Combatting COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, is a herculean effort. But perhaps even more challenging in such times of crisis is controlling a defiant Israeli population.
While Police officials said that 95 percent or more of the relevant populations were obeying new Health Ministry guidelines that effectively amount to voluntary lockdown, that five percent or so of rebels threaten to ruin everything.
“This isn’t child’s play, it’s not summer vacation, it’s a matter of life and death,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked Israelis on Tuesday evening after learning that many had still been going to the beach, having picnics and otherwise gathering in public.
“This isn’t a vacation given to you by the coronavirus,” reiterated Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who spoke after Netanyahu. “Our ability to reduce the numbers of sick depends on your behavior. We’d rather you followed our instructions. If necessary, we’ll enforce them,” he warned.
While the Israel Police do not yet have the authority to enforce many of the new guidelines, flagrant violations are already being punished with steep fines and possible jail time.
On Tuesday night, police arrested a Jerusalem man for organizing a wedding in the nearby ultra-Orthodox community of Beit Shemesh. While those involved claimed they were following Health Ministry guidelines, photos and video clips posted online showed at least 150 participants at the wedding.
It is currently forbidden for more than 10 people to gather in a closed space in Israel.
פרסמנו הערב במהדורה תיעוד מאירוע שמתרחש עכשיו בבית שמש: חתונה של משפחות אדמו״רים בהשתתפות כמאתיים בני אדם.
עם כל המאמץ לא להכליל זאת כבר לא רשלנות או חוסר מודעות נקודתיים אלא זלזול ורמיסה של אמצעי הזהירות. הראשונים להיפגע חלילה יהיו החוגגים עצמם ומשפחותיהם, ובהמשך כולנו. pic.twitter.com/tqVwRNIguJ
— יאיר שרקי (@yaircherki) March 17, 2020
Channel 12 News reporter Yair Cherki tweeted that this was not mere “negligence or lack of awareness, but rather disrespect” for authority that ultimately puts all of Israel at risk.
The problem of Israeli chutzpah
We’ve written before how contrary to the use of the word in English, “chutzpah” in Hebrew (the language from which it comes) has a rather negative connotation.
In certain situations, such as facing down overwhelming odds on the battlefield, such audacity is an asset. In others, it’s a detriment.
A nurse at a large hospital in Jerusalem told Israel Today that women were continuing to arrive to give birth accompanied by husbands, mothers, doulas and extended family. When told that bringing so many unnecessary participants into the birthing rooms was putting everyone at risk, most “effectively gave us the middle finger,” she said.