The city of Acre has set up checkpoints and inspectors to prevent what the municipality called the "entry of buses of unvaccinated residents entering the city and its shores," as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Israel.
At a city council meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Shimon Lankri said that almost everyone in the West Bank is unvaccinated, and expressed concern over "a serious health oversight" if buses arrive from there.
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Although "Green Pass" regulations requiring proof of immunity or a negative test result do not include restrictions on movement in public spaces, the municipality announced that the city council had decided to enforce them at the city's beaches. The council began discussing fencing Argaman Beach as early as three weeks ago, before the coronavirus infection rates in the city climbed upward.
Meanwhile, the city of Hadera announced that it would bar entry to non-residents unable to present vaccination certificates or negative test results, including at beaches and parks.
At Wednesday's city council meeting, Acre’s municipal director, Yaniv Ashur, conceded that the restrictions go beyond the "green pass" regulations, but argued fencing in the beaches is effectively required by the regulations applicable to outdoor gatherings of 100 people or more. "We have to control every point where people gather," Ashur said.
But Lankri’s remarks at the beginning of the meeting suggested that his main concern was people arriving from the West Bank: “From Nablus, Jenin and Hebron, people arrive without tests. Currently, there is no ministry that says it is responsible for this matter, so the municipality has taken steps to protect the city's citizens."
According to the mayor, "anyone who has a vaccination or recovery certificate can enter the location. We do not stop anyone because of his name or race. Acre is on the verge [of being defined as] a 'red' city within two to three days. Why? Because someone allowed these buses to enter." Lankri added that the municipality had moved to stop the buses' arrival last week.
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Referring to Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha that took place in late July, Lankri said, "we did not want to spoil Eid al-Adha for the merchants … We thought it would be over when the holiday was over. But it is not over. "
Following Acre’s actions, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights turned to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, asking him to object to "illegal restrictions on access to Argaman Beach and the expulsion of Palestinian residents from the city."
Before that, Adalah had implored Acre’s mayor and legal counsel to allow access on the grounds that restricting entry based on residency constitutes unlawful discrimination and because "a local authority is not allowed to restrict access, certainly not in a discriminatory manner."
Lawyer Rabia Agbaria of Adalah said: "The pictures seen in Acre today leave no room for the imagination – city inspectors are resolutely expelling Palestinians to outside the city limits, solely because they are Palestinians. The use of arguments related to the increase in infection rates to justify illegal measures of restrictions on freedom of movement and denial of access to public spaces for racist reasons is starting to be a phenomenon."
Following the announcement made by the Hadera Municipality, the Adalah Center also wrote to its mayor, Zvi Gendelman.
The Acre municipality said in a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday: "Due to the recent jump in the coronavirus infection rate, the Acre City Council unanimously decided to apply the green pass regulations to beaches. … The mayor of Acre, Shimon Lankri, and city council members instructed municipal employees to ensure that the Health Ministry’s rules are enforced without exception, and thus prevent the spread of the disease among the city's residents. As such, buses of unvaccinated residents will not be allowed to enter the city and its shores. The Acre Municipality will intensify its enforcement during this time in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of the public."