'We Won't Send Riot Police': Little Enforcement as ultra-Orthodox Open Schools Against COVID Regulations

Police argue that enforcement is difficult, but when Haaretz visited an ultra-Orthodox city, the police seemed to be largely absent

Josh Breiner
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Children enter a religious school that opened against regulations, October 18, 2020.
Children enter a religious school that opened against regulations, October 18, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Josh Breiner

On Sunday, the first morning after some lockdown restrictions were eased in much of Israel, police enforcement was “minimal” in ultra-Orthodox cities where infection rates are still high and the lockdown should still be in force, police sources told Haaretz.

The sources said that by early Sunday morning, they had still not received clear orders on how to respond to the opening of ultra-Orthodox elementary schools and other educational institutions that, due to the high infection rates, are supposed to remain closed.

However, officials rejected this claim and said that a directive had been issued by the head of the operations branch to take action against school principals . According to a senior police official, such principals are to be fined 5,000 shekels ($1,480) and the infractions must be documented.

An ultra-Orthodox yeshiva that opened against regulations in Bnei Brak, October 18, 2020.
An ultra-Orthodox yeshiva that opened against regulations in Bnei Brak, October 18, 2020.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

A senior police official admitted that was difficult. “We won’t forcibly disperse elementary schools and we won’t bring riot police into the schools to disperse them,” the official said. “But it’s impossible to point a finger only at the police. We aren’t alone in this story. The Education Ministry funds some of the institutions that opened today,” he added. The Health Ministry and the municipality where the institutions are located are also responsible, he said, adding that “it’s expected that they also use the powers they have against people who willfully choose to break the law.”

The police said that, so far, three fines had been issued to elementary schools that opened in Betar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit. A tour around Modi’in Ilit reveals why so few fines were served: The police are not there. The entrances and exits to the city are wide open, despite the high infection rates in the city which requires it to be in lockdown. Police at roadblocks are not checking vehicles entering or exiting the city. According to a Palestinian worker in the city – one of many – he goes back to his nearby village every night and no one stops him from leaving.

Around noon, students at Mesila and Darkei Yosher elementary schools were let out. Dozens of children, wearing white shirts in honor of the new Hebrew month of Heshvan, left the schools. The synagogues were also open as usual, although congregating in closed spaces is prohibited. After afternoon prayer, dozens of worshippers emerged from the Siah Yitzhak Synagogue, and not one police officer was to be seen.

Children are welcomed into an ultra-Orthodox school that opened against regulations in Jerusalem, October 18, 2020.
Children are welcomed into an ultra-Orthodox school that opened against regulations in Jerusalem, October 18, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

“It’s a joke,” a resident of Modi’in Ilit told Haaretz. “The police know exactly where the elementary school is and they turn a blind eye. So it fined one of them. Does it seem to you like that deters anyone? They prefer that the kids get sick and not run around in the street.” According to the resident: “If the police wanted to, they could enforce the rules, but anyone who wants to can come into the city and anyone who wants to leave can leave. It’s all a ploy.”

Nevertheless, people in the city are planning a protest, citing “selective enforcement” against the ultra-Orthodox community.

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