IDF General: Bnei Brak Closure Could Last Many Weeks

YERUSHALAYIM -
A border policeman stands guard at an entrance road to Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown of the city, Friday. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

Forecasts by government officials that quarantine orders could be lifted gradually after Pesach are overly optimistic – at least in Bnei Brak, said IDF Reserve General Roni Noma, who heads the army team responsible for the closure of Bnei Brak. “We are in the midst of a battle to hold back the virus in this city,” he told Yisrael Hayom. “If we do not get control of this soon, we will have a much greater tragedy.”

Motzoei Shabbos saw a further clampdown on movement in the chareidi city, as the IDF closed to all traffic a portion of Jabotinsky Street, a main artery crossing through Bnei Brak. The city is now hermetically sealed, and is likely to remain that way for some time to come, said Noma. “I expect the current closure policies and the restrictions on movement to continue on. This is not a matter of days or even weeks. I do not see things returning to normal after Pesach. It will take many weeks, maybe even longer. It may take less time in other places, but not in Bnei Brak.

The only way to begin the process of restoring normalization in the city is widespread administration of tests to determine who has been infected. “We are not going to conduct these tests before the majority of residents are infected. At that point the majority will have built up resistance and they will be able to go back to their normal lives. But such widespread testing has yet to take place.”

According to Noma, there are about 1,000 Bnei Brak residents who have been infected with coronavirus, although the number is likely far higher. “Our job is to get to every family and evaluate the situation there. We intend to appoint an officer that will be responsible for each block and gather the data on what is going on there. Then we can make the right decision on how to deal with the situation, whether to evacuate individuals, etc.”

The IDF said in a statement Sunday that it had begun distribution of aid, including food packages, to needy Bnei Brak residents. “At this time members of IDF units are engaged in distributing food packages,” the statement said. “Soldiers are prepared to do whatever is needed to save lives. We will continue to work to prevent the spread of coronavirus and save lives.”

Meanwhile, criticism was mounting both inside and outside the city on the manner in which the IDF was administering the closure on Bnei Brak. Kan News reporter Yair Sherki, a chareidi resident of Bnei Brak, said that while the closure was meant to limit the rate of infection in the Tel Aviv area, it was likely to greatly increase the rate of infection inside Bnei Brak itself. By forcing all residents to remain in the city, authorities are guaranteeing that grocery stores and pharmacies will be even more crowded than usual – increasing the likelihood of infection in a population that is already more prone to catching the virus. “The closing off of the Bnei Brak industrial zone from the rest of the city, preventing residents from getting to the big supermarket chains there, is a big mistake,” Sherki said.