Netanyahu Pleads With Arabs to Observe Coronavirus Rules

Workers prepare a new ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, for people infected with the coronavirus, Thursday. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held meetings early Thursday with leaders of the Israeli Arab community, as well as prominent doctors and healthcare officials from the sector, imploring them to observe the strictures on social distancing that have become the norm over the past week.

The meeting came in the wake of reports that while many Arabs take the coronavirus threat seriously, they have not been observing the strictures. Specifically, weddings and social events have continued to take place in the Arab sector, and hundreds of Muslims still gathered daily for prayer on Har HaBayis. The Muslim Waqf last week closed off access to the site, but apparently is allowing Muslims into the site.

“Coronavirus is not just another illness, it is a worldwide plague,” Netanyahu told the delegation. “It is harming everyone, and is not discriminating between Jews, Arabs, Bedouins and Christians. Unfortunately, there is not enough commitment in the Arab sector to the strictures we have put in place. This is a problem for the general public, and it is especially true in smaller villages, from what I understand. We are going to change that immediately.

“The public must follow the rules, especially those regarding social distancing and hygiene, in order to ensure we can control this plague. We can do it, but for that we need the cooperation of everyone, including Israel’s Arab citizens. For your sake and the sake of all of us, I implore you to observe the rules,” Netanyahu said.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had instructed police to prepare for the likelihood that Israelis will be required by government order to remain at home. That decision is likely to come about in the coming days, Erdan wrote to police commanders. “The decision to move to a full closure will be a difficult one, but in the situation we find ourselves it appears to be inevitable. It would be better to impose difficult conditions for a short period of time in order to beat coronavirus and to thus prevent incidents of death,” Erdan wrote.

Under the decision, a full 24-hour-a-day curfew would be imposed, with only essential workers allowed to leave to go to work. Ordinary citizens would be allowed to leave their homes only to buy groceries or to visit the pharmacy, or to seek medical attention. Israel would in essence be under martial law, with police empowered to arrest individuals who violate the curfew, and Homefront Command officials responsible for ensuring that citizens get what they need.

Speaking Wednesday night, Netanyahu said that Israel “is continuing its fight against the coronavirus plague. We have seen what happened in countries that did not take the steps that we are taking. Thousands around the world have already died. As prime minister I am happy to say that we have not yet lost anyone, but that is unlikely to continue.”

Netanyahu said that he was asking all Israelis to remain at home unless they truly needed to leave their homes. “This is going to require discipline and responsibility. Unfortunately, there are many Israelis who still do not understand the difficulty of the situation. I am requesting that everyone remain at home as much as possible. For now this is a request, not an order, but that could change,” the prime minister added.