Full lockdown announced for Independence Day, cemeteries shuttered on Memorial Day

Netanyahu announced that Israelis will face bans on public gatherings and road closures on both Independence Day and Memorial Day next week.

By Ebin Sandler, World Israel News

On Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) issued a statement confirming a “general lockdown” for Israel’s Independence Day.

The statement said restrictions would be “similar to that which applied during Passover,” when an intercity travel ban was put into effect along with a nationwide curfew.

In addition to restrictions on Independence Day itself, the PMO also announced that cemeteries will be locked on Memorial Day, which honors Israel’s fallen soldiers and is observed on the day before Independence Day.

“After hearing the recommendation of memorial organizations, it was decided that – subject to Cabinet approval – given the danger of infection, arrival to cemeteries and memorial sites on Remembrance Day will not be permitted; the police will close the access routes,” said the PMO statement.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chaired a discussion with various government ministers to decide how the nation and its citizens would observe both national holidays this year in light of the global coronavirus pandemic. Israel has maintained bans on large public gatherings since March, and still requires face masks in public and social distancing, which demands two meters of space between individuals in public spaces at all times.

During normal years, Independence Day represents Israel’s most important secular holiday, marked with an official ceremony on Mount Herzl, in addition to the lighting of twelve symbolic torches, lively concerts, family barbecues, general revelry, and special prayers in certain synagogues.

This year, however, Israelis will contend with another corona-related travel ban, in addition to other restrictions.

Netanyahu reportedly deliberated the holiday restrictions with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, and Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov, in addition to members of Israel’s law enforcement community and legal establishment.

Rumors of lockdown on Memorial Day reportedly had resulted in some citizens threatening to break into cemeteries to mourn loved ones.

Memorial Day is traditionally a time when Israelis visit the resting places of fallen soldiers en masse to honor the memories of those who perished defending the nation. The annual day of mourning is observed each year on the fourth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, one day before Independence Day, to link the ultimate sacrifice made by fallen soldiers with Israel’s establishment and continued existence.

While Israelis usually mark the day with elaborate ceremonies, all events this year will be held without spectators in attendance. Instead, “symbolic ceremonies will be held in military cemeteries with the participation of a small number of soldiers and commanders,” said the PMO. “The ceremonies will be broadcast to the public in a format to be determined by the Defense Ministry. Traffic outside cities will not be permitted on Remembrance Day except to workplaces and for permitted purchases.”

The Cabinet must approve the prime minister’s lockdown proposals, a development that is expected later on Tuesday night.