Police will be on high alert – and out in large numbers – on Thursday and especially on Friday, as thousands will gather at Mount Herzl Cemetery for the 11 a.m. funeral of former President Shimon Peres. Peres, 93, died early Wednesday of complications due to a stroke he suffered several weeks ago.
President Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and French President Francois Hollande are among scores of world leaders who will attend the funeral. It is expected to be the largest such gathering in Israel since the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995. More than 60 private planes are expected to arrive ahead of the ceremony.
As a result, security in the city will be at perhaps its highest level ever, with some 7,000 police officers and Border Guards on duty in and around the area of the funeral. At a special press conference Wednesday night, Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich said that the security operation is “unprecedented in its scope. Our role is not to set the agenda, but to enable any citizens who wish to attend the funeral to do so.”
Road One, the main highway to Yerushalayim, is set to be closed at times on Thursday. Already early Thursday, the road was closed as Peres’s coffin was brought from Tel Hashomer Hospital to the Knesset, where he will lie in state throughout the day. Portions of the highway between Ben Gurion Airport and the entrance to the city will be closed several other times during the day, as various dignitaries make their way from abroad to the funeral.
Those who wish to make their way to the Knesset to pay their last respects to the former president will have to do it on foot, as all the roads in the area will be closed. Drivers into the city are advised to take public transportation, but if they must drive, to park at one of the large parking lots in Malcha, German Colony and other outlying areas. By Friday, cars will be banned from Herzl Boulevard and the area around the cemetery, and that includes parked cars; vehicles will be towed if they are left on the street.
Meanwhile, merchants at the Machane Yehudah market are bracing for a crush of purchases Thursday, as Israelis make their final preparations for Shabbos and for Rosh Hashanah, which begins Sunday night. The several days before a major Yom Tov are usually quite hectic, but a significant uptick in traffic was noticed already Wednesday night, as people sought to make their purchases before the traffic and road restrictions Thursday and Friday made movement in the city next to impossible.