With No Place to Self-quarantine Over Coronavirus, Homeless Israeli Spends Two Nights in Detention

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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A homeless person in Tel Aviv on March 16, 2020.
A homeless person in Tel Aviv on March 16, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

A homeless woman who recently returned from Ukraine was released on Tuesday after spending two nights in detention for violating the order requiring travelers coming from abroad to go into home quarantine for two weeks to ensure that they don't have the coronavirus.

She had been arrested Sunday in Tel Aviv and released Tuesday afternoon after a second hearing earlier in the day. She was then sent into quarantine at the Kiryat Shlomo Hospital in the Sharon region north of Tel Aviv. 

The police had wanted to release her in the evening Sunday to a Social Affairs Ministry quarantine facility, but no place was found for her even though the ministry had ordered all social welfare settings to prepare to take in people needing quarantine.

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The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court heard her case for the first time on Monday and decided to extend her detention for a day until the ministry found her a solution. “I will issue an order to the health and social affairs ministries to resolve this issue,” said Judge Dan Saadon. After the judge issued the order, a solution was found for her at the Kiryat Shlomo Hospital.

A., 44, has lived on the streets of Tel Aviv, for the past three years. According to her attorney, she receives a disability allowance from the state and is known to social welfare authorities. She had been visiting relatives in Ukraine for the past two months and returned to Israel on Sunday afternoon.

In the evening, she when to buy a portable gas burner to keep warm, and the seller, while talking to her, understood that she had recently returned from abroad. He called the police to report that she wasn’t observing the quarantine.

Policemen with protective gear arrested A. and brought her to the Israel Prison Service’s designated quarantine facility. The police wanted to release her but the Social Affairs Ministry told them it had no place for her.

According to the Health Ministry guidelines, anyone who doesn’t have a place to properly quarantine himself must stay in a quarantine facility that the state arranges. Meanwhile, the Social Affairs Ministry said that employees at Kiryat Shlomo Hospital only get protective equipment when it’s needed, and that it is not placed there on a regular basis. Transferring the woman to Kiryat Shlomo required those taking her there to obtain protective gear.

When the case came to court on Monday, A.’s public defender asked that she be released to a social welfare setting without any restrictions, while the police wanted to release her only to a quarantine facility. Judge Sa’adon said that he had to consider the public good in this case.

“She is potentially dangerous to hundreds of people; I can’t allow myself something like that.” The judge wanted to keep her in detention for three days, but her lawyer objected and persuaded the judge to extend the detention by only one day.

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