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Postcard from... Jerusalem


Leaving the house on Yom Kippur, the first thing that one notices is the silence – there are no cars on the roads, no telephones ring, the television and radio broadcasts are non-existent. Israel itself is cut off from the outside world, the airport is shut down, the borders are closed and the checkpoints into the West Bank remain sealed off.

For once, it seems, Israelis are united in keeping the peace and those foolish or desperate enough to get behind the wheel outside of the Arab areas risk being stoned.

Yom Kippur, which means Day of Atonement, finishes at sunset today and is the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar. It is a day when devout Jews engage in a period of introspection, marked by a 25-hour fast, and ask God to forgive them for their sins.

Even the most secular of Jews will refrain from driving and eating in public and they even turn down the volume of their televisions.

But while most people approach Yom Kippur in sombre spirit, newspapers take an almost irreverent poke at a public figure deemed most in need of forgiveness for their actions of the past year.

And even as the country shuts down, the security forces remain on high alert. It was on this day in 1973 that Egyptian and Syrian forces used the cover of Yom Kippur to attack in retaliation for the losses of the 1967 Six Day War. Israel was caught painfully by surprise, but after 19 days of battle the UN brokered a ceasefire.