Cabinet approves closures for Memorial Day, Independence Day and Ramadan

Government decision seeks to prevent gatherings where virus could spread; in Arab towns and cities, lockdown to be implemented in evenings only

Roads are empty during a lockdown to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Roads are empty during a lockdown to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The cabinet on Wednesday voted in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Over Ramadan, which begins Thursday, all stores in towns with majority Muslim populations, aside from pharmacies, will be closed to the public from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. to discourage people from congregating during the holy month, during Muslims traditionally fast during the day and enjoy joint meals at night (though stores will be able to operate deliveries during those hours).

On Memorial Day, which begins next Monday night and ends Tuesday evening, people will be barred from visiting military cemeteries and memorial sites. Intercity travel will be prohibited with the exception of people going to work and shopping in permitted stores.

On Independence Day, which begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday evening, a general curfew will be in effect requiring people to remain within 100 meters of their homes — except for medicinal needs — and banning intercity travel, similar to the curfew earlier this month for Passover. Supermarkets will not be open to the public.

The Independence Day curfew will begin at 5 p.m. on April 28 and end at 8 p.m. the next day.

The decision came as the government faces pressure to begin to reopen the country, though officials have expressed fears that the virus could easily rebound and warned that restrictions could yet be put back in place.

Regarding the blanket ban on visiting cemeteries on Memorial Day, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday families would be allowed to visit before Memorial Day.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at the campaign launch of the Yamina party, ahead of elections, February 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

“The nuclear families alone can visit the cemetery from this morning, Wednesday morning, until Sunday night, whenever they wish, while observing the accepted distancing rules,” Bennett said in a statement.

“It’s a painful decision, but it’s necessary. The decision was made after consulting with the head of Yad Labanim,” the largest bereaved family organization in Israel, he added.

While bereaved family organizations have backed the government’s decision to close cemeteries, many families said they will defy the orders.

Last month, the Defense Ministry announced that national Memorial Day ceremonies would take place without audiences and that the smaller events planned for municipal cemeteries across the country would be canceled outright out of fear of coronavirus outbreaks.

People stand still in Jerusalem as a siren is sounded on Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims, May 8, 2019. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Memorial Day is one of Israel’s few national, non-religious holidays, during which large swaths of the Israeli public typically visit the graves of loved ones.

In its announcement last month, the Defense Ministry said it was radically changing the traditional methods of commemorating the day.

“In an effort to preserve the health of the public on the one hand and to uphold national traditions, the defense minister ordered the Defense Ministry and the IDF Manpower Directorate to hold the central ceremonies at the Western Wall (on Memorial Day eve) and at Mount Herzl (on Memorial Day) as planned but without an audience, and that they will be live-streamed,” the ministry said at the time.

The smaller ceremonies that were scheduled to take place in military cemeteries across the country will be canceled “and in their place IDF soldiers will hold a candlelight vigil and say the Kaddish [prayer],” the ministry said.

Bereaved family members stand in front of their loved one’s grave at Ashkelon’s military cemetery on Memorial Day, May 8, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

In addition, many of the larger ceremonies planned by organizations for bereaved families will not be held.

A flag, wreath and memorial candle will be placed on the graves of soldiers and civilians killed in wars or terror attack by Defense Ministry representatives, deputy Defense Ministry director-general Aryeh Mualem told reporters last month.

The pair of sirens that sound each Memorial Day — one at 8 p.m. to bring in the holiday and one at 11 a.m. the following day — will be heard as normal. Stores will be closed as usual on Memorial Day eve, Mualem said.

The torchlighting ceremony held at sundown to mark the end of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day will be held in a more limited capacity, and also without an audience.

People at Bugrashov Beach in Tel Aviv watch the military airshow on Israel’s 71st Independence Day, May 9, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash 900

Independence Day is usually marked with large free concerts and fireworks displays at night.

During the following day, Israelis typically crowd parks, beaches and other public spaces for barbecues and parties.

On Sunday, the IDF said it was canceling the annual airshow in which fighter jets and other military aircraft traverse the country, to keep spectators from gathering. Instead, four stunt planes will perform over hospitals to pay tribute to healthcare workers.

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