Plotting a quarantine hotel rebellion on Whatsapp: One traveler’s story

Written by on December 28, 2020

Chanting “Home (habayta in Hebrew)” and “We’re not slaves, we’re not prisoners,” they were stopped by soldiers from the Home Front Command as they tried to break out.

Protesters chant outside of their mandatory coronavirus quarantine hotel, December 28, 2020. (video credit: Courtesy.)

Dr. David Breakstone knew he would find himself confined to a coronavirus quarantine hotel on his return to Israel from a visit to New York, but he was not expecting to take part in the rebellion that took place on Monday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem.

Currently, all Israelis returning from travel outside the country must be quarantined in a hotel for two weeks, or for 10 days if they have two negative coronavirus tests.

“The whole protest was organized through a Whatsapp group,” he said. A bunch of the younger hotel residents went door to door and got everyone’s contact information, then sent “about a million” messages back and forth to plan their protest. Eventually it was decided that the residents would just attempt to walk out of the hotel, even though they knew they wouldn’t get far.

Chanting “Home (habayta in Hebrew)” and “We’re not slaves, we’re not prisoners,” they were stopped by soldiers from the Home Front Command as they tried to break out, just as senior officials such as Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Chezy Levy and coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash were saying that the coronavirus hotel policy needed to be reexamined.

“I’m trying to take it all in good spirits,” said Breakstone, the outgoing deputy chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive and a Jerusalem Post columnist, speaking by phone just after the failed rebellion on Monday night. While he said he understood the importance of trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus, he said the hotel policy was “frustrating,” because his wife had arranged for him to quarantine in an empty house. The soldiers had treated the travelers decently, though, and that although some news reports have said that people walked out of these hotels, he had not heard about anything like that happening in Jerusalem.

He said that while he had sent a request for an exception to be made in his case to the Home Front Command’s exceptions committee on Friday, he had heard nothing back from them and that he had sent another request on Monday. At the airport, he only saw soldiers who told the returning travelers what to do to but could not make any decisions about their being sent to a hotel, no matter what their circumstances.

Asked whether another protest was planned for Tuesday, he said he didn’t know but that he had gotten about 30 messages from the Crowne Plaza Whatsapp group as we were speaking.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I have to scroll through them now.”

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