Israel Police: We Cannot Enforce Restrictions on Movement Under New, Relaxed Rules

Except for permitted shopping, exercise, prayers and other previously permitted activities, like transferring children from one parent to the other are still banned

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Israeli police forces wearing protective gear in Jerusalem, April 6, 2020.
Israeli police forces wearing protective gear in Jerusalem, April 6, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Police say the new, relaxed regulations will make it impossible for them to enforce the restrictions on movement in public spaces, Haaretz has learned.

In an Israel Police document obtained by Haaretz, the police gave their reactions to the new regulations, including permission to shop in additional stores and to play sports with no limit on the distance from home (which later was changed to a limit of 500 meters from home).

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“Since a person can assume that any place which opens its doors to the public is permitted to do so, the result is that any exit from one’s home to go shopping in an open area is permitted, and as such there is no significance to enforcing restrictions,” the document states. “The order that allows leaving home to engage in sports activities with no restrictions makes the ban on going more than 100 meters from home unenforceable, since it will be claimed that any venturing out beyond the limit is being done for exercise.”

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The police also expect a significant rise in the number of permits requested for demonstrations and that many demonstrations will end up turning into mass prayer services. “The number of demonstrations in public will increase, including demonstrations that will be expressed in prayer,” it says. “Since the police don’t intervene in the content of the protest or the way the public chooses to protest, one can assume that more and more prayers will be conducted as public protests.”

Protesters, seen from above, maintain social distancing at the 'Black Flag' protest in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Under the new regulations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which were approved by the cabinet early Sunday morning, workplaces can increase the number of onsite employees from 15 percent of their workforce to 30 percent, and certain additional types of stores can open, with restrictions.

Up to 19 people can gather for prayer, as long as it takes place outdoors and no more than 500 meters from one’s home or workplace.

Except for permitted shopping, exercise, prayers and other previously permitted activities, like transferring children from one parent to the other, one is still banned from going more than 100 meters from home. These new regulations will be in effect until May 3.

The cabinet also approved what are referred to as “purple tag” rules, under which workplaces and businesses can have more than 30 percent of their employees on site. Under these rules, employers much ask employees questions about their health and take their temperature each day; employees must wear masks at all times; and they cannot eat together or gather in kitchen areas. Employees over age 67 should continue to work at home, moreover anyone who can continue to work at home should do so.

If someone at work is found to be ill with COVID-19, the workplace will be closed until the Health Ministry allows it to reopen. Teams at work should include the same employees for the time being and employer-provided rides must transport the same employees each time, to avoid exposure to new people.

Meetings can bring together no more than eight people, who must observe social-distancing rules. Specific workers should be assigned to work regularly with clients and/or suppliers. The employer must appoint someone to be responsible for enforcing the rules.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had suggested limiting the number of people who could attend a demonstration, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu objected because it would look as if the government was trying to silence people. All the ministers approved the regulations except for Zeev Elkin, who objected because the prime minister did not accept his proposal to protect workers from dismissal, and to compensate parents of young children who could not go to work because schools remain closed.

The debate over the regulations took place on the cabinet’s WhatsApp group. Several of the ministers protested that Netanyahu had announced the relaxed restrictions on Saturday night before discussing them with the cabinet. “It’s not clear why we even need cabinet meetings if everything is already decided and publicized,” said Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich. “We are not bound by what the Health Ministry publicizes. That’s their suggestion, but the authority and responsibility is ours.”

An adviser to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman responded to the ministers by writing, “Allow us to apologize to the ministers for publicizing the directives before they were approved by the cabinet. Since the emergency regulations in their current version expired at 6 in the morning, we thought it correct to give the public general guidelines, but the final version and approval depends on the cabinet.”

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