Divided Jerusalem: Mixed feelings among residents in locked-down capital

Some Jerusalem residents welcome the closure, while others feel that the lockdowns are discriminatory.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Last Saturday night, a governmental committee decided that 17 Jerusalem neighborhoods that were hit hard by the coronavirus would be locked down, effective noon Sunday until Wednesday.

Save for essential workers and those seeking medical care or fulfilling specific familial obligations, residents of the locked-down areas are forbidden from leaving the confines of their neighborhoods, with the goal to stop the spread of the virus to other areas of Jerusalem.

On Monday morning, a long line of cars snaked up the main road leading to the entrance of Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood, which was included in the lockdown. Drivers waited for about 20 minutes to reach a temporary checkpoint, where soldiers and police officers asked their reasons for entering the neighborhood.

While the policy is designed to protect public health, not everyone is happy about it. Dr. Hagit HaCohen Wolf, chair of the community’s neighborhood council, told Israel Hayom, “Residents are walking around with a severe feeling of discrimination against the Ramot neighborhood, which is the largest neighborhood in Jerusalem with about 55,000 residents, the same population as a medium-sized city. Once there are selective closures of neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the criteria and data used to justify the lockdown should be transparent. That’s not happening.”

Ramot residents who disagree with the closure are planning to file an emergency petition today in the Supreme Court, asking for the lockdown to be lifted immediately. Twelve of the 17 neighborhoods are haredi areas, and the remaining five have a mix of secular and haredi residents.

Elonora Poseilov, another Ramot resident, had a different perspective on the neighborhood lockdown. Speaking to Israel Hayom, she said, “It’s a scary feeling because they can’t know who is sick here. I haven’t left my house in a month and I’m dreaming of the day we get back to normal. There’s a strong feeling of being under siege, which is tough, but I really think they’re doing the right thing to stop the spread of the virus. It’s hard, but I don’t see another way.”

In Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood, which has the largest number of coronavirus patients in the capital, the usually bustling streets had a completely different atmosphere. Traffic in the neighborhood was sparse, and almost nobody was outside. Yossi Rafaeli, a father of seven and Romema resident, told Israel Hayom that he believed the closure came too late.

“If the lockdown happened earlier, it would have been justified and more effective,” he said. “Everyone in Romema is inside their house, and everything is deserted. It’s like Yom Kippur. People don’t even go out within the 100-meter range allowed. Everyone is very worried about the severe outbreak that was in our area. It’s especially hard because many of us have big families here. We try to keep the children busy in all kinds of ways and also study with them. This situation is very strange. We hope it will end soon and the lockdown will be over.”

In the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood, there were police vehicles in the area that prevented residents from leaving. Ze’ev, a Har Nof resident, expressed his frustration. “I do not have the medical data and I am not a medical expert to be able to say what is the right thing to do. I just hope the decision was made in an objective and non-discriminatory way to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.”

Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri, who lives in Har Nof, was reportedly upset about the decision to close the neighborhood. In a heated discussion, he allegedly said that the government was “too fast on the trigger” when deciding to close haredi communities.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman echoed Deri’s sentiments, warning that, “Using the definition that movement needs to be limited only in haredi areas is misguided and defames an entire segment of the population that listens to the law and the rabbis.”