Knesset okays electronic bracelets for quarantined travelers

High Court annuls daily cap on number of citizens allowed to return to Israel

Justices rule that both the original closure of borders and the current limit of 3,000 daily returnees violate basic rights, especially before next week’s election

Passengers walk in the arrivals hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport on March 8, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Passengers walk in the arrivals hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport on March 8, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel’s restrictions on citizens entering the country are unconstitutional and must end this Saturday, the High Court of Justice ruled Wednesday, six days before national elections and after almost two months during which Israelis haven’t been allowed to freely fly home.

The justices ruled that the current cap of 3,000 returning citizens per day disproportionately violates civil rights due to its sweeping and extended nature and since the regulations weren’t imposed based on concrete data and information.

Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, leaving thousands unable to return, in an effort to prevent the potential arrival of coronavirus variants immune to the current vaccines. The country last week eased restrictions on air travel to the country, enabling thousands of citizens to return home.

Under the current rules, special exceptions from the daily quota are being granted to new immigrants who can’t delay their arrival to the country, essential foreign workers, relatives of Israelis who need to visit under extraordinary circumstances, and professional athletes.

In their ruling, Chief Justice Esther Hayut and justices Neal Hendel and Yitzhak Amit said the limitations as a whole “violate the basic constitutional right to enter and exit Israel, and others rights at the core of the democratic fabric of life.”

A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

They ruled that aggravating factors are the proximity to the March 23 elections, the duration in which the restrictions have been in place without respite, the fact that they were imposed without significant prior notice, and the lack of a clearly stated date for their end.

“The restrictions were set without the government having any data about the number of citizens abroad who want to return to the country, there was no explanation why the daily cap was set at 3,000, and the impression created is that instead of investing efforts and resources in enforcing quarantine… the government preferred to impose a regime of entry quotas, which is more simple to implement but infringes much more on basic rights,” they wrote.

“This conclusion is magnified by the fact that Israel is the only democratic country in the world where citizens have been so sweepingly limited in entering their country.”

The court added that “the threat of the coronavirus and its different variants isn’t expected to disappear in the foreseeable future, despite the success of the vaccination drive.” It called for a better balance between minimizing the threat of new strains entering the country and violating basic rights.

“Such a balance must enable people to carry on with their daily routines,” it said, while taking into account the lower risk to vaccinated and recovered people.

Passengers arriving on a flight from Frankfurt take part in the pilot program of wearing electrical bracelets upon arrival in Israel, for the quarantine period, March 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Earlier Wednesday, the Knesset gave final approval to a law bill requiring those returning to Israel to self-isolate at home with an electronic bracelet or other technological means. The bill passed its second and third readings in the near-empty plenum, with four lawmakers supporting it and one opposing it.

The lone vote against the bill came from Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich, who slammed the bill as an infringement on personal rights.

“This doesn’t meet the standard of a democratic, free country,” she said before the vote.

MK Amit Halevi (Likud) said the goal was to help those quarantined do so at home if they want to, adding that the option chosen was better than alternatives and doesn’t force anyone to be electronically monitored.

The proposal passed its first reading last week and was then approved by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The bracelet will be worn on either the wrist or the ankle and monitor the wearer’s location via Bluetooth and GPS, connected to a provided cellphone.

According to the bill, those who refuse to wear a bracelet, or are unable to isolate at home, will be required to stay at one of the government-run quarantine hotels as an alternative.

Passengers arriving on a flight from Frankfurt are given electronic monitoring bracelets to ensure they don’t violate quarantine. at Ben Gurion Airport, March 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A previous law forcing returnees to stay in government-run quarantine hotels expired earlier this month, sending travelers home, where they are subject to police checks on their whereabouts. The punishment for violating the rules is a fine of NIS 5,000 ($1,500).

Around 100 people participated in an electronic bracelet pilot program earlier this month.

Travelers carrying documentation showing they have completed a two-shot virus vaccination or those who have recovered from the virus can skip quarantine, provided they take a virus test just before the flight and on arrival in the country, with both tests being negative.

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