Jerusalem Orders Closure of Downtown Grocery Stores on Shabbat

Opponents of move accuse Mayor Barkat of giving into political considerations.

Olivier Fitoussi

Jerusalem city hall has informed the owners of five small grocery and 24-hour stores in the center of town that the municipality has decided to enforce the closing of their businesses on Shabbat. The city informed the owners of this final decision, a year and a half after the initial decision on the forced closings was made. The city will start enforcing the closures as of February 2.

The city’s legal adviser attorney Eli Malka decided a year and a half ago to set specific areas where there would be increased enforcement of the by-laws requiring closing stores on the Sabbath, which runs from Friday evening before sunset through Saturday evening after sunset.

The mayor’s office said the decision was reached without political pressure, but came in order to resolve the legal difficulties resulting from a High Court of Justice ruling concerning the enforcement of such Saturday closures in Tel Aviv.

In response to the original decision, attorney Yossi Havilio, the municipality’s former legal adviser and who today is the head of the Tzahor nonprofit organization which helps businesses fight city hall, asked the city to hold a hearing for the business owners involved.

At the hearing, Havilio, who was dismissed as legal adviser due to conflicts with Mayor Nir Barkat, called the decision political, and said it violates the attorney general’s policy concerning holding soccer games on the Sabbath. In addition, the center of town has no synagogues or religious community, he said.

On Thursday, the owners received the official notice that the claims they had made at the hearing had been rejected. “We reject the claim that this is an area that does not include a large religious population, because the area where the grocery store is located is a passage way between religious and ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to houses of prayer and the Western Wall,” stated the legal opinion that was attached to the notice.

Havilio said in response: “The Jerusalem municipality continues in its thuggish behavior, and hands out closure orders to grocery store owners. [Mayor Nir] Barkat once again has given in to political considerations at the expense of Jerusalem residents who elected him.” The legal battle and the battle for public opinion have just begun, said Havlio. He plans on appealing the closure orders in court.

“We will continue to fight for the existence of pluralism in Jerusalem for the benefit of all its residents, and I think the grocery stores will remain open,” said Havilio.