Peaceful Transition to 2000 in the Holy Land

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - New Year's Eve and the arrival of 2000 passed without a hitch in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) - no computer breakdowns, no infrastructure breakdowns in electricity, water or telecommunications and no terror attacks or security difficulties.

Security authorities remain on alert throughout the country over the weekend, however, and Israelis have been warned not to use their computers at least until Sunday.

"Everything went so smoothly. It was really remarkable," Israel Police spokeswoman Linda Menuhin told around midnight on New Year's Eve.

Earlier on Friday evening, she said, the police commissioner had said everything had gone smoothly until then and praised the police for their very hard work despite the fact there were no disturbances.

There was so little to report, Menuhin observed, that it was the first time she was ever in a press briefing when "no reporter asked any question," she said.

Friday afternoon Muslim prayers on the Temple Mount also passed without incident. Some 3,000 policemen had been deployed around the Old City itself in order to insure calm as some 400,000 Muslim worshipers came to the mosques on the Temple Mount to pray on the last Friday of Ramadan.

Police were especially on the alert against any quasi-Christian cults which might attempt to cause bedlam through terror attacks or mass suicides in the belief that they could hasten the second coming of Jesus.

There were no such incidents, however. Two tourists, one an American, were detained and sent for psychological testing after exhibiting what was referred to as "strange behavior." According to Israel Radio, the American was taken into custody after he started screaming that he was "sent by God."

Jerusalem police announced earlier that a few dozen tourists had either been deported or taken to hospitals during the last few weeks because of fears they might try to commit suicide. Some had already been released but none was affiliated with any cult.

"They were not really organized," Menuhin said. They "came over especially for the millennium. Thank God they didn't harm themselves." According to Menuhin, they hadn't planned to harm anyone else.

One group of tourists got into trouble when they lit candles at Jerusalem's Western Wall. They were rescued by police after ultra-religious Jews tangled with them. According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to light a fire on the Sabbath.

Tens of thousands of Israeli revelers partied in Tel Aviv, dancing in the streets and snarling traffic. In Jerusalem, there were private indoor parties but the streets were very quiet in honor of the Jewish Sabbath. On the Mount of Olives Christians prayed and held a candlelight procession.

Thousands more celebrated in Manger Square in the PA's Bethlehem, culminating in a fireworks display and the release of 2,000 doves. And in Gaza City, whose residents are almost entirely Muslim, some 200,000 residents celebrated in the city's main square.

After midnight, Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics in Israel planted an olive tree in honor of the second baby born in the millennium - the first baby's parents were afraid to give any details about themselves or their child. In Jerusalem, twin boys were born at 12:00 and 12:01, becoming the first Israelis born in the year 2000.

Israel's international Ben-Gurion Airport reopened on Saturday after being closed for a seven-hour transition period. The government's situation room closed down after there were no problems in the country. However, it will reopen on Sunday, officials said, because there remains a threat of Y2K-related disturbances.

Police remain on alert with an increased presence throughout the country through Sunday. All banks in Israel - normally open on Sunday because it is a regular work day - will be closed tomorrow to complete the transition to the year 2000.

Israelis have been advised by a special trouble-shooting computer committee not to surf the Internet and especially not to receive emails until Sunday at least, because of the appearance of new New Year viruses unrelated to the Y2K bug.