Tel Aviv market: 'If politicians come here, they'll be pelted with tomatoes'

Carmel market trader relates virtual impossibility of making a living stifled by government regulations.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Carmel market traders' protest
Carmel market traders' protest
Miriam Alster/Flash90

Stores selling food may open; stores selling “non-essentials” may not, or may according to strict regulations, or may only if they set up a stand outside selling face masks and alcohol gel… A small store in a side street can risk reopening with the shutters half-way down; other stores place a table outside and serve their customers on the street… The general public is getting confused, and even business owners can’t always figure it out.

In Tel Aviv’s Carmel market, frustration is reaching boiling point, with traders complaining that the complicated regulations barely make it worth their while to attempt to reopen. Now they are also facing competition from open-air shopping centers, recently permitted to reopen, and they say that customers no longer see a reason to head to the market instead.

One trader, owner of a shoe store in the Carmel market, told journalists that he and many of his fellow market workers are living “hand to mouth” in the wake of the government’s coronavirus restrictions, and expressed his anger at the fact that he is, as he sees it, being prevented from earning a livelihood.

“The BIG shopping center is open, but we can’t?” he said. “We’re out here in the open – we can’t afford to breach the guidelines, but other places aren’t as conspicuous – they get away with all kinds of things. Part of the Carmel market is open as usual, but here, where we’re supposedly not selling ‘essentials,’ it’s another world entirely. We’re starting to wonder if this is really about a dangerous disease – or maybe it’s just political considerations, dressed up as ‘concern for the public welfare.’”

He pointed out that supermarkets, permitted to open as they sell food items and other “essentials,” have taken advantage of their privileged position and begun to sell all kinds of other things too – clothing, shoes, children’s toys – whereas a store selling only these other lines faces all kinds of restrictions, including a ban on more than four customers at any one time. “It doesn’t pay for us to open,” he says. “Anyone would think I trade in illegal drugs, the way they treat us. All I want to do is earn enough to feed my family, but they’re making it impossible. And I’m far from the only person who feels this way.”

It’s certainly true that the owner of a small open-air stall selling shoes in the Carmel market has less room for flexibility than a supermarket, or even than a small hairdressing establishment, where the owner can pack his or her tools of the trade into a backpack and quietly visit clients in their homes, taking only cash in hand without a receipt, and managing to keep working despite regulations. Unofficial reports and anecdotes from Israel – and many other parts of the world with stifling government regulations – reveal a growing black market finding creative ways to do nothing more adventurous than trying to earn a living.

“I don’t want to become a lawbreaker,” the Carmel shoe merchant says. “But more and more of us feel that we have nothing to lose. No one is listening, so maybe we’ll go out there and make them listen. We also know how to block highways and set fire to car tires, if that’s what it takes to make the government pay attention to what’s happening here.”

The trader had harsh words not only for the government, but also for Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, who, according to him, “allows stores and other places to open, but sends out his inspectors to the Carmel market. If he cared about us, he’d tell the inspectors to turn a blind eye to people who are only trying to make a living, and let us keep working.” His impression is that since the market traders are generally perceived to be on the right wing of politics, Huldai and others like him are unconcerned about their welfare.

With elections most likely on the horizon, what does that mean for politicians courting the votes of storekeepers in the Carmel market?

“I wouldn’t suggest that they pay us a visit,” the trader says. “They have nothing to look for here. Tell the police not to let them come – it’s a dangerous place for politicians these days. And if they do come regardless, they’re likely to find themselves pelted with tomatoes and cucumbers.”