Numerous people across Israel flouted the nationwide curfew on the first day of the Purim holiday, with police breaking up over 100 parties, issuing thousands of fines and making dozens of arrests.
Celebrated for three days, Purim is the one of the merriest Jewish holidays, with costume parties and big feasts with family and friends.
Israel has just eased its third coronavirus lockdown amid a massive campaign that has seen a third of its population of 9 million receiving both shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
But, with fears that Purim festivities could cause a resurgence in infections, the authorities implemented a three-day nighttime curfew for the holiday, banning gatherings and forbidding people from venturing further than one kilometer from home.
On Thursday, the first day of celebrations, the security forces set up checkpoints at 24 locations across the country, while sending hundreds of police cars on patrol to curb possible curfew violations – and it turned out to be a very busy night.
Police dispersed more than 100 parties in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Rehovot, and elsewhere. But the authorities believe that there were also dozens of gathering that managed to stay under the radar.
“There was not a city in Israel where we didn’t see violations,” Ziv Sagiv, the head of the police investigations division, told Army Radio.
More than 2,500 fines were issued to both organizers of the parties and their guests, while dozens ended up detained.
Receiving a Covid-19 shot is not an excuse to ignore the curfew, Sagiv said. “Those who say: ‘What do you want, I’m vaccinated,’ don’t understand they can still be carrying the virus and infect their surroundings.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein took to Twitter to call upon the public to refrain from large gatherings in the remaining days of Purim. “Stop. Lay off the parties until after the coronavirus… The religious edict of merriment during the holiday must not come at the expense of the public,” he wrote.
According to the media, the government may halt public transportation to Jerusalem on Saturday night and Sunday to prevent large crowds from converging. It’s a religious tradition to mark the last day of Purim within a walled city like Jerusalem or Safed.
Orthodox Jews have been increasingly unhappy about the restrictions introduced by the Israeli authorities during the pandemic. Haredi protests take place on a regular basis, often ending in clashes and arrests. In late January, thousands of people attended funerals of prominent rabbis who succumbed to the coronavirus, with the authorities unable to prevent the illegal gatherings.
The Haredi community has been one of the groups hardest hit by Covid-19 in Israel, with experts saying the large sizes of their families as well as putting religious practices ahead of health regulations have contributed to this.
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