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Each year for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the IDF announces the closure of the West Bank “in accordance with the directives of the Minister of Defense and as part of the situation assessments adopted by the defense establishment.” This bland statement does very little to foster understanding of what the closure actually entails and how the lives of Palestinian residents and Israeli soldiers are affected over the holidays.
The closing does not represent an attempt to shut down roads or interdict Palestinian traffic, but instead affects the major crossings whereby Palestinians with work permits exit the West Bank and cross the old Green Line into Israel. The Israeli government has not released exact figures on how many Palestinians legally work in the country, but in 2010 that was estimated at 23,000. NGO workers, UN workers, and those needing humanitarian or emergency medical treatment are not impacted by the West Bank closure.
A senior IDF officer (who requested anonymity per army policy) spoke about the logistics of holiday security:
How do you prepare to secure the West Bank and Israel for the holiday?
“Well first of all we don’t have any specific preparations for these holy days, [meaning we don’t have special orders to alter our deployment from previous] years. We bring more forces to the area and back up the regional forces. We try to focus on the settlements and the synagogues.”
Why is the West Bank closed each year?
“The closure of the West Bank is a political decision, it isn’t something we can say will happen for sure. I can’t say there is special tension because of the holiday, the tension [that does exist] is because of a concentration of people and all the activity. Not more than usual.”
What about for the average soldier, how is his life impacted by the holiday?
“Every holiday there are special meals, but the mission comes first. The schedule of his day will follow that of the civilians around him. When the civilians are praying [he will be guarding them], so he will begin his meal at 11 p.m., that is what we usually do, because we don’t want that the schedule of the forces will be similar to that of the civilians, we give the soldiers the right conditions to have a nice holiday.”