Israel's High Court to Hear Petition Against Limiting Airport Arrivals Under COVID Restrictions

In another case, Reform Jews push for equal enforcement of coronavirus restrictions at schools

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Passengers leaving the arrivals hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport, this week.
Passengers leaving the arrivals hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport, this week.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Israel’s High Court will hear a petition on Thursday against government restrictions on the number of people who may enter the country as part of its policy to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The petitioners are citizens who flew abroad before the restrictions were set and whose requests to return have been rejected by an appeals board in recent weeks.

The chief justice, Esther Hayut, is due to head the panel of judges hearing the petition, with justices Neil Handel and Yitzhak Amit.

The petitioners argue that the recent decisions to raise the number of Israelis permitted to return to 3,000 a day and to cancel the Transportation Ministry’s exceptions committee, which considered requests to return, do not render their previously filed appeal moot. They say the government actually permits far fewer than the daily limit, and that when the ceiling was set at 2,000 the maximum number of people actually permitted into the country never exceeded 800 a day. They add that the cancellation of the appeals board has left it unclear how a citizen might appeal for a permit to reenter the country.

Nehama Ovadiah, an attorney who filed one of the petitions told Haaretz on Wednesday: “We said that the state cannot prevent its citizens from entering the country and, from our standpoint, any changes in the limits on entry to citizens is illegal, particularly when there are alternative methods of preventing the spread of the virus such as testing.”

The state has responded by acknowledging that the restrictions infringe upon a basic right. However, it added that “the state’s position is that there is no alternative to taking these steps for a limited period … for fear that unrestricted movement of passengers will spread more illness and hurt the vaccine campaign against the pandemic.” The state argues that the goal of strict monitoring of travel to and from Israel is more effective enforcement of quarantines.

Another hearing to be held with justices Noam Solberg, Dafna Barak-Erez and Anat Brun, will be a petition by the Reform movement to enforce equality at schools that don’t follow government policy. The petition is over the opening of Haredi schools in contravention of restrictions and says that police have refrained from enforcing the law against such establishments.

The state argues that its decision to reopen its schools renders the petition irrelevant and therefore it rejects it. It states: “The Israel Police enforces the law and regulations equally… in all districts, taking health and operational considerations into account. Even where enforcement is incomplete, it is incorrect to argue that they are discriminating against anyone or that law enforcement deliberately avoids enforcing the law against a particular group.”

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