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Police won’t physically block bereaved families from cemeteries on Memorial Day

The police will not physically enforce an order banning bereaved families from cemeteries who wish to visit the graves of their loved ones on Memorial Day next week, Hebrew-language media reported Wednesday.

The reports come after the cabinet voted in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Families have been encouraged to go visit the graves fallen soldiers over the next few days to avoid crowding, but some families have vowed to defy the order.

According to reports in Haaretz and the Kan national broadcaster, while police will set up roadblocks to block access to the cemeteries, if families try to push their way in, they will not use physical force to stop them.

“The nuclear families alone can visit the cemetery from this morning, Wednesday morning, until Sunday night, whenever they wish, while observing the accepted distancing rules,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.

“It’s a painful decision, but it’s necessary. The decision was made after consulting with the head of Yad Labanim,” the largest bereaved family organization in Israel, he added.

The head of organization said he does not think many families will break lockdown rules shutting the cemeteries in order to pay respects.

“This was a very, very difficult decision, but it was necessary as every year some 1.5 million people visit cemeteries, many of them elderly,” Bennett later told reporters.“This would have been a coronavirus bomb.”

Bennett said he hoped that these precautions will not be necessary and that family and friends will not try to visit the cemeteries, but added that if they do, police officers would show the utmost restraint.

While Bennett said bereaved relatives would not be physically restrained to stop them from going, he added, “We expect that people won’t come.”

According to the decision taken Wednesday, on Memorial Day, which begins next Monday night and ends Tuesday evening, people will be barred from visiting military cemeteries and memorial sites. Intercity travel will be prohibited with the exception of people going to work and shopping in permitted stores.

On Independence Day, which begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday evening, a general curfew will be in effect requiring people to remain within 100 meters of their homes — except for medical needs — and banning intercity travel, similar to the curfew earlier this month for Passover. Supermarkets will not be open to the public.

The Independence Day curfew will begin at 5 p.m. on April 28 and end at 8 p.m. the next day.

Last month, the Defense Ministry announced that national Memorial Day ceremonies would take place without audiences and that the smaller events planned for municipal cemeteries across the country would be canceled outright out of fear of coronavirus outbreaks.

Memorial Day is one of Israel’s few national, non-religious holidays, during which large swaths of the Israeli public typically visit the graves of loved ones and comrades.