Israel begins to lift lockdown restrictions as tensions over enforcement mount


(JTA) — Israel’s “coronavirus cabinet” decided Thursday that the country is ready to begin lifting some of the strict lockdown restrictions designed to bring down an alarming second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Starting Sunday, Israelis can travel farther than a kilometer from their homes, The Times of Israel reported. Beaches, national parks, preschools, day care centers, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount will all reopen for visitors. Gatherings of up to 10 people indoors and up to 20 people outdoors will also be permitted.

But those plans will be scrapped if Israel’s daily new case rate rises above 2,000 between now and Sunday. The case rate has more of less fluctuated around that figure over the past two weeks, with spikes in both directions. On Sept. 30, according to public data, Israel recorded over 9,000 new cases — the equivalent of over 300,000 new cases in the U.S.

Earlier this week, Israel’s Health Ministry recommended easing the lockdown over a period of four months to avoid the chaos of this past summer, when the country moved to reopen in a decision that politicians of all persuasions agreed came too soon. Israel’s health minister acknowledged the risks involved in reopening on Thursday — particularly for preschools.

“We are very worried about a possible rise of infections in preschools,” Yuli Edestein said.

As the reopening deliberations were taking place, footage of police dragging a bleeding man out of an Orthodox wedding in a West Bank settlement riled the public and government officials.

The video uploaded to Twitter depicts a scene of chaos: attendees screaming, people lying on the ground and a man being led out of a house by police, his face covered in blood.

According to the police, as reported by the Guardian, wedding guests began throwing bottles of olive oil at the officers as they broke into the home to disperse the crowd, who were violating current coronavirus protocols. The man who was bleeding was the brother of the bride, and police say he slipped on some of the oil, fell and cut his face on a shattered bottle.

Government officials who saw the footage called for an investigation, which is now underway. Even Aryeh Deri, the haredi Orthodox interior minister who has begged the religious community to socially distance, said the police had gone too far. He tweeted: “There is no reason in the world for police to break in with rifles in hand and harm people.”

Over the course of the pandemic, many in Israel have accused haredi Orthodox communities of flouting government rules that have restricted public prayer and other gatherings. The country’s former health minister, Yaakov Litzman, who is haredi Orthodox, resigned after catching the virus, and critics alleged he had participated in large prayer groups that his government had outlawed.

Many haredi Orthodox communities still have the country’s highest infection rates.

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