Israelis may be forced indoors on Independence Day

Israeli government likely to impose nationwide lockdown on Independence Day to prevent mass gatherings and potential spread of the coronavirus.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israel’s National Security Council and the Ministry of Health will recommend that Prime Minister Netanyahu impose a nationwide lockdown next week, starting at the end of Memorial Day on Tuesday evening and lasting until the end of Independence Day, according to a report by Israel Hayom.

Independence Day is usually marked in Israel by large social gatherings: Municipal events featuring well-known musical performers, fireworks, military jet shows, and barbecues.

While all public events have been cancelled this year, authorities worry that Israelis may flout social distancing rules and hold gatherings in violation of the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.

The Independence Day lockdown is expected to be similar to the lockdown imposed on Passover. Israelis will likely be banned from intercity travel, though it’s unclear if the closure will forbid people from leaving their homes altogether or confine them to a 100-meter radius of their residences.

Another concern for the authorities is Memorial Day, which immediately precedes Independence Day. Families who lost loved ones serving in the military traditionally visit military cemeteries on Memorial Day. Public memorial ceremonies, attended by hundreds, take place in military cemeteries throughout the country.

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The Ministry of Defense announced that families will not be permitted to visit military cemeteries this year, nor will public ceremonies be held. Instead, a representative from the military, the Ministry of Defense, and a military rabbi will visit every military ceremony in Israel, reciting Kaddish, a mourner’s prayer, in memory of every soldier and placing flowers on each grave.

Many bereaved families are upset by the decision. Eli Ben Shem, chairman of the Yad Labanim organization, which supports families of fallen soldiers and terror victims, reached out to Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi in an open letter.

Ben Shem warned that “following the directive by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett canceling the ceremonies and the order not to come to the military cemeteries on Memorial Day, we are receiving hundreds of messages from families who are not accepting it and are threatening to force their way in.”

A “widespread public campaign” is needed to prevent potential clashes between families and police, Ben Shem advised.

The Western Wall Memorial Ceremony, usually drawing a large crowd, will be held this year without an audience. The ceremony will be broadcast on TV and limited to 20 participants, including the president and the chief of staff.