No BBQ in the park: Israelis to be under lockdown for Independence Day

Bereaved families will not be able to visit gravesites on Remembrance Day, with military cemeteries set to be closed.

Memorial Day in Kiryat Shaul cemetery north of Tel Aviv on May 8th, 2019 (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Memorial Day in Kiryat Shaul cemetery north of Tel Aviv on May 8th, 2019
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Israel will go into a general lockdown for Independence Day, pending a cabinet vote, to prevent the gathering of crowds that could spread the deadly coronavirus, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Tuesday evening, one week before the holiday.
In addition, military cemeteries will be closed to all on Remembrance Day as part of Israel’s attempt to prevent a further COVID-19 outbreak.
The office said the lockdown rules for Independence Day would be similar to those on Passover, meaning that no one may travel between cities during the holiday and people must stay within 100 meters of their homes at all times.
The rules will put a damper on the traditional Independence Day barbecues. The IAF announced earlier this week that it would not conduct its traditional flyover, replacing it with a smaller one over hospitals to salute medical crews.
The usual free concerts sponsored by municipalities around the country were canceled weeks ago, and the Yom Haatzmaut torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl will be filmed in advance without an audience. The International Bible Contest held on Independence Day every year will also take place without an audience, and foreign contestants will participate from Israeli embassies and consulates in their home countries.
On Remembrance Day, which begins on Monday night and lasts until the start of Independence Day on Tuesday evening, military cemeteries will be closed to everyone, including bereaved families.
“It was decided, subject to cabinet approval, that this year, in light of the danger of infection, arrival to the cemeteries and commemorative sites will not be possible on Remembrance Day,” the Prime Minister’s Office statement read. “The police will close the access routes to them.”
Bereaved families will still be able to visit the gravesites over the course of the week leading up to Remembrance Day as long as they adhere to Health Ministry regulations.
The decision, which requires a cabinet vote for it to be final, came after Netanyahu met with officials from the Defense Ministry, Public Security, Health and Culture ministries, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, Yad Lebanim director Eli Ben-Shem and others.
Earlier in the day, Channel 12 news reported that immediate families of fallen soldiers might be able to visit the graves of their loved ones as part of a possible compromise for Remembrance Day next week.
While the Health Ministry has urged barring families from cemeteries over concerns of the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu was not leaning towards preventing bereaved families from visiting after Ben-Shem warned of physical confrontations in the cemeteries.
In a letter to Netanyahu, Kochavi, and Aryeh Moalem, head of the Families and Commemoration Department within the Defense Ministry, Ben-Shem said that bereaved parents have threatened to commit suicide on the graves of their sons.
“I believe that everything should be done so as not to see these difficult acts on Remembrance Day, the most difficult day of the year for bereaved families,” Ben-Shem wrote.
Due to the continued spread of the coronavirus, the Defense Ministry decided last month that the main ceremonies at the Western Wall plaza on (Remembrance Day eve) and Mount Herzl (Remembrance Day) are to be held without an audience and instead will be broadcast live.
In addition, local ceremonies in the 52 military cemeteries across the country will be canceled in their usual form. In their place, IDF soldiers will hold a candlelight vigil as well as a salute by a commander and military cantor saying kaddish, the Jewish memorial prayer. The placing of wreaths and candles on graves will take place in accordance with the guidelines set by the Health Ministry.
On Remembrance Day at 7 p.m., the Or Lamishpachot (Light for the Families) Association will hold a Zoom call for bereaved parents, in conjunction with Zoom Israel. The call will see six bereaved parents tell their child’s story, including a bereaved father who is deaf and who has recently recovered from the coronavirus, as well as a Druze family and Miriam Peretz.
“Especially now that the directives are not to go to the cemeteries or to hold a memorial service, we embrace the bereaved parents whose pain this year is several times greater,” said Lt.-Col.(ret.) Irit Oren Gunders, who chairs the nonprofit association. “The coronavirus does not forget the pain and does not erase Remembrance Day, so we invite all Israeli citizens to join with us and zoom in, and support these dear parents.”