Israeli Police Prepare to Enforce Coronavirus Lockdown Amid Calls for Defiance

Although lockdown orders are not clear yet, anti-Netanyahu protest leaders say they won't stop demonstrating ■ Police estimate individuals will comply

Josh Breiner
Bar Peleg
Jonathan Lis
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People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption and economic hardship stemming from lockdown during the coronavirus crisis, in Jerusalem September 12, 2020.
People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption and economic hardship stemming from lockdown during the coronavirus crisis, in Jerusalem September 12, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Corinna Kern
Josh Breiner
Bar Peleg
Jonathan Lis

The Israel Police are making preparations to enforce the lockdown policy, even as voices from several groups have announced they will not follow restrictions. The police are following these calls on social media, among other things – although they have not identified any mass movement, but only a number of individual calls.

The calls to violate the regulations are a “campaign of fear,” the head of the investigations branch in the police’s central district, Chief Superintendent Omer Waldman, told Haaretz. The talk is that business owners and citizens will not follow the rules “but on the ground we see the exact opposite,” Waldman said. The police assessment and expectation is that the public wants to fight the coronavirus outbreak and will comply "without making things difficult for the police, which in the end is the institution that carries out the [government’s] decisions.”

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The police are worried the most about large gatherings during the Jewish holiday period starting on Friday, and especially about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One of the scenarios they are preparing for is the need to use force to disperse gatherings, using large numbers of officers from patrol, riot police and Border Police units. The police are prepared, when necessary, to even enter synagogues to disperse large gatherings, said Waldman.

Meanwhile, leaders of the protest groups against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that they will not stop their demonstrations near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem – even if restrictions are imposed on protests.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of health services in the Health Ministry, said the lockdown proposal presented to the cabinet does not allow people to demonstrate more than 500 meters from their homes. Some of the protest activists said that if the government follows through on such a decision, they will petition the High Court of Justice, or demonstrate near their homes – while others said they would violate the regulations.

According to Section 7 of the Coronavirus Authority Law, which the Knesset passed in July, the government is forbidden from banning demonstrations as part of its effort to cope with the pandemic. But it can prevent residents of one city from going to demonstrate in another during a lockdown, as well as limit the number of participants in any given demonstration. 

Thus, the government could prevent residents of Tel Aviv from coming to attend the demonstrations in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Local residents, however, should be permitted to attend, although it’s possible that the number of demonstrators will be limited.

A different section of the law, Section 16, states that a ministerial committee can decide that a person who lives in a restricted zone cannot leave the restricted zone even for another section of the same town, so long as the restriction does not apply to demonstrating, donating blood, engaging in sports up to 500 meters from home, or coming to the Knesset or a list of other places.

Amir Haskel, leader of the Ein Matzav movement, said: “The only thing I have is data, and the data say that most of the infections occur at home and in closed spaces. The rate of infection outside is very low and the chairwoman of the [Knesset] coronavirus committee says that at the Balfour [Street protests, in front of the prime minister's residence] there have been zero infections so far.”

A policeman stands at a checkpoint enforcing a closure in Kiryat Shmuel, Tiberias on September 10, 2020.
A policeman stands at a checkpoint enforcing a closure in Kiryat Shmuel, Tiberias on September 10, 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

If the demonstrations are restricted, Haskel said he will petition the High Court. “It is so transparent who has the interest to stop the demonstrations,” he said. Haskel said he saw pictures from a Haredi wedding and no one was wearing a mask there, while at the Balfour protests 99 percent of the people wear masks.

Yaniv Segal of the Pink Front protest group said if restrictions are placed on the protests, this is proof of their success. “It is something that scares the government and they are making great efforts to strangle it” because of political pressure, he said. But his movement does not plan on violating the Health Ministry regulations and are not taking the coronavirus outbreak lightly – but they will not stop their protests.

“If necessary, we will make a mini-protest every 500 meters. … If necessary, we will reinvent ourselves like we have in the past,” said Segal.

In contrast, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, from the Crime Minister movement, announced he would not follow the restrictions on the protests.

The Black Flag protesters, who demonstrate every Saturday night at over 300 bridges and intersections – and near the prime minister’s residence too – say the protests on the bridges and intersections are meant to limit the chances of infection and enable people at risk to demonstrate too.

“The danger is negligeable compared to the danger we are fighting. As long as that’s the situation, I don’t think anyone will manage to stop it in any way,” said Shikma Schwartzman, a leader of the Black Flag movement. She said she does not know of anyone infected at the protests, and “we speak to thousands of people every day.”

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