The State of Israel
is freezing its activities for more than 24 hours Sunday, as the holy day of Yom Kippur
begins. All businesses and institutions have been shut down, and traffic will come to a complete halt at 5 pm.
The security forces and emergency services, however, will continue their activities as part of a special state of preparedness. The police have declared a heightened state of alert in northern Israel, for fear of clashes between Jews and Arabs in several points of friction.
Magen David Adom stations across the country have been reinforced with dozens of paramedics and ambulances, in order to attend to civilians who may suffer during the fast, injuries and other events.
Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv (Archive photo: Rinat Malkes)
Every Yom Kippur, MDA crews are forced to treat an average of some 1,500 people, including about 200 children injured while riding their bicycles and other activities.
MDA has called on the public to allow ambulances pass freely during the holiday.
The police are focusing their activities this holiday on the northern district, with thousands of policemen deployed in the area along with Border Guard officers. According to a police official, there are no warnings of possible riots, but the forces must be prepared for any scenario.
Northern District Commander Shimon Koren held several discussions over the past few days and decided to boost the police's presence in the area following last year's riots in Akko,
tense relations between Jews and Arabs in Nazareth Illit and the fear of clashes erupting in other mixed cities like Carmiel.
"We prefer to work and be prepared and ready, than reach the disturbances and points of friction after they have already erupted," a police official said Sunday.
Akko, last year (Photo: AFP)
Over the past decade, Yom Kippur has turned into a day of tensions between Jews and Arabs in the Galilee. Even before the Akko riots, there have been many incidents in which stones were thrown at Arab residents' vehicles, mainly near mixed communities.
Even before the fast begins, police will deploy inside the cities, some near synagogues and others in sensitive areas which may serve as points of friction. Northern District officials have said that their goal is to maintain peace and order and allow the Jewish residents mark the holiday and others continue their life routine.
"We will practice zero tolerance, and any attempt to riot or act violently will be met with firm and immediate force," said Commander Koren. "This also applies to stone throwing, particularly in the Wadi Ara area."
Hundreds of police and Border Guard officers from all across the district have been deployed in the city of Akko. After the fast begins at 5 pm and until 6 pm Monday, police will not allow any vehicles to enter the city's eastern neighborhood, where riots broke out last year.
Police sources have estimated that no unusual incidents would take place in the city this year. "Religious elements from all faiths and religions have been in touch with us in recent days and have promised to maintain the calm," a police source said.
"We believe and hope this is what will happen, and that all forces will remain without any work to do. But we are not taking any chance, and any disturbance – even the smallest one – will be handled immediately."
The other police districts are also prepared for Yom Kippur, focusing on possible clashes between Jews and Arabs travelling in their cars, and bicycle thefts.
The defense establishment is on a heightened state of alert ahead of Yom Kippur. A closure was imposed on the West Bank on Saturday evening, and will be lifted at midnight Monday.
The defense establishment will focus its Yom Kippur Eve activity around cemeteries, while on Yom Kippur itself forces will be deployed around synagogues. Vehicles will not be allowed to pass from east Jerusalem to the western part of the city in order to minimize the friction between Jews and Arabs.
The Israel Defense Forces has also completed its preparations for Yom Kippur in its posts and bases along the northern borders with Lebanon and Syria. Military sources have stressed that the same state of alert will continue in the north during the holiday of Sukkot, when hundreds of thousands of people are expected to visit communities in the Galilee and Golan Heights.
Civilian air traffic in Israeli airspace was halted Sunday at 1 pm, and will start up again on Monday evening when the holiday comes to an end. Ben-Gurion Airport will open for international arrivals at 9:30 pm Monday and for international departures at 10:30 pm.
The Airport Authority has reported that air traffic at the Eilat airport and other domestic airports will start again at 9 pm Monday. The border crossings with Egypt and Jordan were shut down at 12 pm Sunday and will be opened again at 9 pm Monday.
Meital Yasur-Beit Or, Sharon Roffe-Ofir, Efrat Weiss, Ahiya Raved, Hagai Einav, Ahuva Mamos, Tova Dadon and Yael Branovsky contributed to this report