'Media says there's a lockdown but it doesn't look like it'

A charade: Nightly curfew in ‘red’ cities mocked as measures go unenforced

Cops seen merely explaining new rules to residents and business owners, with people freely roaming the streets; authorities say enforcement will be stepped up in coming days

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Police seen at the entrance to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina as Israel enforces a nightly curfew in some 40 cities badly affected by the coronavirus, September 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Police seen at the entrance to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina as Israel enforces a nightly curfew in some 40 cities badly affected by the coronavirus, September 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The first nightly curfew imposed between 7 p.m. Tuesday and 5 a.m. Wednesday in 40 high-infection towns and neighborhoods to curb coronavirus infection did not feel like a curfew at all.

Residents told Hebrew-language media there was widespread confusion as the much-touted measure, designed to combat skyrocketing infection rates and set to continue for a week, was left mainly on paper.

The curfew, approved Tuesday evening by the cabinet and up for reevaluation in a week, targets nightlife activities, whether bars or traditional Slichot prayer gatherings held in the run-up to the High Holidays, which begin on September 18 this year. It also shutters schools and, during curfew hours, most businesses in affected areas.

Most of the municipalities affected are among the poorest in Israel, with Arab and Haredi towns making up much of the list. Some 1.3 million Israelis were covered by the curfew, according to a Channel 12 tally.

Police enforce a lockdown in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina during a nightly curfew in some 40 cities badly affected by the coronavirus, September 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

But in supposedly locked down neighborhoods in Jerusalem, businesses remained open in defiance of the curfew rules, and police officers manning roadblocks barely prevented anybody from passing, the Haaretz daily reported.

In Eilat’s Shahmon neighborhood, only one cop asked those exiting the neighborhood why they were leaving and implored them to go back home if it wasn’t a vital need, Ynet reported. Apart from him, police officers were only seen buying a sandwich in a local shop.

Residents were very critical of the localized lockdown, especially when it came without an entry ban into the neighborhood.

“If you’re doing a lockdown, do it properly and don’t only close parts,” said Eilat barber Mor Saba. “Those who were infected are in all of Eilat.”

“It’s an idiotic lockdown in my opinion,” said Dorit, a supermarket cashier in the resort town. “All those who brought the coronavirus from outside have left and we are getting punished for it.”

Police at the entrance to the neighborhood of Ramot in Jerusalem as a coronavirus curfew goes into effect, September 8, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Ashdod’s Zayin neighborhood, there were no roadblocks at 7 p.m. and residents roamed the streets freely, according to Ynet. Only some businesses closed.

“Who said there was a closure? I don’t know, there is no closure here. It’s good for the media to say there’s a lockdown but it doesn’t look like it here,” said local resident Moshe Grinbaum.

In the ultra-Orthodox town of Rechasim, a roadblock yielded only a handful of residents blocked from passing and told to go back home. Inside the town, many teenagers were in the streets without restrictions, and stores were full.

Municipality official Yossi Kakoun told Ynet that such scenes would likely not be repeated later in the week, when enforcement will step up.

“It was better to get things done consequentially and not by coercion, so that people aren’t bitter,” he said.

In the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, cops stopped cars and pedestrians and entered businesses that failed to close, but did not take action against any of them and merely explained the new directives.

“For the next few days we are preparing for enforcement,” said the city’s deputy police chief, Tzachi Ben Haim. “This is a difficult national mission and we will try to implement it in the best way possible while focusing on mask-wearing, gatherings and business owners.”

Police seen at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a night curfew, applied to some 40 cities all over country which have been badly infected with the coronavirus, September 8, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

The distrust in authorities was most pronounced in the Haredi city of Bnei Brak, which has been locked down several times in the past few months, and where residents and municipal officials alike object to the curfew and view it as unfairly targeting their community.

The fact that the curfew wasn’t seriously enforced did nothing to quell that — locals viewed it as a charade.

“There are police vehicles blocking the entry and exit from the city, but anyone who comes here can go wherever they want,” a resident, named only as Yisrael, told Ynet.

“This lockdown has no point. There was incitement against the ultra-Orthodox population, so they decided to do this lockdown so that people will say the government did something,” he said.

The rules of the curfew stipulate that, during curfew hours, residents keep within 500 meters of their homes and non-essential businesses remain closed. Schools are closed altogether, except for special needs programs.

The full list of restrictions and areas where the curfew is being imposed can be found here.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women walk past border police officers at a checkpoint in a neighborhood in Jerusalem, amid measures put in place by Israeli authorities in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19, on September 8, 2020. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Earlier plans for local round-the-clock lockdowns were scrapped abruptly on Sunday after heavy pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the ultra-Orthodox community, including a letter from four Haredi mayors questioning their community’s future support for the premier and accusing him of “trampling” their communities and “turning us into disease vectors and enemies of the people.”

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that 3,506 new coronavirus cases were confirmed over the previous day — seemingly the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic. Health officials say ultra-Orthodox and Arab locales have seen the most major outbreaks nationwide.

“The rate of morbidity in the ‘red’ cities in Israel is among the highest in the world,” government coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said in comments aired on television as the curfew went into effect.

“Even the rates in ‘green’ cities [those with the lowest infection rates] are high. We must act to protect our people,” he urged.

According to Health Ministry data, the total number of coronavirus cases in Israel hit 139,013 on Wednesday morning, of which 107,599 have recovered.

Of the 30,366 active cases, 458 are in serious condition, 140 of them on ventilators. Another 169 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. Overall, 930 people are hospitalized with the disease. The death toll rose to 1,048.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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