Ramadan curfew expected to prevent spread of coronavirus in Israel’s Arab sector

Despite low infection rates in Arab communities, a total curfew is to be imposed in advance of the Ramadan holiday.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Ministry of Health officials said on Sunday that they are preparing to impose a tight curfew on Israel’s Muslim community to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the month-long Ramadan holiday, which begins next month.

Despite relatively low numbers of infections currently found in Israel’s Arab population centers, stringent measures similar to the Passover lockdown will be needed to stop people from congregating during the holiday, Ynet reported.

“Just like the test for the Jewish population was Passover, the test for the Arab population will be the Ramadan period,” said Prof. Ran Blitzer of the health ministry’s epidemic team. “There is a good chance that if the population behaves responsibly, we will be able to pass this period safely.”

Statistics released by the health ministry Sunday showed that while only 291 of the almost 11,000 Israelis infected are Arabs, the Arab sector has a doubling ratio of 1.6 – the highest in the country. Arabs represent roughly 18 percent of Israel’s 9.2 million population, with most of them being Muslims and only 177,000 Christians.

Churches remained closed for the Easter holiday as worshipers stayed home and only church leaders performed Easter rites.

Health officials stressed that there is a high level of awareness about the pandemic in the Arab sector. Doctors, heads of government and leaders in Arab society are all urging the Arab public to stay home and not to go out in light of the pandemic’s spread.

“The Arab sector has become a more and more critical axis,” said Health Ministry Chief of Staff Noam Weitzner during a weekend meeting of the National Anti-Plague Control Center.

During the Ramadan holiday that begins next month, each day of fasting is traditionally followed by large fast-breaking meals with extended families and large gatherings in towns and villages. Officials describe the scenario as a landmine that could explode even if mosques remain closed as crowds head to stores every day to buy food and traditional sweets before sunset.

The instructions for Ramadan are expected to be similar to those for the evening of the Passover Seder meal when a nationwide closure kept millions of Jews from gathering to celebrate the holiday. The Arab public will be asked to stay in houses during Ramadan and celebrate as much as possible without the traditional large gatherings.

“A great deal must be invested in explaining that the morbidity in the Arab communities is not out of control. I am convinced that the Arab population will be able to meet the significant test and keep the rules of social distancing,” Blitzer said

Police remain deployed across the country including at the entrances of the Arab communities, closing several mosques and cafes that were opened in violation of health regulations.