Sea, Sun and Grey Zone: Israelis Storm Beaches After Weeks of Coronavirus Lockdown

Sunbathing is prohibited but physical activity is allowed, causing chaos for inspectors attempting to enforce confusing regulations

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People at a Tel Aviv beach, May 9, 2020.
People at a Tel Aviv beach, May 9, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

Civilians and police are struggling to adhere to and consistently enforce the new, lenient coronavirus regulations in Israel. Over the weekend, inspectors ordered away hundreds of families at the Sea of Galilee and fined bathers at the beaches of Rishon Lezion, but left large crowds in Tel Aviv unbothered.

>> Read more: Israel eases coronavirus restrictions

Tel Aviv was lively and colorful on Saturday after a weeks-long lull. There were many people at the beaches, and though sunbathing is still banned, some locals took to paddleball as a legal sports activity.

Loudspeakers blared instructions for visitors to leave some beaches, but no fines were issued. The municipality has devised a pilot program to allow for sunbathing on certain lounge chairs, so long as bathers kept their distance, but the plan has not yet been implemented.

Hundreds of bathers also crowded the beach at Zikim, where there was no police enforcement. At the beaches of Rishon Lezion, however, beach goers were fined.

People at a Tel Aviv beach, May 9, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

Tel Aviv’s city streets were crowded on Friday as well. There were long lines in front of shops on Dizengoff Street and beauty salons placed chairs outside their shops for waiting customers. The Carmel Market was fenced in order to monitor the number of visitors, although many passed shoppers passed through gaps in the barriers. At the Ramle markets, vendors said they had more than the usual number of shoppers.

The police and Tel Aviv municipality each commented that the other was responsible for enforcing rules. Police said the beaches are the city’s responsibility, and that city inspectors have been authorized to hand out fines.The city, in turn, said the police are supposed to enforce the ban at the city’s beaches and parks and that the city has earmarked its inspectors’ budget for enforcement in outdoor markets.

Later the city said it understood that health ministry regulations as permitting bathing and groups of up to 50 people. “There’s no doubt the public is confused,” the city wrote in a statement.

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