Dozens of merchants in Tel Aviv’s Carmel market reopened their stalls on Tuesday, defying government coronavirus restrictions in an act of protest.
In response, Tel Aviv municipal inspectors fined one vendor and issued warnings to several others.
Since the second lockdown was imposed in September, the bulk of the shops in the open-air market have been shut, with the exception of those selling “essential” goods – grocers and stalls selling takeaway food. This is in contrast to markets in other areas, which have opened in agreement with local authorities.
On Wednesday, open-air strip malls will be allowed to reopen in “green” cities with low COVID-19 infection levels, for the first time since the lockdown began. Stores on city streets have already been allowed to reopen, while those in enclosed malls are still closed.
One Carmel market merchant who reopened in protest, Attilia Dwek, told Haaretz that she is careful to strictly observe the guidelines on masks and social distancing. “I don’t let people stand around without a mask,” she said, adding that she felt she had no choice but to reopen. “I’m living on pennies. They have shut down our lives.”
“Our situation doesn’t interest anyone, not the mayor and not the prime minister,” said another merchant, Rina Salman. “There is no light at the end of the tunnel. I took out three loans because I bought goods − how can I pay them back?”
Nasan Bachar was the vegetable stall owner who was fined 5,000 shekels when he began piling the vegetables up on his stall.
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“I’ll take you to court, and all of you will be questioned,” he told the municipal inspectors. “There is discrimination here. Why can a store with four walls [open] and I can’t?”
Another stall owner complained that the supermarkets are allowed to open while the open-air market is closed. “People stand in line inside supermarkets with their shopping carts less than a meter away from each other, all crowded around a single tomato stand – whereas in the market there are 30 such stands and everything is in the open air,” he said.
Tel Aviv city hall responded: “Our hearts go out to the merchants in the market, and since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis we stood alongside the representatives of the city markets in their battle to allow commerce in the open air. But the Israeli government still forbids the markets from operating and the city’s obligation as a government institution is to enforce the law. A stall owner was fined after being warned a number of times that opening was a violation. We all hope that the full return to business in the markets will be approved as soon as possible,” said the city.