Market Vendors in Israel Angry They're Still Shut While Mega Stores Are Open

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A fish vendor in Ramle market, April 23, 2020.
A fish vendor in Ramle market, April 23, 2020. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel’s outdoor markets have been shut due to the coronavirus crisis for weeks and vendors are beginning to lose patience as they watch chain stores like Ikea and Decathlon resume operation. After much criticism, the government allowed businesses with storefronts to open on Sunday, but stalls remained shut.

"We vendors are in despair,” said Yaakov Mazlawi. He had watched the videos of long lines forming at IKEA stores last week. “How can IKEA be open but not the Ramle market? Do I need to have a connection to Litzman just to make a living,” he asked, citing the outgoing health minister and his alleged ties to the owners of IKEA Israel. “It looks like our government doesn’t care about our concerns, only their own interests."

Galit, owner of a vegetable stall for 18 years, began taking orders for delivery. “I’m only open for delivery but I won’t lie. If people come asking for food and they're more than two meters away, I give them some. Why should I send away someone who’s hungry?”

Ramle market, April 23, 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Galit says she lost a lot of money in the last month and the deliveries don’t cover the losses. “I order a lot of produce and a lot of it spoils,” she said, pointing at some rotten cucumbers, peppers and fruit.

Rafi Mizrahi, chairman of the vendors in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market told Haaretz that “the market is waiting for instructions – we won’t operate against the law.”

In a letter he sent this week to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assistant, Mizrahi wrote that he's been a member of Netanyahu's Likud party for 35 years and he blames the prime minster. “Businesses are collapsing without income and owners are not entitled to any state help,” Mizrahi said.

A stand selling masks and hand sanitizer in Ramle market, April 23, 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The head of Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda merchants committee, Tali Friedman, said only ten percent of vendors were managing to work via deliveries. “It’s discriminatory to see IKEA open,” she said, repeating the sentiment that markets are not more dangerous than large supermarkets or megastores.

Meanwhile, the market devised a plan to reopen under restrictions. It will fence in the market on all sides, regulate how many people enter at one time, and open the market to the elderly population from 7 A.M. to 9 A.M. and only afterward allow in younger age groups.

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