4 Bnei Brak residents petition High Court against coronavirus closure
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4 Bnei Brak residents petition High Court against coronavirus closure

In court papers, petitioners claim ban on travel to and from city impacts basic right to freedom of movement and is dangerously stigmatizing ultra-Orthodox community

Police officers at a checkpoint located at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Police officers at a checkpoint located at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Four residents of Bnei Brak, the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city declared a restricted zone over the weekend and cordoned off due to a significant outbreak of coronavirus, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice Monday against the lockdown.

The petitioners claimed that the closure breaches residents’ basic rights, and encourages incitement against the ultra-Orthodox community as a whole, Channel 12 news reported.

The city, with its roughly 200,000 residents, is currently the only one in the country under a full closure, though, on Tuesday, the rest of Israel’s cities will also be cordoned off until Friday morning due to the Passover holiday.

The petition was filed against, among other officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov.

Police, backed up by a division of Israel Defense Forces paratroopers, have thrown up checkpoints limiting movement in and out of the city. Troops from the military’s Home Front Command have also been providing civil assistance to residents who, in addition to the cordon, are under nation-wide lockdown orders requiring all Israelis to remain at home and only venture out for essential needs.

“Since the establishment of the state, there has never been a decision that so badly impacted human rights,” the petitioners wrote and claimed the restrictions on the city impact basic rights to freedom of movement and employment.

“Not only is the punishment a collective punishment, it negates the dignity of hundreds of thousands of residents of the city of Bnei Brak,” they wrote and claimed that many residents are struggling to obtain food, medicines, minimum medical care, and other services.

They argued that the travel restrictions were endangering those who are not infected by forcing them to remain in close proximity with those who are carrying the virus. In addition, they wrote, lockdown was endangering the wider ultra-Orthodox community around the country because of the way it has been stigmatized in media and given “a mark of Cain that will not be removed for a long time,” the report said.

IDF troops deliver food to residents of the city of Bnei Brak in central Israel, which is largely closed off from the rest of the country, due to a coronavirus outbreak, on April 5, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The High Court has given the state until 10 a.m. Tuesday to respond to the petition, according to Channel 12 news.

The city has one of Israel’s largest outbreaks of coronavirus with 1,323 confirmed cases as of Monday morning — nearly as many as Jerusalem, which has the largest tally according to Health Ministry data from Monday. Bnei Brak is one-fifth the size of the capital.

Thousands more people in the city are thought to possibly have the disease but remain untested, either due to medical authorities’ inability to do so or out of individuals’ fears of being quarantined.

Government officials have railed against what they term incitement against the ultra-Orthodox community, which has been slow to adopt social distancing rules and has seen high rates of infection. The disease has claimed the lives of 57 people in Israel as of Monday evening, with over 8,904 people confirmed to be carriers of the virus.

A senior military official said Monday that IDF troops in Bnei Brak have a mission to deliver roughly 1,000 tons (over 2 million pounds) of food to needy residents before the upcoming Passover holiday on Wednesday evening.

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