Jerusalem store owners petition against forced Shabbat closures

"To close shops in secular neighborhoods is against the law and freedom of religion," says attorney.

A convenience store in Jerusalem that is open on Shabbat (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A convenience store in Jerusalem that is open on Shabbat
Arguing that the forced Shabbat closures of eight convenience stores in downtown Jerusalem beginning in April is unconstitutional, an attorney representing four shop owners filed a petition to Jerusalem’s District Court against the municipality and mayor on Monday night.
In the petition, Yossi Havilio stated that the municipality’s mandate to enforce the selective closures in secular areas is not only unjust, but a violation of religious freedom that will alienate thousands of secular residents.
“It’s an important [petition] for Jerusalem because it affects the future of many people in the city who want to stay here and purchase things on Shabbat in the center of the city,” said Havilio by phone on Tuesday. “To close shops is against the law and freedom of religion.”
Moreover, Havilio accused Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat of capitulating to ultra-Orthodox members of his coalition, resulting in certain economic ruin for the shop owners who already are in financial dire straits following the protracted wave of terrorism.
Additionally, all the shop owners have contended that roughly half of their income is derived during Shabbat.
Deeming the move politically motivated, Havilio claimed that Barkat is appeasing Jerusalem’s sizable haredi community, which violently protested the Shabbat operation of the capital’s Yes Planet multiplex last year.
Havilio said this week’s petition comes after the municipality rejected the store owners’ stance three weeks ago.
Citing selective enforcement, Havilio noted that the municipality’s legal adviser is allowing mini-markets in the Ein Kerem, Talpiot and Atarot neighborhoods and in the southwestern portions of the city to remain open, because the haredi populations in those areas are smaller.
Gabriel Ben-David, who owns Supermarket 24/7 off Jaffa Road, accused the mayor of corruption in an effort to appease ultra-Orthodox residents and city council members.
“This is a form of corruption between Barkat and the religious parties,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a bribe to keep their mouths shut about Yes Planet.”
Ben-David added that the mayor is offering up relatively defenseless small business owners as sacrificial lambs.
“Of course it’s very easy to victimize the small stores in downtown Jerusalem,” he said. “Somebody has to pay the price, and it’s easy to sacrifice us instead of big corporations.”
Meanwhile, the municipality has contended that it is within its legal rights to order the closures.
It remains unclear when the court will rule on the petition.