Construction freeze period will end during Sukkot
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM–Sukkot begins on Wednesday evening. It may not amount to much in America, but it is a major event here. Religious Jews and some not so religious are building a sukkah (hut) in their yards or on their balconies, and the observant are acquiring an etrog (citrus with a bump), palm branch, myrtle, and willow branch. An acceptable set of the objects this year is going for the equivalent of US $6 to US $15. The especially well off who are willing to examine at length an etrog for imperfections will spend up to US $300 for one that meets all the specifications that their eyes can see.
The political significance of this holiday competes with the details of ritual. Almost all government offices, public institutions, and many companies shut down for the week. Like Passover, Sukkot is a time for vacation. The middle days of Sukkot and Passover, are not days when travel is forbidden, so the religious will be seeking space on the roads and at vacation spots. Politicians can move around without fear of violating any constituent’s sense of proper observance.
The airport will be jammed on the eve of Sukkot and its final day, and there is scant room left in the inns of the Galilee and other Israeli sites. The highly touted construction freeze in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank comes to an end in the middle of this, but there may not be anyone minding the store. Insofar as the religious settlers will be celebrating the holiday, they might not be home to supervise the Chinese, Romanians, legal and illegal Palestinians who do the work.
However, there is a nationalistic element to this holiday. It was one of the feasts (along with Passover and Shavuot) when Jews were commanded to visit Jerusalem and to provide a sacrifice for the priests to burn on the Temple altar. There has not been a proper sacrifice in about 1,940 years since the Romans destroyed the Temple. Several hundred years later its remnants were covered with Muslim construction. Muslims now claim that there was nothing Jewish there before them.
Instead of sacrifice, Jews arrange trips to Jerusalem, with groups organizing marches, and individuals choosing an option of many or few kilometers leading to Jerusalem, depending on their physical condition. These groups will parade through the center of town and assemble at the Western Wall. On several occasions, this has been an occasion for Muslims on the Temple Mount to hurl stones and other things on the Jews below, and then for the police and army to storm the Temple Mount and do their mayhem.
In this time of national feeling, there may be settlers who assure that foreign workers start some construction, whether or not the government indicates that the freeze will end, or where it will end. Few members of the government may be at their desks during the holiday to notice what the settlers are doing. In any case, a fracas on the Temple Mount may grab the headlines, with or without a formal continuation of the freeze.
Security forces are preparing for an onset of violence if a start of construction leads Palestinians to announce the end of peace talks and their people increase the normal incidence of stone throwing, rocket launches, attempts at drive by shootings or random stabbings.
No one is predicting an early onset of major violence. The thinking is that enough Palestinians have learned that the IDF can be more violent than they. The construction and new jobs that have brightened things in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank may send a message that they have a lot to lose if they react badly to Jewish construction.
There are always Palestinian factions, with help from elsewhere, ready to move things in their way. Paradise and virgins beckon, and may yet again attract enough followers to end this burst of peace making.
It is one of those times of impending uncertainty. The Sharkanskys will be spending the latter part of the holiday and some additional days in scenic cities of Central Europe. Whatever happens closer to home will no doubt still be happening, or producing spin offs when we return.
Have a good holiday, if you notice its arrival.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University