Municipalities cry foul over curfews, settlement vows to ignore rules

Jerusalem mayor claims figures for city are wrong; deputy minister rages that ultra-Orthodox cities given more sweeping restrictions than others

Magen David Adom medical workers test Israelis at a drive-through site to collect samples for coronavirus testing in Jerusalem on September 8, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Magen David Adom medical workers test Israelis at a drive-through site to collect samples for coronavirus testing in Jerusalem on September 8, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several local leaders expressed anger at the government for placing their cities under curfew to fight the spread of the coronavirus, with at least one vowing that his municipality would not comply with the new rules.

The government on Tuesday approved nightly curfews in 40 cities and towns with high coronavirus infection rates, closing schools and most businesses, and restricting movement. The new rules were set to take effect at 7 p.m. and will last a week.

The mayor in Beitar Illit, a large West Bank settlement, said it would not comply with the rules, accusing the government of discriminating against ultra-Orthodox cities like his own by applying sweeping curfews rather than singling out specific neighborhoods.

“We will not lend a hand to discrimination against the Haredi public,” the municipality said in a statement. “We cannot back measures that are not done transparently. Only the Haredi municipalities are under a full night curfew without any differentiation between neighborhoods.”

In Jerusalem, nine neighborhoods ,all of them either Arab or ultra-Orthodox, were set to fall under the curfew.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said that his city would comply with the rules, but still spoke out against them, claiming that Health Ministry methods for assessing infections rates in the capital’s neighborhoods were either misguided or wrong.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lion said it was unfair that tens of thousands of of residents in some neighborhoods needed to be put under curfew because of a few hundred infected patients.

“When we speak about a nightly curfew in Ramot, a neighborhood of 55,000 residents, it means they’re going into lockdown because of about 300 patients,” Lion told the Kan public broadcaster. “I can’t explain that to the residents.”

Referring to a letter he had sent the day before to national coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, who led the drive for lockdown measures, Lion said that many of the virus carriers in the city are yeshiva students who have been in quarantine capsules for weeks and are therefore not spreading the virus to the other members of the public.

A condition for the reopening of the yeshivas around the country had been that students are divided into small numbers in capsules and immediately quarantined at the institutes when a virus case is diagnosed in a capsule.

Lion told the station that lockdowns do not work as based on previous experience they only encourage those affected to gather together in the public spaces where they are permitted to be, further spreading infection, and urged the alternative strategy of greater enforcement of existing Health Ministry guidelines on social distancing and wearing face masks.

Israel has seen the number of cases rocket in recent weeks, recording a record 3,425 new infection on Monday, over 400 of which came from Jerusalem. Health officials say ultra-Orthodox and Arab locales have seen the most major outbreaks nationwide.

Kan reported that Lion also claimed in the letter that many of those registered as virus patient residents of Jerusalem are in fact yeshiva students studying in other cities and therefore their numbers distort the true picture in some Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Lion reportedly claimed that a recent check by the municipality found that 2,400 Jerusalem resident yeshiva students diagnosed with the virus are outside of the city.

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, similarly complained about how the curfew measures were being applied.

“It is absurd and riling that in certain cities the mayors of which are from a certain party, there is a way to apply a curfew by neighborhoods, but when it comes to the Haredi cities, the city can’t be divided into neighborhoods,” he said according to Hebrew media.

However, despite the claims that it was only ultra-Orthodox towns and cities that were put under broad curfew, the measure was also applied to entire populations in some Arab towns that also have a high infection rate.

Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi talks to AFP in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat on April 17, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi also protested the curfew, which was applied to the Shahmon neighborhood of the southern sea resort city. Officials had initially mulled placing the whole city under curfew, but Halevi argued that the outbreak was traceable to a single source, and lawmakers only placed the Shahmon neighborhood under curfew.

“We succeeded in the campaign against closing the [entire] city and we are acting to also change the irrational decision to close the Shahmon neighborhood,” Halevi said in a statement. He warned of the economic impact the curfew would have on the city’s hotels and tourism industry.

Aerial view of the southern Israeli city of Eilat, October 21, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

According to the Ynet news website, half of the 99 virus cases in Eilat live in Shahmon, a residential neighborhood of apartment blocks away from the city’s main tourist drags.

Earlier plans for local round-the-clock lockdowns were shelved after heavy pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the ultra-Orthodox community.

Four Haredi mayors published an unprecedented open letter Sunday accusing the prime minister of “trampling” their communities and “turning us into disease vectors and enemies of the people.”

The curfews will be in effect every day between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. through September 15. During the curfew, residents must keep within 500 meters of their homes and non-essential businesses will be closed. Schools will be closed at all times, except for special needs programs.

Only Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, voted against the measure.

Interior Ministry Aryeh Deri in an interview with the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar HaShabbat broadcast on May 9, 2020. (Screenshot/Kikar HaShabbat)

The curfew approval came after Israel saw its highest-yet number of daily COVID-19 cases. The Health Ministry said Tuesday that 3,425 new coronavirus cases were confirmed over the previous day — the highest daily figure since the start of pandemic, shattering a previous record set last week. According to Health Ministry data, the total number of cases hit 135,288 on Tuesday morning, of which 106,297 have recovered.

Of the 27,962 active cases, 467 are in serious condition, 134 of them on ventilators. Another 154 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. Overall, 467 people are hospitalized with the disease. The death toll rose to 1,031, with nine deaths over the previous 24 hours.

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