question remains the same – what is next to be sacrificed for the sake of the occupation and when will Israelis realize the price they are paying?

Shir Harel contributed to this text.