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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Israel’s coronavirus lockdown fuels protests, violence and confusion

For months, tens of thousands of demonstrators have been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is standing trial on corruption charges and has been the focus of blame for many Israelis over the country’s handling of the pandemic.

By: New York Times | Jerusalem | October 6, 2020 11:00:34 am
Israeli police officers arrest an Israeli protester during a demonstration against lockdown measures that they believe are aimed at curbing protests against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

(Written by Isabel Kershner)

Fractured by internal political conflicts, confusing instructions and a lack of public trust in the government, Israel seems to be fraying further under a second national lockdown as the country struggles to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths that, relative to the size of the population, are among the worst in the world.

New daily cases of the coronavirus reached up to 9,000 recently.

For months, tens of thousands of demonstrators have been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is standing trial on corruption charges and has been the focus of blame for many Israelis over the country’s handling of the pandemic.

After coronavirus regulations were tightened late last month, the government approved temporary restrictions on the demonstrations, confining protests to groups of up to 20 people wearing masks, standing 2 meters apart, and gathering no farther than 1 kilometer, or just over half a mile, from their homes.

Critics considered the curbs anti-democratic and found ways to fight back. On Saturday night, hundreds of smaller protests took place all over the country, with the largest gatherings shifting to Tel Aviv.

But there has also been an increase in attacks by those who oppose the demonstrations.

The police were also accused of violence as they detained or dispersed protesters.

On Sunday, police said that they had detained 38 protesters in the Tel Aviv area overnight and that many had been fined for offenses such as not wearing masks, blocking roads or breaching social distancing orders.

Preventing large gatherings, especially in Israel’s crowded ultra-Orthodox areas, was always going to be a challenge during the Jewish High Holy Days, which began Sept. 18 and extend until Oct. 11. Dr. Ronni Gamzu, Israel’s coronavirus czar, said last week that 40% of those testing positive came from the ultra-Orthodox community, even though it makes up only about 13% of the population.

Police said that they had closed at least 22 synagogues that were operating illegally over the weekend.

Stormy confrontations broke out Sunday in some ultra-Orthodox areas.

In the cities of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, crowds clashed with the police overnight. Two officers were wounded when objects were thrown at them, police said Monday. One rabbi of an extremist ultra-Orthodox branch told his followers not to fear the authorities and to perform all the usual holiday customs.

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