Tel Aviv City Hall on Monday denied claims that sweeping renovations made to the city's Independence Park were made in order to clear out homosexuals who for decades have used the park as a "cruising" spot.
The Tel Aviv City Hall told The Jerusalem Post by email Monday that while Independence Park was renovated in order to serve all segments of the city's populace, in recent weeks "we have witnessed actions carried out in the park that we suspect to be illegal. Because of this, enforcement authorities have been deployed to handle these actions, in order to allow the entire public to continue to enjoy Independence Park."
The message added that the city "has no intention of harassing or removing the gay community from the park," rather, they are seeking to preserve the park just like all city parks.
The newly renovated area of the park was unveiled in July, as part of celebrations held by the Tel Aviv municipality to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Hebrew city. The renovations spanned two years and cost around NIS 12 million, which was attained largely through donations made by Israeli developer and Tel Aviv native Nachum Kalka.
Independence Park was designed and built by Avraham Karavan shortly after the founding of the state, and was opened to the public in 1952. At the time, it was the largest municipal park in the city. In the years since, and some say even before, the area became popular with the homosexual community, for whom it served as a legendary meeting place and anchor for the community, especially in the earlier, more provincial and conservative days of Israel, when the homosexual community was for the most part confined to the closet, even in Tel Aviv.
The park was so popular as a gay meeting place that it was mentioned in the Gay and Lesbian section of travel guides covering Tel Aviv and Israel, including the "cruising/parks" section of the Israel Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Association's Gay tourism Gay Map for Tel Aviv. The park was also used for events held by the gay community, including in the past "Wigstock," a yearly drag party held to raise money and awareness for the fight against AIDS.
Many in Israel's gay community say that the importance of such a meeting place has tapered off somewhat with the advent of the internet as a meeting place, and with the fact that gays in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel feel more comfortable coming out of the closet and being openly gay.
The park sits perched atop a cliff on Tel Aviv's northern reaches, sandwiched between the Hilton hotel and the Crown Plaza, affording sweeping views of the Mediterranean. The park also sits almost directly on top of Tel Aviv's religious beach and the adjacent gay beach.
On Monday afternoon, the park was nearly empty as Tel Aviv experienced an unseasonably warm and sunny late November day. Across the southern and northern halfs of the park, there were expanses of dirt that appeared to have been freshly laid, and along the footpaths stood several piles of brush. Dozens of newly-planted saplings stood in areas that had once been thick bushes, and small succulents stood in clearings with drip irrigation pipes snaking through them. Throughout the parched, un-shaded expanses of green grass befitting putting greens, stood newly-installed sprinkler pipes, with large, new lampposts stationed by the dozens.
Nonetheless, in several bush-groupings and clearings in the park, especially in the southern reaches, dozens of used condoms and condom wrappers could be seen underfoot, as could bottles of liquor and business cards for gay saunas.
Abigail, a young mother at the park with her toddler, said that while she still wouldn't come to the park at night, the improvements are very noticeable.
"I think today it's [the park] very different, very safe, not like it was. I much prefer the way the park looks now," she said.