After a nearly two-month nationwide quarantine last spring – in which Israel’s 9 million residents largely complied with stay-at-home orders – the Fall Lockdown II proved far more escapist and controversial.
A restless public – doubtful that restrictions are necessary, desperate to make a living, and outraged at reports of politicians ignoring their own rules – have been less willing to bottle up since the second quarantine began on September 25.
Entire neighborhoods and cities have openly ignored the rules against synagogue gatherings, weddings and funerals, particularly in Israel̵
A video of police dragging a celebrant from an illegal marriage was widely shared and seen on Wednesday. Police said an officer received minor injuries when members of the bridal party threw bottles.
“Much less community spirit”
“During the first blockade, we saw so many people focused on tackling this pandemic as a united community,” said Brig. Gen. Sigal Bar-Tzvi, commander of the proximity police for the Israeli police. “This time, however, people care more about themselves and their needs. There is much less community spirit “.
Faith in the government’s response to the pandemic has collapsed, according to polls.
Public health officials, many of whom have opposed a general blockade as being overly blunt, fear that irregular enforcement, government infighting and faltering politics are creating cynicism that will make fighting the epidemic more difficult in the coming months to come.
“People have lost even more confidence and I fear they won’t be so cautious in the future,” said Hagai Levine, president of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. “There is no public health without the public”.
Small businesses, which have been decimated by the economic collapse caused by the pandemic, have turned to guerrilla retailing, risking fines of around $ 1,500 for passing household goods and toys through half-open doors.
Along Emek Refaim, a popular Jerusalem shopping street, a dry cleaner, hardware store, and flower shop were alight, the doors were open despite closing on Sundays, which is a normal business day in Israel. “I’m open unless the police come by and then I’m closed,” said Benny, the owner of a flower shop, who asked to provide only his name.
Elsewhere on the street an obscure trade was taking place, where the doors were closed but the owners could be seen inside. At Hoshen Jewellry, owner Ziva Mizrahi had just let two customers in while she was doing some paperwork.
“If I’m here and they knock, I have to,” he said. It doesn’t want to violate the coronavirus restrictions, but business has dropped 90% since the lockdown began. “Otherwise, I don’t know how long I can hold out.”
A flower shop in Tel Aviv has remained open characterizing its herbs as “fresh food” to invoke an allowed exception, according to a roundup of business attempts by the Ha’aretz newspaper. At least one clothing store has put up a few boxes of fruit among the hangers for the same reason.
A group of owners burned tires and unsold inventory on a Tel Aviv street on Thursday to protest forced closures amid an economic meltdown that saw more than 37,000 companies go bankrupt in the first half of the year.
Thousands of small shops organized through Facebook opened their doors last Sunday in mass revolt. This Sunday, national retail chains announced plans to join them, with more than 6,000 stores expected to defy the regulations, according to the Association of Retail, Fashion and Coffee Chains.
Israel successfully flattened the infection rate after the novel coronavirus first hike in March. With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cheering on television most nights, the government has closed the airport, schools and told everyone to stay home.
But within weeks of reopening in May – too abruptly, critics said – infections have started to grow. New cases peaked at over 4,000 per day in September, the highest per capita rate in the world, with most of the increase in ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities. Cases of Covid-19 have threatened to overwhelm some hospitals.
Other countries facing picking up numbers have opted for targeted restrictions, including the night curfew which begins in Paris and other French cities this weekend. Israel, by imposing another national closure on the eve of the Jewish holiday season, immediately met with resistance.
People were more reluctant to comply this time, in part, because they could see ultra-Orthodox communities, which have recorded infection rates of up to double the general population, flatly rejecting the blockade. While some rabbis pleaded with their followers not to host holiday gatherings, many refused to ban prayers in synagogues, close yeshiva schools, or disperse crowds in the open.
Memories were also fresh of officials breaking the rules, including Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, who had both banned Easter gatherings during the first closure. Netanyahu’s wife Sara was surprised as a hairdresser came to her home and a former health minister attended the weddings, both in violation of the law.
“An important part of the Israeli character is not to be a ‘freer’,” a Hebrew word loosely translated as “sucker,” said Dan Ben-David, professor at Tel Aviv University and president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research. , which is monitoring the response from the public. “These guys are ignoring him, so why shouldn’t we?”
The decision to impose another full quarantine on the eve of the Jewish holiday season came in the midst of a chaotic battle between ministers of health, education and finance, all fighting for different rules and exceptions.
Netanyahu, who is facing corruption allegations, has been accused of pushing for a closure to end the growing mass protests against his government that had become a weekly rendezvous outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
The result was a set of inconsistent regulations that left the public confused and skeptical.
“There is no logic in what Israel is doing, it is like Kafka,” said Levine of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. “Why can’t you swim in the sea? Why can’t you take away from a restaurant? It erodes trust.”
As infection rates dropped to target levels of 2,000 new cases per day, Israel has begun to recover. some of the restrictions on Sunday. Kindergartens could reopen in the face of objections from teachers’ unions, people could travel freely and gather in groups of up to 10 indoors and 20 outdoors.
But the “red zone” neighborhoods with the highest rates of infection will remain blocked.
The country was in danger of falling into a cycle of extremes, Levine said, with mass quarantines followed by spike cases followed by mass quarantines, without a global strategy to keep infections low.
“If we don’t learn from our mistakes, Israel could move towards a third bloc,” he said.