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Israel’s quarantine hotels gone wrong

Meet some of the law-abiding Israeli citizens who are suffering the human rights violation of being locked up in a controlled facility against their will
A skewed view of the Mediterranean coastline in Tel Aviv. (courtesy)
A skewed view of the Mediterranean coastline in Tel Aviv. (courtesy)

In every article I have read on quarantine hotels, the guests are presented as irresponsible vacationers or entitled celebrities who won’t stop complaining about their free stay in a 4-star hotel. While this is a convenient narrative for the government, it does not accurately represent the everyday people being sent to these hotels, without exception.

I personally flew to New York following my brother’s tragic and untimely passing. He was 39, married with children, and had been battling the effects of the coronavirus since March 2020.

I flew to New York before the Ben Gurion airport was closed, followed the quarantine guidelines in New York, and attended the last day of the shiva. After multiple flight cancellations, I rearranged my itinerary and flew back to Israel as soon as I could book a spot on an evacuation flight from Germany.

The messages cancelling and rescheduling my return flight to Tel Aviv. (courtesy)

These flights, by the way, cost $250, and evacuees are also responsible for their own flight arrangements into the Frankfurt airport. Since Germany does not allow non-citizens to enter the country, evacuee luggage is abandoned in the arrivals hall and collected by security agents for transport to the TLV flight. My suitcase did not make it on to the flight, and only arrived five days after my return.

Together with me in the so-called “corona hotel” in Tel Aviv where I was placed, there is a 78-year old woman from France who had flown in to attend her husband’s funeral, yet was sent directly to quarantine in the hotel. She doesn’t speak English or Hebrew, and we have lost touch since entering the hotel.

Sara is here as well, a young mother in the first trimester of a high-risk pregnancy. She was in the process of moving back to Israel before the airport was closed. Sara couldn’t stay in the US any longer because her family’s health insurance had expired and all of their belongings had already shipped to Israel in a container. Her husband stayed behind on a neighbor’s couch to finish the final arrangements. Sara has been stuck alone in a tiny hotel room with her 2-year-old daughter for four days. They have an empty apartment waiting for them, and are both on the verge of breakdown. Although she has medical documentation, her requests to move to home quarantine were ignored for days and then denied, without any reason provided.

Another mother, Marina, was shocked to find out the hotel was completely unprepared to host toddlers. She was told that she could either feed her son on the carpet, since “babies eat off of the floor anyway,” or order a new high chair and crib on her own dime. When Marina requested to receive baby-friendly food, she was told to order it herself. After all, Tel Aviv has everything you could need available for delivery.

Neta flew to California for work before the airports closed, with all the required documentation, and rented an AirBnB for the quarantine period so that her family could continue their regular schedules without disruption. Neta is allergic to eggplant and deathly allergic to sesame. Despite all of her arrangements and doctor’s notes, she was told there were no exceptions to the hotel quarantine. The hotel, she was assured, was well equipped to handle allergies, even life-threatening ones. In her first meal delivered, Neta received eggplant salad (with ‘”no eggplant” written on the bag). She believes that continued carelessness could result in a life-threatening allergic reaction.

The handwritten note indicated allergies to sesame and eggplant. The packaged salad is labeled as eggplant salad. (courtesy)

Itzik completed both vaccinations, and flew a week after his second vaccination to visit an elderly family member who had been hospitalized. Despite quarantine regulations stating that vaccinated travelers are completely exempt from quarantine, Itzik was sent to the hotel. The explanation given was that he needed to wait eight days instead of seven before traveling. Since he might have been exposed on the eighth day — despite having completed the process to his own immunity — Itzik is required to complete a full 14-day stay at an isolation hotel.

There have also been multiple families split apart by the new rules — and their exceptions. Ella was already in her 39th week of pregnancy by the time her application to re-enter Israel was approved. She was sent home to complete her isolation period. Her husband, on the other hand, was not allowed to accompany her and is currently in an isolation hotel in another city. Lianne, in her third trimester, received special permission to take her two young children with her to quarantine at home — but not her husband Tom. Since Tom has no pressing medical conditions of his own, he is required to stay at an isolation hotel.

Daniella just completed a very difficult course of chemotherapy in a hospital abroad, and received permission to recover at home. Although she requires regular assistance, and her husband had received permission to accompany her on the medical trip, he has not been allowed to complete his isolation period safe at home with Daniella. Where exactly is the logic in allowing at-risk family members to isolate at home alone, while those who traveled with them are left behind, unable to help?

The mantra of government officials is, “If you believe you should be exempt from hotel quarantine, apply to the special exemption committee.” But there has been no access to that committee, only a terribly formatted survey form that generates no response.

“Guests” at the mandatory quarantine hotels are required to stay inside their rooms, on penalty of NIS 5,000-10,000 ($1,536 – $3,072) fines and further police action if they even leave their doorways. At the corona hotel where I am, there are no glorious French doors leading to breezy, sea-view balconies. The rooms are dirty and dusty, full of mold, other people’s hair, and bugs, both dead and alive. The entire hotel is carpeted, which is a catastrophe for those like me with allergies to dust. Solo travelers are confined to rooms as small as 3 square meters, with tiny corner windows that do not provide circulation.

The lack of view from the small quarantine room at the ‘corona hotel.’ (courtesy)
A cramped room, for two weeks of isolation in a ‘corona hotel.’ (courtesy)

No laundry services are available, requiring guests to wash their underclothes with hand soap in shallow bathroom sinks. Army cafeteria-style food is left outside the door three times a day in wasteful, single-use plastic containers. Packages of food and medicines are accepted during specific times only, with the contents dumped into orange garbage bags after being rifled through by soldiers to remove any alcohol, controlled substances, and knives.

Imagine if you had to fly abroad for work, or to bury a parent, or a brother, and upon re-entry to your own country, you were jailed like a common criminal. Most of us are normal, law-abiding citizens, who keep the rules and have wearily weathered the past three lockdowns just the same as everyone else. Each of us has our own extenuating circumstances that required us to fly during these times. However comfortable some sample hotel photos might look to people on the outside, our reality is closer to a military prison. We do not deserve this treatment.

The amount of logistics, personnel and money required to run these glorified detention centers is enormous, and all Israel’s citizens are paying for it. Wouldn’t these resources be better used elsewhere? There must be more effective tracking systems we can use to ensure that returnees are following quarantine requirements. Cell phone trackers and ankle bracelets were discussed recently, but ultimately scrapped due to legal issues regarding human rights violations. How is it possible that locking up law-abiding citizens in a controlled facility against their will is less of a human rights violation?

To that end, and following the precedent set by Michal Gelbert in December, the “guests” at the corona isolation hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are submitting a class action complaint to the High Court regarding violation of personal freedom and human rights. We will be demanding the right to fulfill isolation requirements in the comfort of our own homes, according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Health.

Please stand with us. Help protect our rights, so that you don’t find yourself fighting for your own one day.

About the Author
Having 'gone native' since she moved to Israel 14 years ago, married an army officer and had two beautiful sabra children, Shifra often feels like a translator between different worlds. She has an MBA in International Business and works in the Israeli FinTech industry.
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