Israel's new tighter lockdown took effect on Friday afternoon with restrictions on public protests still not approved despite the government passing a list of emergency regulations.
The ministers approved via a telephone vote the regulations, which effectively ban the public from leaving their homes beyond 1,000 meters for any purpose other than buying food, medicine or receiving medical treatment. The regulations reverse an earlier decision that allowed people to travel for "alternative" medical treatment.
Essential workers will be allowed to travel to work but will have to carry an identity card confirming their place of work. It is also permitted to travel for funerals and the brit milah (a religious male circumcision ceremony) of close relatives.
"The state of emergency requires us to make difficult but necessary decisions," wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter.
"It is not easy, neither for Israel nor for European countries, where the disease is also gaining momentum. My sole purpose is to preserve human life. "The decision on a stringent lockdown was designed to stop the spread of the virus, not to block protests."
The bill banning protests, however, was not passed as part of the emergency regulations dafter the legislation formalizing it in law was stuck in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said earlier he will table the bill for approval as part of the emergency regulations.
"The decision is based on a medical opinion stating public gatherings are dangerous," Edelstein said in a statement released by his ministry. "For me, public health comes first and foremost. I will not allow to endanger human life in mass gatherings, not during demonstrations or in synagogues."
The anti-Netanyahu protests have been held in Jerusalem every weekend for months and critics of the prime minister - including lawmakers - have accused him of using the surging coronavirus pandemic to silence them.
These accusations appeared to have weight Friday morning, when Likud whip and Netanyahu ally MK Miki Zohar warned the Knesset judicial committee that the government would try to impose an emergency four-day ban on public protests if the amended law did not pass by the time the new regulations came into effect.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue & White party, expressed opposition to the move, although sources said Netanyahu tried to convince Gantz to vote for the move in the government.
"The party will not allow emergency regulations to be used to prevent demonstrations," said Gantz.
Lawmakers said they will not have enough time on Friday to vote on the final readings of the amended coronavirus bill, which Netanyahu said aimed to reduce Israel's soaring infection rate, that was sent to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee after it passed its initial reading on Thursday night.
The tightened lockdown was to include the closure of all non-essential industry and businesses, strict restrictions on travel, movement, and congregation, closure of houses of prayer with worship allowed outdoors in groups of no more than 20 people.
Open markets, which remained open until now, will be closed. Public transport, including the railway and busses, will operate in emergency regime. Ben Gurion Airport, however, will remain open and Israelis who purchased tickets until Friday 2pm will be able to fly to their respective destinations even during the nationwide closure.
The new restrictions were approved by the cabinet on Wednesday amid warnings from ministers that the cost to the economy could reach NIS 35 billion (approx. $10 billion).
Israel is already under a less stringent closure that came into effect last week, which saw limits placed on commerce, social gatherings and cultural events in an effort to reduce the number of daily coronavirus infections that on Thursday reached the 7,500 mark.
There was planned to be an exception on prayers for Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day of the Jewish calendar that begins Sunday sundown, when synagogues will be allowed to open and an estimated 2 million Israeli Jews are expected to attend services.
As it stands, the bill grants the government emergency powers to restrict demonstrations for an initial period of two weeks, allowing Israelis to move no more than one kilometer from their homes in order to protest, and restricts demonstrators to capsules of no more than 20 people.
First published: 12:09 , 09.25.20