Israeli police officer in east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
More than 3,000 police officers will be deployed across the country, with a focus on Jerusalem, in preparation for and during the Passover holiday, which begins Friday at sundown.
Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld, Israel Police foreign press spokesman, told The Jerusalem Post that tens of thousands of people are expect to ascend to Jerusalem for the first day of the holiday, as well as more than 100,000 on the second day for the Priestly Blessing prayer service, which will be held at the Western Wall.
This mass priestly blessing only takes place twice a year in Israel, once during Passover and again on Sukkot. Attendees receive the historical blessing from hundreds of Jews of priestly lineage as they face the congregation, hands stretched forward, chanting in one voice.
The superintendent said that the increase in security – which includes a mix of Border Police, undercover officers and members of special patrol units – is necessary due to a history of increased security risk during the holiday period.
In 2017, for example, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Nadav Argaman warned that terrorist groups may try to carry out attacks during Passover.
“We are just before the Passover holiday, and there is no doubt that terrorist infrastructure – mostly the established one, and specifically Hamas – will try to agitate the area and carry out attacks,” Argaman told the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing.
This is partly because Jewish pilgrims often visit the Old City and the Temple Mount during key holidays, and because families are more inclined to travel and hike, leaving themselves more open to attacks. For most major holidays, including Passover, the IDF shuts down the crossings between Israel and the West Bank to Palestinian travelers.
Rosenfeld said that during the five-day interim period between the first and last days of Passover (Chol Hamoed), police will continue to be on alert across the country, monitoring public places such as parks and malls. In addition, they will pay special attention to the Arab and mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods surrounding the Old City.
On the last day of the holiday, police will again increase security near the Western Wall. Then, on Shabbat the day after, police will again be called on to secure the Holy Fire Ceremony, which will take place in the Christian Quarter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The ceremony – said to revolve around a miracle that happens every year during this mass event, in which a blue light glows from the stone bed Jesus is said to have been buried on – takes place on the day before Orthodox Easter and goes back several centuries. Rosenfeld said the ceremony will draw around 100,000 participants, including tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem.
“Coordination has been made by Israel Police and the leaders of different churches,” Rosenfeld said. He noted that during the ceremony the Christian Quarter will be locked down, though Jewish visitors will still be able to travel to and pray at the Western Wall.
Security throughout the holiday will be supported by 300 closed-circuit television cameras, Rosenfeld added.
“It’s a relatively complicated security operation,” he said. “But we have enough units in different areas of the Old City and its surroundings to implement the security measures necessary.”
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