Government, police said seeking to limit numbers at protests during lockdown

Justice and health ministries reportedly looking at curbing participation at rallies through aggressive enforcement of social-distancing restrictions

Protests outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020. (Anat Peled/Times of Israel)
Protests outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020. (Anat Peled/Times of Israel)

On the cusp of a three-week coronavirus lockdown that will see Israelis largely relegated to their homes, the justice and health ministries are reportedly working with police on a plan to limit the number of participants attending protests — in particular those taking place outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.

Haaretz reported Wednesday that the number of people at rallies will be limited through strict enforcement of social-distancing regulations. The authorities have yet to decide on the maximum number of protesters allowed at any given event, according to the report.

The paper also reported that justice officials have not yet decided what legal limitations, if any, will be placed on the right to protest during the lockdown.

Anti-corruption protesters and those critical of the government’s coronavirus policies have been gathering outside the Prime Ministers Residence every week for the past three months.

The lockdown, set to begin 2 p.m. Friday, will see the full closure of all businesses that receive the public, the shutdown of the education system and strict limits on gatherings.

People will also be restricted to 500 meters from their homes, except for those traveling to work or for the purpose of acquiring essentials like food and medicine.

Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on September 12, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

According to the report, the Health Ministry initially proposed to divide large crowds at protests into smaller groups of people, to better prevent potential infections spreading, but the idea was rejected by the police due to the difficulty in controlling crowds at protests.

Additionally, the High Court of Justice is set to rule tomorrow on a petition submitted by a number of mayors that seeks to apply the same social-distancing restrictions to protests that currently apply to places of worship.

In the upcoming lockdown, areas with high infection rates will see prayer permitted in closed structures in groups of up to 10 people. The permitted number of groups in a closed area will be a function of the number of entrances to the structure, and on condition that the ratio of one person per 4 square meters (43 square feet) of space is maintained.

Morning prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, March 16, 2020, with worshipers keeping away from each other over fears of the coronavirus outbreak. (Courtesy: The Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

In areas with lower infection rates, prayer will be permitted in groups of up to 25 people, with similar calculations regarding the number of groups allowed in a single structure.

This coming Saturday will be the first in months without a protest, with organizers saying they will not hold events during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Earlier this week a major protest group said it would not demonstrate during the lockdown out of public solidarity, while two others said they would continue to hold rallies.

Anat Peled contributed to this report.

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