On Eve of Memorial Day, Barak Equates Firefighters Who Died in Service With Fallen Soldiers

Families of the three firefighters battle for recognition of their relatives in Memorial Day ceremonies; Netanyahu sets up committee to probe the matter.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that the firefighters who died battling the massive brushfire in the Carmel last year should be honored in the same way as Israeli soldiers killed in action.

"I believe that the face of war has changed, with a large portion of fighting taking place on the home front," Barak told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting, "The Magen David Adom emergency services, police forces and firefighters deserve equal treatment to that given to security forces.

Carmel fire AP 3.12.2010

The cabinet meeting on Sunday, the eve of Israel's Memorial Day, was focused on a debate of how to memorialize three firefighters who perished in the Carmel fire.

This year's Memorial Day will commemorate 183 soldiers who fell over the past year, including the 37 prison guards and three police personnel who killed in the Carmel fire, but not the three firefighters who died in the blaze have not been included in that number.

As late as Saturday, the families of the three firefighters were still fighting the decision not to include their names among the casualties.

A source in the Defense Ministry said the government had decided to recognize the firefighters for the purpose of survivors benefits, but the law, which determines who is and who is not a battle casualty, does not do so, and it was "a matter for legislation."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has established a committee of ministers, led by Justice Minister Ya'akov Ne'eman, to determine how to memorialize these firefighters. The committee has been given two months to reach its conclusion.

"I ask that they be memorialized in an appropriate way, that respects their efforts and their sacrifice," said Netanyahu.

The Defense Ministry will hold 44 ceremonies on Monday in military cemeteries and at the graves of soldiers throughout the country, with approximately 1.5 million people expected to attend. A memorial candle will be placed on each grave of a soldier, as well as flowers and a small Israeli flag.

The three firefighters will be officially remembered in the Memorial Day ceremonies held in the northern cities of Afula and Migdal Ha'emek, at the initiative of the Yad Labanim organization. Israel's firefighters' union, meanwhile, has threatened to skip the Memorial Day ceremonies to protest the lack of designation of these firefighters as fallen soldiers.

The number of fallen soldiers recorded in Israel this year stands at 22,867, including the 183 since last Memorial Day. Also commemorated are 2,443 civilian victims of terror, to which 13 names were added over the past year.

The Israel Defense Forces commemoration department counts casualties in Israel's battles beginning in 1860, when Jews from Jerusalem first settled outside the walled city, and conflict with the Arabs began.

The figure also includes members of the pre-state underground forces as well as members of the intelligence community, the police and the Prisons Service.

Soldiers who died from illness or accidents unconnected with their service are also included.