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More illegal Purim partying Saturday as hundreds converge on Jaffa Flea Market

Few reports of police enforcement as throngs ignore pleas of health officials and take to the streets to celebrate the costume holiday

People celebrate the holiday of Purim in violation of coronavirus restrictions, at Jaffa's Flea Market in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, February 27, 2021 (video screenshot)
People celebrate the holiday of Purim in violation of coronavirus restrictions, at Jaffa's Flea Market in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, February 27, 2021 (video screenshot)

Hundreds of people took part in a large Purim costume party in Jaffa’s popular flea market Saturday afternoon in violation of coronavirus health restrictions, with no social distancing and few masks in sight.

One reveler told the broadcaster: “It’s strange that there are no police, but it’s good, we can party without being disturbed.” A woman was filmed singing “No corona, corona is over.”

According to Channel 12, some bars and restaurants at the market allowed revelers to be seated, despite the prohibition on doing so.

“I came to celebrate Purim,” another person told Channel 12. “I’m a recoverer [from the virus] and I have antibodies. It doesn’t make sense for me to stay at home.”

Only after a few hours did police arrive to disperse the crowds.

Police officials insisted that officers were active in the market area from the morning, but no enforcement was apparent during several hours of celebrations at the scene.

A similar party was reported on Friday afternoon, with police doing little to disperse the crowds.

The government has urged the public to avoid parties on the holiday, which is ending today in most locations, with the coronavirus far from being under control and infection indicators once again on the rise. Officials have warned that it is not yet clear that vaccination prevents one from carrying the pathogen, and thus fully inoculated people who are not careful could still be a danger to others.

In a bid to limit mass celebrations, the government enacted a nightly curfew on Thursday and Friday and will do so on Saturday as well, instructing Israelis to remain up to a kilometer from home between 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. and to avoid any gatherings. Only essential businesses may open during those overnight hours.

But much of the public has ignored the government’s appeals and police have struggled to clamp down on dozens of daily Purim parties in recent days that have drawn mass crowds.

On Friday video from Tel Aviv’s Kerem HaTeimanim neighborhood surrounding the Carmel Market showed hundreds of revelers, many not wearing masks, dancing and drinking in the streets.

Police officers on loudspeakers urged participants to disperse before they began issuing fines.

Revelers seemed unconcerned. “I’m vaccinated, young and wearing a mask,” one participant told Channel 12, when asked why he wasn’t afraid of getting the virus.

Police said officers have and would continue to issue fines, but called on the public to avoid such gatherings.

Law enforcement was also concerned about “tisch” gatherings slated to take place Saturday night throughout Haredi communities, which have been virus hotspots all year, with many repeatedly flaunting government guidelines.

Health officials told Hebrew media that the scenes of parties over the Purim holiday on Thursday night and Friday were deeply concerning and have them worrying whether they will lead to another wave of infections that could lead to a delay in the economy’s reopening.

People wearing costumes celebrate the holiday of Purim at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The next stage of restriction-easing is slated to take place on March 7 and include the reopening of restaurants for seating. But if case numbers remain high and the healthcare system is once again strained, reopening plans will have to be delayed, health officials said.

Police on Thursday night dispersed over 100 Purim parties and events around the country that saw dozens or hundreds of people congregate against health regulations and in violation of a nationwide curfew.

Holiday celebrations were broken up in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Rehovot, among other locations, officials said. Dozens of people were arrested or detained. Fines were handed out to both participants and organizers of events.

Police said Friday morning that some 2,500 fines had been handed out on the first night of the curfew for violations.

Law enforcement has deployed checkpoints in 24 locations around the country to enforce the curfew, and hundreds of police cars patrol the roads.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tweeted Friday morning: “I am appealing to the handful of people who can harm us all: Stop. Leave the parties until after the coronavirus. Forego the tisches (Hassidic parties) this time. The religious edict of merriment during the [Purim] holiday must not come at the expense of the public.”

Government ministers are expected to halt public transportation to Jerusalem on Saturday night and Sunday to prevent revelers from traveling to the city for Shushan Purim celebrations — a final day of the holiday traditionally celebrated in walled cities such as Jerusalem and Safed.

Edelstein on Thursday warned of possible restrictions over Passover if celebratory gatherings are held during Purim.

“If there are mass violations and infections, then on Passover we’ll all sit at home,” he told Kan public radio.

Following festive gatherings during Purim last year, which came at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a jump in coronavirus cases in Israel.

Purim is usually marked with costume parties as well as large communal meals and drinking, in events bringing together family and friends. Since the start of the outbreak in the country last year, the government has occasionally ordered curfews, specifically during major holidays, in an effort to prevent gatherings and a seemingly inevitable spread of the virus.

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