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PM discusses reopening open-air food markets following protests

Netanyahu meets with shop owners after other businesses allowed to reopen; proposal to be drawn up for markets to gradually resume operations

Shoppers at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shoppers at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a virtual meeting Monday with representatives of open-air markets to discuss their gradual reopening, amid growing anger from shop owners who have not been allowed to return to work like many other businesses in Israel.

The sides agreed to draw up a proposal for the markets to resume operations, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

To reopen, the markets will be required to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other Health Ministry directives.

According to Channel 12 news, the proposal will be presented to Netanyahu on Tuesday, with the aim of allowing markets to reopen after Independence Day ends Wednesday evening.

“We’ve fallen upon hard times,” Tali Friedman, who represents shop owners at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, was quoted as saying during the meeting by the network.

Earlier Monday, police shuttered stalls at the market in the central city of Ramle and prevented customers from entering, after they were opened in violation of emergency ordinances meant to contain the virus.

Many businesses throughout the country were allowed to reopen Sunday in the first significant easing of virus-related restrictions on economic activity, but malls and open-air markets were required to remain closed.

The continued closures prompted protests Sunday at Jerusalem’s iconic Mahane Yehuda market, where stall owners briefly scuffled with police.

In an interview with Army Radio, Friedman said it was illogical for Mahane Yehuda and Israel’s other outdoor markets to be kept closed, while all other stores outside of shopping malls were now permitted to open, declaring that “this cannot go on.”

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion declared his support for the shop owners, tweeting that he hoped the government would “soon approve the opening of the market, which is a source of income for hundreds of Jerusalemite families.”

“I promise you, market vendors and Jerusalem residents, that I won’t let up until the market is reopened,” he wrote.

Stall-owners at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market protest the ongoing closure of their businesses, amid the coronavirus crisis, April 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The problems faced by small eateries were recently given a face by falafel store owner Yuval Carmi of Ashdod, whose tearful account of being unable to provide for his family, as he could not sell food for takeaway, moved the nation last week.

Despite the new, more relaxed rules, small businesspeople expressed concerns about their future economic viability, claiming that they were being allowed to resume operations only under onerously restrictive conditions that would deter most customers, solely so that the state can justify denying them compensation for their losses.

Many people are still nervous about going out, and the restriction barring the general public from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes (except for work, shopping or other essential purposes) remain in effect.

On Friday, the government approved a NIS 8 billion ($2.27 billion) plan to increase support for self-employed Israelis and small business owners who have been hit hard by the coronavirus, following accusations that Israel was not helping businesses that were forced to shut down.

Unemployment in Israel was at 27.05 percent, or 1,125,814 people, as of Thursday.

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