Around 200 people gathered on a Tel Aviv beach on Saturday afternoon to protest against lockdown restrictions many have decried as illogical, as well as demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the pandemic as well as his corruption indictments.
Organizers used a loophole within the regulations for the national coronavirus lockdown, Israel’s second this year that began on Friday afternoon, that allows people to travel beyond the permitted one kilometer from their home if they are to attend a protest.
Closure regulations do not explicitly prevent demonstrating on the beach, although the beach is closed with the exception of those who use the shoreline for sport.
As a result, the Haaretz daily reported that some demonstrators performed sporting activities, while another blew a shofar — an activity which also has a travel loophole in the regulations.
Many of the demonstrators did not appear to keep to the new police rules governing regulations that would require them to ensure they were divided into “clusters” of 20, with social-distance within and between the clusters.
Some protesters entered the sea, which is forbidden under the regulations. Additionally, not all wore masks.
According to the Haaretz daily, police allowed the demonstration to continue after municipal inspectors tried to end it. Officers were sent to the protest in the early evening to urge the protesters to go home after they began playing music loudly.
Shlomi Sagi of the Tel Aviv District Police told Channel 12 news on Saturday that the protest became a “party” which is forbidden under the pandemic rules. He urged those claiming to be protesting to “show more personal responsibility.”
He warned that the police “would be facing many challenges in the days ahead.”
Diana Gelman from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim told Haaretz she was disappointed not to have been stopped on her way to the beach earlier Saturday.
“I really hoped to see a policeman and say I was on my way to a demonstration,” she said, adding that she is a regular participant in the weekly protests against Netanyahu. “The closure is mainly political, I have no confidence in the government. They are trying to deprive me and the young people of our future.”
Protestor Keren Hachmon said that although she was in favor of the agreements Israel signed with the UAE and Bahrain this week, Netanyahu should be prioritizing the pandemic and economic crisis.
“There is no exit plan for the lockdown, there are no plans for winter, and there does not seem to be anyone running the country. I am in favor of the peace agreements signed, but should they be keeping the prime minister busy?” she said.
The closure, marking the first time in the world an advanced country has imposed a repeat closure to curb the pandemic, went into effect hours before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and will extend through other key religious holidays, including Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
Tel Aviv has seen relatively low levels of infection with Friday figures showing just 27 active cases reported per 100,000 residents, in comparison with the nearby ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak which has 140 active cases per 100,000 residents.
Some 7,000 policemen and soldiers, backed up by local municipality personnel, deployed throughout the country to enforce the closure using roadblocks and patrols, amid concerns that an exhausted and exasperated Israeli public will be far less cooperative with the new sweeping restrictions than during the initial wave of the pandemic.
However, Hebrew media reports on Saturday suggested that the closure was generally being adhered to, although it remained to be seen whether that would be maintained with the end of the weekend and Rosh Hashanah.
The majority of roads and highways remained empty and police said they were pleased with the public’s adherence to the regulations.
The new lockdown is simultaneously more permissive and more complex than the weeks-long closure imposed earlier this year, with numerous directives and exceptions to those directives seeming to cause public confusion as to what is and isn’t in fact allowed.
While the government was praised for its initial handling of the pandemic, implementing a strict lockdown in March, many Israelis have expressed frustration at the prime minister and the cabinet’s perceived mismanagement of the health crisis in recent months.