Israel to close off West Bank, Gaza for Sukkot holiday

Exceptions to be made for ‘humanitarian cases,’ army says; police bring in reinforcements to patrol Jerusalem

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli security forces guard at the Qalandiya Checkpoint near Ramallah on July 26, 2016. (Flash90)
Israeli security forces guard at the Qalandiya Checkpoint near Ramallah on July 26, 2016. (Flash90)

The Israeli army announced Saturday it would be closing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinian passage into Israel, for 48 hours beginning at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, for the upcoming Sukkot holiday.

The Israel Defense Forces said it would make exceptions for medical emergencies and other “humanitarian cases,” with the approval of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Sukkot is a week-long holiday, lasting from Sunday evening to the following Sunday. The Simhat Torah holiday, a celebration of the Jewish Bible, will be held right after, on that Sunday night and Monday.

However, as of Saturday evening, the closure is not expected to remain in place throughout the entire holiday; it is instead expected to remain in effect until Monday at 11:59 p.m., dependent upon a “situational assessment,” the army said in a statement.

Ordinarily, tens of thousands of Palestinians pass through the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank each day. Though Gaza is often considered a sealed area, some residents with special permits are able to enter and exit through the Erez Crossing into Israel.

While the decision to close off the West Bank and Gaza comes a week after a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem last week, the army routinely seals off the West Bank on Jewish holidays.

The IDF similarly shut down the West Bank’s checkpoints on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, last week, and on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, earlier this month.

In addition, the Israel Police said Saturday that it will increase its presence throughout Jerusalem to provide extra protection in the coming days, as many religious Jews make a pilgrimage to the capital for the holiday.

“Police officers, border guards, reinforcement officers and volunteers will spread throughout the city, in places where crowds gather: shopping centers and markets, around the Old City and in its alleyways, and in the areas around synagogues in order to keep order and security,” the police said in a statement.

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