Gush Etzion Residents: Don’t Send South Koreans Here

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman hold an emergency meeting about the coronavirus at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv on Sunday. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Residents of the community of Har Gilo in Gush Etzion on Sunday afternoon blocked roads into town, and vowed to keep the roads closed until plans to relocate several hundred South Korean tourists who were headed to an IDF school located there were canceled. “We discovered that the army was planning to house these people  here, without consulting with us,” said Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman. “We cannot allow this to happen in the midst of a civilian population, close to the homes of residents. Even if there is a need to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, it must not be at the expense of civilians. There is nothing wrong with housing them at Ministry of Defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, which is also an army base,” he said.

The protest began early Sunday afternoon after Yediot Acharonot revealed the army’s intention to relocate the group there. There are currently some 200 South Korean citizens in Israel, most of them tourists who arrived in recent days. On Motzoei Shabbos, the government decided to ban the entry of South Koreans to Israel, after nine tourists from that country who vacationed in Israel were diagnosed with coronavirus when they returned home. The decision to inter South Koreans currently in Israel was made Sunday morning after consultations with the Health and Interior Ministries.

The facility in Har Gilo is used by the army for courses and seminars, and contains facilities for eating and sleeping. But Har Gilo residents said they would block the entry of the group bodily if they had to. “We demand that officials freeze this decision immediately and conduct a dialogue with residents and the local authority before doing anything,” said Ne’eman. “We are not the country’s ‘backyard’ and we will not allow the army to conduct itself here as if there is no civilian authority,” he added.

At a special government meeting Sunday morning to discuss the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that to the list of countries from which visitors are currently banned, the government was adding Australia and Italy as of Sunday. “We are continuing take steps to prevent the spread of the virus in Israel,” Netanyahu said. “We are evaluating the situation on a daily basis. Starting today a group of ministers will hold daily in-depth evaluations of the situation and deal with challenges as they arise. We are constantly testing and correcting our policy where needed. We would rather err on the side of caution than be unprepared,” he added.