Gov't finds funds to keep Ammunition Hill open

Zvi Hauser tells site managers NIS 2 million will be transferred in order to keep site open; memorial shut down earlier in day.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 20, 2012 20:35
3 minute read.
Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem

Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem 390. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Yydl)

 
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Ammunition Hill will not close after an emergency meeting on Monday evening in which Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser promised a budget of NIS 2 million for the 2012 year.

Representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry worked with Katri Maoz, the director of the Ammunition Hill museum and memorial, who said the site needed at least NIS 2 million to continue operating.

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Before the decision was reached, a group of veterans and children of soldiers killed in the battle for Ammunition Hill lowered the giant billowing flag from the hilltop Monday afternoon for the first time since 1967. The dramatic move drew condemnation from some veterans who fought in the Six Day War.

The flag lowering was in protest of the lack of government funding for the site, which had depleted its resources and could not pay even the salaries of its six employees, according to director Katri Maoz.

Representatives at the emergency meeting also decided to submit legislation that would legally solidify funding for the site.

“The heroic heritage of the soldiers of the IDF will continue,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office after the meeting concluded. “As I said yesterday at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Ammunition Hill will not close.”

“Ammunition Hill will stay open so that every citizen of Israel will be able to continue to stand on the ground where the heroic story of the Six Day War took place,” he vowed.

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The Paratroop Brigade fought a fierce battle at Ammunition Hill against the Jordanian Arab Legion on June 6, 1967, during the Six Day War. The hilltop victory was a turning point in the army’s campaign for Jerusalem. The memorial and museum at the site were closed at 5 p.m. Monday after a beret ceremony for paratroopers.

In an emotional moment in the afternoon, family members and soldiers lowered the giant flag, which measures 8 meters by 12 meters and is one of the largest in Israel.

“For two-and-a-half years we did everything that we could to honor the memories of our fathers,” said Alon Vald, son of Captain Rami Vald who was killed on Ammunition Hill. He said that they took the flag down with “pain in our hearts.”

Just before the group removed the flag, a tearful veteran who fought in the battle for Ammunition Hill begged them to stop. “Don’t take the flag down,” he said. “You simply can’t leave this place without a flag. Politics are not the right way; there are dozens of options [to find funding] – just not the flag.”

Vald responded that they had not found a funding alternative.

“It’s sad that this is what it’s come to, that the state can’t maintain such an important site,” said Dror Lev, who fought in Battalion 66, which lost 36 soldiers in the Six Day War – 21 of them at Ammunition Hill.

“I have mixed feelings, on the one hand, he’s right – you should never take down a flag,” Lev said. “On the other hand this is the only thing that can move people, and the site needs to be maintained by the state and not by donations.”

Since the state comptroller forbade the site from collecting entrance fees two years ago, it has struggled financially.

Ammunition Hill is classified as a government site, and therefore must be open to the public free of charge.

Approximately 200,000 people visit each year, including 80,000 soldiers, Maoz said. The NIS 15 tickets formerly allowed the site to maintain a museum, amphitheater, events hall, educational center, several memorials and an interactive light show.

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