Without funds, Ammunition Hill expects to close

Site director says he cannot pay salaries after he was ordered to stop charging admission fees last year.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 16, 2012 19:41
2 minute read.
Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem

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

 
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The museum and memorial at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem will close on Monday if the site does not receive NIS 2 million by Monday afternoon, the director of the museum announced Thursday.

Ammunition Hill was the site of a fierce paratrooper’s battle during the 1967 Six Day War, and the victory on the hilltop was a significant turning point in the army’s campaign for Jerusalem.

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More than 200,000 people visit the site every year, including 80,000 soldiers, said Ammunition Hill director Katri Maoz, who was also a senior officer in the Paratroop Brigade. But since the state attorney forbid the site from collecting an entrance fee two years ago on the grounds that it is a government site and should be free, it has struggled financially.

“We’re not closing because we want to demonstrate,” said Maoz. “We’re closing because the Defense Ministry does not allow us to operate in a respectable and dignified way.”

“I can’t even pay the salaries of the six people who work here,” he added.

Maoz said the site needs NIS 2m. per year to continue operations.

If they do not receive this additional help by Monday, Ammunition Hill will close to the public after a beret graduation ceremony for the paratroopers, he said.

Government sites open to the public, such as this one, are not allowed to charge visitors an entrance fee. But Maoz said the area, which is home to a museum, amphitheater, events hall, educational center, several memorials and an interactive light show, needs the fees to keep the facilities operating smoothly.

Tickets used to cost NIS 15 for adults and NIS 10 for children, though fewer than half of the visitors paid since soldiers and the disabled entered for free, said site officials. Almost all paratroopers and medics visit the site during the course of their service.

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

A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said the budget for Ammunition Hill was increased from NIS 830,000 last year to NIS 910,000 for the current year. She stressed that the Ministry would continue to support memorials in honor of fallen soldiers and their families.

“It was a shock, until now, I never thought it would be an option to close this place,” said Michael Lanir, who was severely injured as a 25-year-old soldier on Ammunition Hill. The now-70-year-old volunteer frequently leads groups at the site and talks about his experiences.

He stressed that visiting the site of the actual battle was very important to many generations of Israeli soldiers, who can gain a deeper understanding of the event by seeing the area and listening to veterans’ stories.

“New soldiers are very interested in the personal feelings [soldiers experience] when they are in combat,” said Lanir. “It’s very important for them to understand how you operate, what are your emotions, how you feel, what you feel about the enemy.”

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