Mayors Reluctantly Agree on Lockdown as Arab Cities Top List of Israel's Hot Spots

Seeing as many patients became infected at large gatherings such as weddings, some mayors favor a night curfew over lockdown

Jack Khoury
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People wearing protective face masks walk in Jerusalem's Old City, September 3, 2020.
People wearing protective face masks walk in Jerusalem's Old City, September 3, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jack Khoury

Arab mayors were largely but far from unanimously supportive of the government’s decision on Thursday to impose lockdowns on towns with a high incidence of the coronavirus. Twenty-two of the 30 locales on the government list of these so-called “red cities” are Arab, including the top seven.

“No mayor wants a lockdown, given the social and economic implications,” said Arara Mayor Mudar Yunis, who also chairs the council of Arab mayors. “But on the other hand, we can’t accept this level of illness. It’s intolerable, and it’s becoming very dangerous. Consequently, I personally, like many of my colleagues, support the restrictions.”

With 260 new coronavirus patients diagnosed in his town this week, Kafr Qasem Mayor Adel Bader was even more vehement, though he favored a night curfew rather than a full lockdown.

“Only a step like this, a lockdown or a curfew from 7 P.M. to 4 A.M., can prevent gatherings, mainly weddings,” he said. “Otherwise, the trend will continue.”

He added that the mayors of other nearby towns, like Kafr Bara and Jaljulya, also support curfews.

Umm al-Fahm Mayor Samir Mahameed, whose town registered 240 new coronavirus patients this week, said he saw no choice other than a lockdown.

“The writing is on the wall,” he said. “Closing schools bothers me a lot, even though I agreed to do it considering the circumstances. So for the sake of returning to normal quickly – especially with regard to opening schools – I see no choice but to impose a lockdown.”

Nevertheless, some mayors opposed the decision.

“The government and Gamzu want to hurt Nazareth and its residents,” Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam charged, referring to coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu. In an interview with Radio Ashams, he noted that the city has already been hard hit by the restrictions on tourism and is having trouble recovering.

Students at a bus stop in Nazareth, September 3, 2020.
Students at a bus stop in Nazareth, September 3, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

Moreover, he argued, Nazareth should never have been included in the list of red cities, and he intends to appeal the decision. “There are a few dozen patients in the city, and proportional to the population, there’s no reason to define Nazareth as red.”

Finally, he assailed the government, saying it’s one thing to urge people to obey the rules, but another to smear the Arab community.

He was likely referring to Gamzu’s statement on Thursday that the Arab community makes light of the virus. “I visit a lot of Arab towns, and over and over, I see a failure to grasp that a wedding is an infection event,” Gamzu said at a press conference.

The Health Ministry has listed more than 30 cities as red, and the vast majority are Arab or ultra-Orthodox. The list also includes 12 neighborhoods of Jerusalem, all of which are Arab except the Old City’s Jewish Quarter.

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But the final list of towns to be put under lockdown will be decided together with the police and the Public Security Ministry, based on their ability to enforce it, the government said Thursday.

Altogether, around 3,750 new patients were diagnosed in Arab, Bedouin and Circassian towns this week, on top of some 800 new patients in east Jerusalem. Together, these account for 34 percent of the total number of new patients diagnosed this week.

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