Israel is preparing to shut down on Tuesday evening for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, as security forces remain in a heightened state of preparedness amid a record number of terror alerts in the lead-up to the holiday.
The IDF will also impose a closure on the West Bank and Gaza, a standard practice over Jewish and Israeli holidays.
Security officials have received more than 80 warnings or intelligence tips about possible terror attacks as Jewish Israelis prepare to observe the fast day, according to Hebrew-language media reports. The number is higher than last year when two Palestinian security prisoners were on the run following a prison escape, and security forces were grappling with a spate of stabbing attacks.
The security alerts came as Israel faces several security challenges amid the High Holiday season. Israeli troops have come under increasing gunfire during raids in the West Bank, and there have been repeated clashes in recent weeks between security forces and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the Old City. Additionally, there were also several failed shooting attacks targeting Israelis in the West Bank last week.
According to Channel 13 news on Monday, 26 military battalions will receive reinforcement over Yom Kippur and thousands of Israeli soldiers will remain in the West Bank and along the security barrier.
The number of battalions in the West Bank has increased to 26 from about 13-14 since around March when the military launched Operation Breakwater in response to a wave of terror attacks that killed 19 Israelis between March and May.
Over 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the beginning of the anti-terror operation in the spring and over 200 Palestinians have been killed in what has become the deadliest period in the West Bank in years.
Most of the dead have been wanted terrorists who opened fire, or youths who threw firebombs or stones at soldiers entering their neighborhoods. But several civilians who were not involved in any violence have also died.
A national shutdown
Starting on Tuesday afternoon, all flights in and out of Ben Gurion airport and Israel’s air space will close to flights passing through, as Jewish Israelis mark Yom Kippur. Flights will resume Wednesday evening. Border crossings will also be shut and will reopen late Wednesday.
As sundown approaches Tuesday, all local radio and television broadcasts will gradually fall silent.
Public transport will also halt with buses and trains stopping their routes until after the fast day. Inner-city buses and inter-city transport will gradually restart Wednesday evening.
Roads will largely clear of cars by early Tuesday evening as is the national tradition — to be replaced with multitudes of people on bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles. Driving during the Jewish Day of Atonement is considered taboo, and many secular Israelis have turned the day into a biking holiday, taking advantage of the car-free roads.
For religious and traditional Jews, the 25-hour period of fasting and praying is set to begin at 5:45 p.m. in Jerusalem and 6:01 p.m. in Tel Aviv. It will end on Wednesday at 6:55 p.m. and 6:57 p.m., respectively.
Security and rescue services will remain on high alert throughout the day.
For the Magen David Adom Rescue service and other paramedics, Yom Kippur is one of the busiest days of the year with hundreds of extra medics, paramedics, ambulances and volunteers deployed across the country.
Most injuries over Yom Kippur come from accidents on the roads as tens of thousands of children and teens take advantage of the deserted streets to ride their bicycles. Other common Yom Kippur injuries are caused by parents leaving children unattended outside synagogues and, of course, dehydration and complications from fasting.
Last year, a 12-year-old boy was tragically killed by an alleged drunk driver while riding his bike, and an 11-year-old boy was seriously injured in a separate incident.