Street shops to open Sunday, with 80,000 back to work

Ayman Saif: 6% of Arab-Israelis screened for coronavirus test positive, compared to 2% in rest of society

Shops in Jerusalem sit closed during the national coronavirus lockdown, Oct. 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shops in Jerusalem sit closed during the national coronavirus lockdown, Oct. 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Street shops will open their doors today after seven weeks, sending some 80,000 people back to work.
“I am very excited,” said Barbara Shaw, the owner of Barbara Shaw Gifts on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.
The stores had closed just before Rosh Hashanah – one of the most lucrative times of year for retail establishments in Israel. Now, they are being forced to throw out their summer and fall merchandise and take out loans to purchase new wares that customers might want to buy.
Shaw said that although she survived the last two months by moving most of her business online, such as selling products through Amazon and Etsy, the store was hard hit. Shaw had to put eight workers on furlough. And, like many others, she has tossed or put into storage most of her unsold holiday gifts.
“For a small business to be closed for seven weeks – it’s just practically impossible,” Shaw added, noting that she knows of hundreds of her colleagues who have closed.
She added that some landlords were understanding of the situation while others were not, and that not all stores sell products that are conducive to online sales, and not all owners are adept enough to shift online.
Sara Weinstein, the owner of 4U gifts on Hebron Road in Jerusalem, is also opening up on Sunday, but she said she hopes it is not too little too late.
“It is almost a joke what the government has been offering people – 5,000 or 10,000 shekels do not cover rent, salaries, electricity or anything else,” she said. “It is almost a slap in the face, as far as I am concerned.”
Street shops are required to adhere to the Health Ministry’s “purple ribbon” guidelines. Only four customers are allowed in a store at a time. Violations are considered a criminal offense.
Eran Luttvak, the owner of Del-arte design & art shop in Tel-Aviv, expressed “cautious optimism.” He told the Post that he is “very emotional” about opening up but “the feeling is that this is going to happen again.”
Last week, the decision to move forward with opening stores went against the stance of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and other health officials, who said the country’s infection rate was on the rise and that opening street shops would likely push off the third stage of Israel’s exit strategy.
Malls, marketplaces were supposed to open and grades fourth, fifth, eleventh and twelfth grades to return to school on November 15, but health officials say this is unlikely if not impossible.
There were 699 people diagnosed with coronavirus on Friday, the Health Ministry said, and another 116 between midnight and press time on Saturday. There were 323 people in serious condition, including 153 who were intubated. The death toll stood at 2,649.
Netanyahu approved the decision to open street shops but already charged officials to come up with other restrictions to offset increasing morbidity.
Prof. Shuki Shemer, chair of the Assuta Medical Center network, told the Post that Israel is likely to require a third lockdown in the near future, whether street shops open or not.
“They do not significantly influence the rate of infection,” he said. “The problem is gatherings – all of the weddings in the secular, the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox sectors.”
He bemoaned the government’s inability to push through a dramatic increase in fines on people and businesses that break regulations.
Last week, the bill to double fines on people who break Health Ministry regulations was dropped from the Knesset plenum’s agenda at the last minute. A decision to move it forward was stalled by the ultra-Orthodox, who lobbied Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, outgoing coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu spent Saturday visiting Arab towns and once again calling on residents to cease holding weddings against regulations and to be tested. He also said he believes that the defense establishment should be involved in stopping large Arab-Israeli weddings from taking place over the Green Line.
Gamzu visited Barta’a, a village divided between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Kafr Kara, which is located not far from Haifa in northern Israel.
Gamzu said there is too much interchange between Arab-Israelis and the Palestinian-controlled territories, which are also plagued with high infection rates. He said that in the coming days he expects that Israeli citizens will be banned from entering areas A and B, as the rate of infection in Arab-Israeli society continues to spike and is higher than in the rest of the country.
Ayman Saif, who is heading the fight against the coronavirus in the Arab sector, said that 6% of Arab-Israelis screened for coronavirus test positive, compared to 2% in the rest of society. Almost all red authorities in Israel are Arab.
On Friday, the Ministerial Committee for Declaring Restricted Zones approved locking down the Arab town of Bukata beginning November 7 at 8 a.m. until November 12 at 8 a.m.
The day before, the committee extended the closure on the Arab town of Majdal Shams until November 10 at 6 p.m. It also declared the Arab town of Masada a restricted zone for five days until November 11 at 8 a.m.
The ultra-Orthodox town of Hatzor HaGlilit has also been named a restricted zone beginning November 8 at 4 p.m. until November 13 at the same time.
Saif noted how on Friday some 5,000 people attended the funeral of a local leader in Baqa al-Gharbiyye and that “the results will be seen in a few days.” He said that despite the individual being well-known and respected, such a large funeral was not required.
Gamzu and Saif were accompanied on Saturday by Prof. Nachman Ash, who will be replacing Gamzu in his role as coronavirus commissioner in a week.
Finally, while street shops are opening, other small businesses will remain closed. The government decision did not allow for the opening of stores located in indoor malls or in non-indoor malls that include more than 20 stores and businesses.
Nurit Levy, the owner of Rimonim Art in Ra’anana, which is located in a mall, said: “I am very angry they are opening stores on the streets and not in the malls, as if there is a difference,” she said. “We are a small business, and it is very difficult. Maybe we just didn’t scream loud enough.”
Some stores have threatened to open Sunday against the law, such as the network of BIG shops. However, they had made the same threat last week and when they saw inspectors and police roaming the areas, chose to stay shut.
“I believe very strongly that the way to support small businesses is not to order from online and have it shipped to Israel,” Weinstein said. “You live in this country – support the country. Things might cost a little more here than abroad... but if you want these stores here in the future, you need to start supporting them immediately.”