Palestinians in Israel call for stricter Ramadan coronavirus restrictions as Tel Aviv loosens lockdown

Palestinians in Israel call for stricter Ramadan coronavirus restrictions as Tel Aviv loosens lockdown
Some Palestinian leaders have endorsed a call for stricter coronavirus measures during the Muslim holy month.
3 min read
21 April, 2020
Mayors of Palestinian towns are hoping to avoid new infections during the holy month [Getty]
Palestinian religious leaders and politicians in Israel are calling for tighter restrictions on gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus.

As Israeli authorities continue to ease restrictions across the country, some Palestinian citizens of Israel are criticising the government for failing to take the religious festival into consideration. 

Ramadan, due to start later this week, is normally an occassion for large gatherings, including communal prayers at mosques and meals with family and friends.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans on Sunday to gradually remove restrictions on personal freedoms, industries and business. The measures will include reopening some stores with physical distancing and allowing more people to return to the workplace.

Tel Aviv will also increase public transport and allow group prayer outdoors, for up to 19 people standing at least two metres apart. 

Further stages of easing restrictions are set to be introduced every two weeks, Haaretz reported last week.

In recent days, Netanyahu has held discussions with Interior Minister Arye Dery and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on the topic of Ramadan and its potential effects on the spread of the virus.

Erdan on Sunday met with mayors from Palestinian-majority towns, Haaretz reported. During the meeting, special regulations that were imposed the Jewish holiday of Passover were proposed for Ramadan.

Such restrictions would include a ban on sweets and food stories in the evening, as well as additional measures to prevent gatherings. Erdan told the mayors he would discuss the proposal along with other ministers on Monday.

The Palestinian mayors warned the government that its move to ease lockdown measures ahead of Ramadan could cause confusion among the community and lead Palestinian citizens of Israel not to pay heed to harsher restrictions.

Most of the mayors involved in the meeting endorsed tighter restrictions, Mudar Yunis, head of the Forum of Local Arab Authorities, told Haaretz. Some proposed measures to restrict the opening hours of stores selling essential goods to prevent people gathering together before the evening fast-breaking meal, Iftar.

Palestinian Muslim religious leaders have largely agreed to keep mosques closed throughout Ramadan and said prayers should be held at home, Dr Mohammed Salameh of the institute for Islamic legal rulings and research told Haaretz. 

Salameh said the new regulations allowing prayer in groups of 19 or under could create some confusion, however.

In response, the council of imams has called on members not to hold such services, especially if they cannot guarantee effective social distancing and the wearing of masks during the prayer.

But family gatherings and trips to stores are expected to be a much bigger problem during Ramadan than religious gatherings, public health expert Dr Mohammed Khatib told Haaretz.

"This is not a simple challenge, there are customs that have been with the community for many years and suddenly they need to stop everything," Khatib said.

Israel has so far reported nearly 14,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including 181 deaths.

Palestinian communities in Israel have so far experienced low levels of coronavirus infection. However, Israeli authorities have been accused of neglecting sufficient testing procedures for the virus in Palestinian-majority towns.

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