Capital bars closed for serving alcohol to youngsters

Surveys show more than 65% of teens consuming booze, as Israel's drinking culture changes radically.

beer 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
beer 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Several bars in downtown Jerusalem were temporarily closed for serving minors last week and more will have their doors shut soon as the capital attempts to solve its underage drinking problem. Rehov Rivlin establishments Zolli's Pub, Nadin Pub and Kings Bar were shut down for 10 days by court order last Thursday, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. A source at Nadin Pub who wished to remain anonymous said Egon Café/Bar, located on Rehov Ma'alot Nahalat Shiva, also will be forced to lock up this Thursday. Ben-Ruby would not confirm or deny this. "It's not the first time that we've closed some bars in Jerusalem. We've done it many times before and we will do it many times more in the summer," he said, adding that investigations into underage drinking, which took several months, relied on undercover officers and surveillance. "These days some bars and some other shops in Jerusalem are selling things they shouldn't sell to youths, and we will close them, too." Although the businesses closed down last week were supposed to cease operation for 10 days, Nadin Pub was allowed to reopen after five because the judge in the case did not want employees to remain out of work for too long, the source said. Ben-Ruby said the courts would decide whether permanent closure was necessary for repeat offenders. Underage drinking restrictions are inconsistent, said Zion Gabay, executive director of Elem, a non-profit organization that helps young teenagers at risk. Although shutting down bars sends an important message, many minors buy alcohol from kiosks or supermarkets, he said. "Our surveys show that more than 65 percent of teenagers drank in the past month," Gabay said. "Groups of teenagers on the beach with bottle of vodka - this is the way they spend their summer. Every second kid on the beach is drunk after midnight." Supplying minors with alcohol was not the only reason for the temporary closings, as these pubs also acted as "an instrument for smoking drugs," Ben-Ruby said. Iron gates and locked doors didn't stop some teenagers in Jerusalem from getting their spirits on Tuesday night, as many congregated at the intersection of Jaffa Road and Rehov Rivlin, a small plaza known to some as "Crack Square," with beer in hand from nearby shops. Ayala Ginsberg, 17, who lives near Nablus, said she often went to Zolli's Pub for drinks, but rarely was asked for identification when with older friends. "No one listens [to the law]," she said. "Maybe a bar that's 24 and over, they listen to it. But bars that are 18 and above, no one listens to it." Gabay said that while sanctioning bars was a good start, law enforcement related to underage drinking must be more consistent. But there are logistical problems, he acknowledged. With so many security issues facing Jerusalem, police manpower often is used for bigger threats. Ben-Ruby said his department emphasizes patrolling entertainment areas during the weekend in downtown Jerusalem as well as in outer neighborhoods, such as Talpiot. Shmully Winberg, 18, from Jerusalem, was sipping suds from a plastic cup on Tuesday night outside the empty and darkened Kings Bar. He said he had frequented Kings Bar and Zolli's Pub for the past two years and was not asked for identification because he knows many employees. "No matter what you do, everyone is going to drink, so don't give [a minimum] age like 18 and card them," he said. "They'll want to drink more if you make it a certain age." While it's not a matter of national security, intoxicated teenagers threaten the safety of individuals on any given night, Gabay said. Illustrating his point on Tuesday night, a group of some 10 teens screamed while coasting down the recently laid Jaffa Road light rail tracks on a piece of wheeled construction equipment, endangering passersby using the tracks as a walkway for at least 45 minutes. "A lot of the serious violence is because the kids are drunk. When you're drunk, you can't control yourself," he said. "They're sitting, drinking, having fun, but they're also getting involved" in violent situations and sexual misbehavior because of alcohol. The drinking culture had changed enough in Israel that underage drinking should be of greater significance to police, Gabay said. "If you're going to go back 10 years, just 10, teenagers at parties couldn't find alcohol," he said. "Right now there is no party for teenagers without alcohol, and I'm not talking about a glass of wine. I'm talking about a half bottle of vodka. This is new."