Many Arab towns depend on tourism; once they're declared "red" nobody comes
Many Arab towns depend on tourism; once they're declared "red" nobody comesiStock

At a virtual meeting with hospital directors from across the country, Professor Hezi Levy, director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein heard one message being repeated, especially from hospital directors in the north of the country: We’re at full capacity, and our staffs are overstretched.

Many of the “red” localities now under partial lockdown are Arab communities in the north of the country, places where a concerted effort to bring down the rate of contagion has only just begun in earnest, with increased testing and more government involvement in enforcing coronavirus regulations.

103 FM spoke with Rafik Halabi, mayor of the Druze town of Daliyat Al-Karmel, around fifteen miles from Haifa. Daliyat Al-Karmel has been categorized as a “red” town due to its high rate of coronavirus contagion, and is now subject to nightly curfews for the next week at the very least, in an effort to curb the spread of the epidemic.

“I really have no idea why we are on the ‘red’ list,” Halabi says. “We should be ‘orange’ [a moderate rate of increase in morbidity] instead. In fact, we’ve been orange for the past three days already, but the statistics the ‘traffic light system’ rely on are two weeks out of date.”

He adds that in his opinion, the situation changed only because the municipality ramped up its testing, with predictable results. “We made hundreds of tests in recent days, and of course we found some positive cases, and that was it – they decided we were ‘red’ and nothing would change their minds. But the whole country is red!” he protests. “The only difference between one place and another is who does more testing and who does less.”

His comments echo those made by mayors of haredi towns, who have noted in previous days that due to the fact that yeshiva students were required to be tested before entering “capsules” a few weeks ago, no matter whether they had symptoms or not, their color coding turned “red” because of asymptomatic carriers, who have remained undetected in most other localities.

Halabi noted that there is a lot of confusion on what the nighttime curfew actually means. “Cafes were shut in my town last night, but other places were open, and no one really knows what the rules are. There were police officers making their rounds, and they wanted to ticket one storekeeper who was receiving a delivery of merchandise at around ten o’clock, but I intervened, and told them to leave him alone, because that was the only time of day he could deal with deliveries.”

The mayor did acknowledge one major development that the nighttime curfew has achieved, however: “We stopped all our weddings,” he says. “All the massive weddings have stopped in Daliyat Al-Karmel.” These weddings have been called out as virus super-spreaders in Arab communities; with halls shut, they have simply moved out onto the streets in many areas.

On the other hand, the town has definitely been hit hard in its pocket. “We’re a tourist community – a large part of our economy revolves around tourism. No one is coming now that we’ve been declared red. We feel like lepers, like outcasts. In nearby Yokne’am, they’re telling people not to come, but they’re much redder than we are.”

Understanding why one town is a certain color whereas its neighbor is another is tricky business for the average man on the street. Most people have no idea how the government reached its decisions on whom to lock down and whom to let off the hook. In Daliyat Al-Karmel, there are currently 143 active cases of the coronavirus, 43 of which were diagnosed in the last seven days, out of 505 tests conducted during that period – an positive rate of 8.5%. In Yokne’am, they only conducted 256 tests in the last week, and 21 people tested positive – 8.2% tested positive. However, Daliyat Al-Karmel’s rate of active cases per ten thousand residents stands at 83, whereas Yokneam’s is 15. So who should be red?

“We have tested almost six thousand of our residents so far,” Halabi stresses. “That’s six thousand out of a total of eighteen thousand residents – a third of the population. You show me another town or city where they can claim such a high rate of testing. We had an MDA drive-thru testing yesterday, and another one is coming today. We have a very high rate of compliance among our residents. That’s why I insist that the label they have applied to us is simply unjust.”