The judges ruled that the municipality should consider using other enforcement measures, since fines alone fail to meet the purpose of the law.
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It was further ruled that under the current situation, the municipality allows the ongoing breach of the bylaw, thereby harming the rule of law. The municipality was given 60 days to decide how it plans to proceed.
The ruling won widespread support among MKs from across the political spectrum.
The Likud Beiteinu's Tzipi Hotovely said, "The State of Israel is a Jewish state and we must not allow a situation where the free market destroys the living of those who observe the Sabbath. A law is a law, and the Tel Aviv Municipality must uphold it."
Knesset Member Dov Khenin (Hadash) said: "The Court ruled that the municipality cannot turn the law into a profit machine. It is time for a new arrangement on the matter of Shabbat in the city that would protect the workers, the small businesses and those who still wish to purchase essential goods on Saturdays."
Labor's Merav Michaeli said that businesses must be closed on Shabbat, not for religious reasons but for social and cultural reasons.
Meretz's Nitzan Horowitz, who is running for Tel Aviv mayor, also backed the ruling but said that if elected he would work to change the law.
In 2007, grocers filed a petition with the Tel Aviv District Court, claiming there is unequal enforcement of the law, and while they are forced to shut down their stores on Saturdays in order to avoid penalties, the big chains go unharmed and therefore have a significant advantage, while they suffer significant economic damage.
Tiv Ta'am (Photo: Eran Yuppy Cohen)
In response, the municipality argued that under the law it cannot do more than impose fines.
The Tel Aviv District Court rejected the original petition, and ruled it had not been proven that the fact that the municipality only imposes fines is unreasonable. It was added that the petitioners' claims regarding the damage to residents due to the operation of the stores on Saturdays was not established either.
AM:PM (Photo: Amit Kotler)
But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling. "There is no doubt that the defendants are violating the bylaw," Supreme Court Judge Miriam Naor stated. "Therefore, in principle, the municipality must force these businesses to close on the day of rest. This isn't a matter of a 'religious' or 'secular' philosophy. It stems from the view that the law, including the bylaw, must be respected."
The judge made clear that the Rest Law has social and religious values, and its significance is that "businesses would indeed be closed on the day of rest, and not because businesses that want to open their doors on Saturdays could do it provided they are willing to pay the fine."
The Tel Aviv Municipality said in response: "Tel Aviv-Jaffa will continue being a free city. We will study the ruling and find a solution that will balance the rest on Saturday with the freedom the city allows, as we did until today."
Meirav Crystal and Moran Azulay contributed to this report
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