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 officials told Army Radio they believed dozens more events were not caught by cops.
Thursday night was the first of a three-night curfew declared by the government for the duration of the Purim holiday, Thursday-Saturday. Between 8:30 p.m. and 5 .a.m. Israelis are not to venture more than a kilometer from home and are forbidden from congregating or visiting others’ homes.
The measure is intended to prevent traditional holiday revelries from going forward and increasing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police said Friday morning that some 2,500 fines had been handed out on the first night of the curfew for violations.
“There was not a city in Israel where we didn’t see violations,” the head of police’s investigations division Ziv Sagiv told Army Radio.
“We all know the repercussions of mass gatherings, but there are still people willing to endanger themselves and their families and leave us under restrictions,” he said. “Those who say, ‘What do you want, I’m vaccinated,’ don’t understand they can still be carrying the virus and infect their surroundings.”
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 an inevitable spread of the virus.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Tuesday that officials are concerned violations during Purim could push infection rates up, forcing the country back into a larger lockdown once more.
While the night curfew may prevent parties, many of Purim’s traditions — from the megillah reading in synagogues in the evening and morning, or the traditional meal — take place during the day. For those gatherings, the current pandemic restrictions, limiting groups to 10 indoors and 20 outdoors, are in effect.
The rules come as Israel has eased its third nationwide lockdown after a successful vaccination campaign that has thus far seen one-third of its population receive both doses of the vaccine. Infection rates, however, continue to be high, topping 4,000 per day.