Israelis on Tuesday swarmed open-air shopping malls that reopened after the government eased more lockdown curbs, which led to overcrowded lines and even physical altercations as people fought for their spots in long queues.
The government on Monday approved immediate reopening of all open-air shopping malls, including BIG, Israel's largest open-air shopping center chain. The decision came after open-air mall owners decried the lack of fairness in reopening of street shops while centers, which are designated as malls, remained shuttered.
According to the Health Ministry's outline, only four customers are allowed inside one shop at the same time, prompting some stores to put up fences at the entrance in order to prevent people from congregating but it did not discourage the excited shoppers.
In some instances, customers had to wait over two hours in line before they could enter the stores, leading to bickering, shouting and even physical fights.
The security guards inside the shopping malls, who were labeled as "health trustees", tried to disperse the crowds but the customers were unwilling to give up the places in a queue and blamed the store owners for insufficient preparation.
"We are here since 9am, there were fights here, it's just disgusting. It is what you would call 'the ugly Israeli'," said one of the shoppers at BIG Be'er Sheva, who waited to get inside the FOX store.
Liz, who waited in line with her little daughter, said she ran out of clothes and had no choice but to come to the shopping center. "I need clothes for the kids, I'm on the verge of despair. I move away [from other people in the queue] as much as possible and don't take off the mask, but I'm seconds away from breaking down.
At one point, some shops began handing out numbers to people in queues and calling their name once it was their turn to enter.
In the meantime, owners of open-air markets, who are still not allowed to reopen, staged a massive protest in Tel Aviv over being banned from resuming operations.
Several merchants opened the stands in violation of the health orders, one of whom was immediately fined by Tel Aviv Municipality inspectors. The merchant said he has no plans of paying the NIS 5,000 fine and will appeal in court.
Merchants held signs that read "Let us breathe" and "Open air = safe".