Army Allows Mass Prayer Service for Annexation in Nablus Despite Spike in Coronavirus Cases

Yaniv Kubovich
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A mass prayer at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus in 2018.
A mass prayer at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus in 2018.Credit: IDF Spokesperson
Yaniv Kubovich

Despite the sharp rise in incidence of the coronavirus, senior army officials approved holding a mass prayer service with thousands of participants at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus on June 23.

The service was intended to “strengthen the prime minister and the success of sovereignty,” organizers said, referring to plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

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Participants included the head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan; Col. Roy Zweig, commander of the army’s Samaria Brigade; and Maj. Ariel Perlman, who commands the area’s territorial battalion, and police officers. Also present were rabbis, yeshiva students from Bnei Brak and Yisrael Porush, the mayor of Elad – whose town was put under a renewed lockdown on the very day the event took place due to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases among its residents.

Because the tomb is located in the Palestinian-controlled city of Nablus, entry requires approval by senior army officials. That is all the more true at a time when the army has been warning of increased security tensions due to the annexation plan.

The prayer meeting was organized by the Samaria Regional Council’s administration for Joseph’s Tomb and other local holy sites. In a statement issued after the event, the administration said some 2,500 people had attended. Participants arrived at the tomb in buses and were guarded by large contingents of soldiers.

Most of those present came from ultra-Orthodox towns. Yet on the very day the event took place, the Health Ministry and the army’s coronavirus information center published a study showing that incidence of the virus was rising in ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods.

For instance, it found, the percentage of tests coming back positive in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak was double the national average. And the percentage was even higher in Elad, whose mayor attended the prayer session.

That same evening, on the basis of this study, the coronavirus cabinet decided to impose new restrictions on areas with a high incidence of the virus. This included a renewed lockdown on Elad.

Though the prayer session’s organizers received the army’s permission to bring thousands of people to what was essentially a political event, the army and the Defense Ministry denied permission to bereaved families to attend this year’s memorial ceremony for soldiers who fell in the 2014 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, scheduled for later this week. The families will therefore have to watch the ceremony via social media or a cellphone app.

Bereaved families were also barred from attending the memorial ceremony for soldiers who fell in the 1967 Six-Day War and the subsequent War of Attrition, even though that ceremony took place in May, when incidence of the virus was significantly lower.

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