Jerusalem and corona: Eight months later

Many small- and medium-sized businesses are linked to the tourism industry, which is nonexistent for now and for the foreseeable future.

POLICE STOP cars at a roadblock at the entrance to Jerusalem on October 4, amid the lockdown (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
POLICE STOP cars at a roadblock at the entrance to Jerusalem on October 4, amid the lockdown
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
The COVID burden on the capital is substantial, with skyrocketing rates of infection and illness, a near-100% capacity in the two largest hospitals and clashes between haredim and the police.
Mayor Moshe Lion was criticized for saying that “7,000 sick from the coronavirus in a city of close to a million residents is not too many” – and with 60% of the infected from among the haredi sector, and 131 seriously ill, there is ample cause for concern.
The scope of construction in the city will be affected. Many residents hope for price reductions, but Boaz Israel, president of the city’s builders’ association, said that while completion of some of the housing units will be delayed a bit, the price ranges won’t change, as most city housing construction is under public tenders at fixed prices.
Workers on construction sites are mostly Arabs from the territories. Contractors employ them on the condition that they remain inside Jerusalem for periods of up to two months, lowering risk of contagion.
Small businesses
Many small- and medium-sized businesses are linked to the tourism industry, which is nonexistent for now and for the foreseeable future. Bars, restaurants and coffee shops in the city center and in lively neighborhoods like Baka and the German Colony have paid the highest price. Despite a few crowdfunding efforts for some of the most beloved spots, the ongoing crisis and second lockdown have been crippling. Sources at Safra Square identify this as an urgent field for investment, so that when the crisis is over Jerusalem’s center won’t seem abandoned.
“We will have to provide solutions. Some departments here are already working on it, together with the government and the Jerusalem Authority Development,” one source assured us.
Food chain
While the large supermarkets chains haven’t faced losses (in fact, most of them have generated more income than usual), the small neighborhood groceries and Mahaneh Yehuda merchants are experiencing significant drops in their income. The two lockdowns occurred at peak shuk seasons, and many merchants had to throw away considerable quantities of produce, ruining the best periods of the year for their businesses. There are growing voices of anger at the government; frustrated merchants in some of the shuk’s strongest bastions of the Likud have gone as far as removing photos of the prime minister.
It is estimated that about a quarter of the small and medium businesses will not reopen at the end of the crisis. This has a ripple effect – for example, on the marketing industry.
“I have lost about 30% of my business,” says a leading advertiser who wished to remain anonymous in order not to affect her business even more. “We all understand that the rules of the game have changed – we have to strive for different approaches, perhaps also start to work with new sectors. We have to adapt. This is not going to be easy and not all the advertising firms will survive.” Poverty
Jerusalem is the poorest city (after Bnei Brak) in the country. At the end of 2018, 47% of Jerusalemites were identified as poor according to the National Insurance Institute, compared to 22% in the rest of the country.
“Jerusalem was a poor city long before the coronavirus hit us,” says Gil Rivosh, director of community services at the municipality. “We are still facing, despite some improvements, a low rate of participation in the working market among Arab women and haredi men. The crisis has caused a very high rate of unemployment, with 101,037 unemployed – a leap of 900% compared to the period before the coronavirus hit the city.
“All segments of the economy are down: small and medium businesses, taxi drivers, tourist vehicle drivers, convenience stores. Clothing, shoe and accessory stores and more are periodically forced to close and have seen a tremendous drop in their income. The same (or even worse) is true for the Arab side, where poverty rates were already higher.” Rivosh mentions changes in the population’s needs.
“If until recently the social work department dealt with issues like familial problems, special-needs children and support in times of crisis inside the family, today, most of our efforts are aimed at identifying those requiring assistance for the most vital and basic needs – like food supplies.” Rivosh says that the municipality has done a lot to provide the best solutions to these problems and is working to further improve the quality of help – like special credit cards for needy families instead of food baskets.
ALL LOOK to the municipality for solutions to get out of the crisis.
Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum asserts, “The municipality should continue to unify people to take care of the vulnerable, continue with its umbrella volunteer task force and bring the local community councils together for training and the sharing of best practices. In the first wave there was an incredible sense of unity between the different groups in the city. We were volunteering and taking care of our vulnerable residents together.
“I want us to get back to that the day after COVID".