Ammunition Hill struggling since entrance fee nixed

Government sites open to the public are not allowed to charge visitors for entrance, but facility says it needs the fees to keep operating.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
January 5, 2011 01:53
3 minute read.
Ammunition Hill struggling since entrance fee nixed

ammunition hill 88. (photo credit: )

 
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One of the most famous memorial sites from the Six Day War, Ammunition Hill, is in a battle for its survival, a year after the state comptroller forced the site’s managers to stop charging an entrance fee, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Government sites open to the public, like Ammunition Hill, are not allowed to charge visitors an entrance fee. But the site, which is home to a museum, amphitheater, events hall, educational center, multiple memorials and an interactive light show, said it needs the fees to keep the facilities operating smoothly.

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Around 150,000 people visit the site – where a crucial Six Day War battle took place – every year. Tickets used to cost NIS 15 for adults and NIS 10 for children, though less than half of the visitors actually paid since soldiers and the disabled got in for free. Almost all paratroopers and medics visit the site during the course of their service.

“The tickets weren’t to make it a business, the tickets were for the upkeep of the site,” said Shimon Kahaner, who served as the director of the site for 18 years and has spent the last 10 years in the same role as a volunteer. “There are expenses, water, electricity, workers, cleaning, lots of things.

“If the state says don’t sell tickets, open the gates, we say, great, that’s only good for us. We want everyone to come to hear what happened here.”

But the state needs to find another way to finance the site if it isn’t allowed to charge admission, he said.

At State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s insistence, the site stopped charging admission on January 1, 2010. Lindenstrauss had been warning the site for two years prior to stop charging admission, and the site agreed after the Defense Ministry said it would try to secure extra money for its upkeep.

After nearly a year of operating without admission fees, the Defense Ministry finally delivered the extra money on December 31. But it was only NIS 300,000, less than a third of what the site had requested from the Defense Ministry, said Kahaner. The site receives an annual budget from the state of NIS 670,000.

Plenty of international donors support the site, like one Los Angeles family that donated $400,000 for an interactive light show in memory of their parents who were killed in the Holocaust.

But donors won’t pay for electricity bills and cleaners, said Kahaner. The events hall at the site barely makes a profit, he added.

“By law, they can’t charge money for entrance to the site,” said a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office. “If they want to charge an entrance fee to the museum, that’s something different.”

Government sites are put into a variety of different categories that determine whether they can charge an entrance fee, and the state comptroller is responsible for enforcing these regulations.

“When it was just the bunkers and the trenches, we didn’t take money. But when they started building things and established things, they needed money for the upkeep,” said Kahaner.

Kahaner, who served as a deputy commander of a paratroop regiment in Jerusalem in the Six Day War, called it a “shame and disgrace” that the site wasn’t getting the support it needed from the government.

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“One hundred eighty-two people lost their lives for Jerusalem [in the Six Day War], including my friends who fought alongside me,” said Kahaner. “These are people that I owe, I owe their families. I also owe the soldiers who fought and returned home alive, who always keep this part of Jerusalem and this part of this war in their hearts.”

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