Israel imposes 11-day closure on West Bank, Gaza for Sukkot holiday

Exceptionally long closure comes after Har Adar terror attack, amid general concern over volatility in Palestinian areas

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

Illustrative. An Israeli soldier closes a gate at a checkpoint in the West Bank village of Yatta, near Hebron, on July 3, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative. An Israeli soldier closes a gate at a checkpoint in the West Bank village of Yatta, near Hebron, on July 3, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

In a rare move, Israel announced on Tuesday that it was closing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip for 11 days for the Sukkot holiday and the following weekend, beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

Closures for Jewish and Israeli holidays are a routine procedure. However, in the past, Israel has shut down the crossings surrounding the West Bank and Gaza only at the start and end of week-long festivals like Sukkot, rather than for the entire holiday.

As the holiday ends on the evening of October 12 — a Thursday — the closure is scheduled to last through the weekend, until midnight on October 14, for a total of 11 days.

The closure was approved by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman earlier this week, but its implementation was still dependent upon a final situational assessment.

During the closure, the military will allow the passage of Palestinians in “humanitarian, medical and exceptional cases, with the approval of the [Defense Ministry’s] Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories,” according to an army statement.

It was not immediately clear if during the 11 days Palestinian laborers will be allowed into Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The reopening of the West Bank and Gaza Strip crossings will be contingent upon a “situational assessment,” the army said.

The exceptional decision to keep the crossings closed for 11 days was made following a terror attack outside the Har Adar settlement near Jerusalem last week, as well as out of general concern over heightened tensions in the West Bank and Gaza due to the ongoing reconciliation negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorist group.

Before the attack, the army advised the defense minister to only close the West Bank and Gaza for the first and last days of the festival — as normal — but in the wake of the fatal shooting, the military changed its recommendation.

According to spokespeople of both the minister and the army, since the Har Adar attack, the IDF has favored a closure for the entire holiday.

On Sunday, Liberman’s spokesperson said that the new “recommendation was accepted by the defense minister.”

In general, the Jewish high holiday season, which began last week with Rosh Hashanah, is seen by defense officials as a time period of increased tension in the region, when the risk of terror attacks is higher.

Ordinarily, tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel and Israeli settlements for work each day. A far smaller number of Gaza residents also travel to Israel, mostly to receive medical treatment.

West Bank and Gaza closures for holidays are intended both to prevent attempts at terror attacks in Israel during the holiday period and to allow the Israeli security officials who operate the crossings to celebrate the festival.

A similar closure was imposed last Friday and Saturday for Yom Kippur and the week before, for Rosh Hashanah.

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