Worshippers in West Bank Settlement Accuse Police of Selective Enforcement of COVID-19 Rules

Plaintiffs' lawyer claims that because Modi’in Ilit is a settlement in the West Bank, Israeli health regulations don’t automatically apply there

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem, 2020.
Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

During Israel’s first coronavirus lockdown in spring, the police issued tickets to 13 worshippers from a congregation in the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Ilit for violating restrictions on public gatherings. When the men filed appeals, the police dropped the cases against four of them but pursued the cases against the other nine. The legal proceedings against the nine began about two weeks ago.

In similar cases, tickets have been dropped on the grounds of selective enforcement. In explaining the current case, the police simply said that every request to cancel a ticket is thoroughly examined but requests are only granted when justified.

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During a portion of the spring lockdown, group prayer was barred altogether. It was later permitted outdoors for limited numbers of people. The police policy on enforcement of the guidelines has not been entirely clear. The police refused to provide Menachem Stauber, a lawyer representing all of the worshippers from Modi’in Ilit, with the criteria that they use in deciding when to cancel a fine, saying that “the directives are currently being developed.”

Stauber, who represents nearly 100 clients who have been cited for coronavirus health regulation violations, said that in nearly every case in which citations have been issued to a group of people, some of them were later dropped.

Stauber also claimed that because Modi’in Ilit is a settlement in the West Bank, Israeli health regulations don’t automatically apply there and were only applied to West Bank settlements a day after his 13 clients were issued tickets.

In October, the Haifa Magistrate’s Court quashed two citations against the ultra-Orthodox community of Rechasim in Israel’s north on the grounds of selective enforcement. Those two recipients of the tickets had claimed that justice required that the cases against them be dropped because the citations against eight other men present at the time were dropped.

Haaretz obtained a document from the prosecutor’s office directing the police not to issue citations for gatherings beyond what the health regulations permit due to concern that it would constitute selective enforcement.

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