“We won’t give up the hope of making peace with our enemies, but first we’ll reconcile within ourselves,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night at the opening Memorial Day ceremony at the Yad Lebanim memorial in Jerusalem. “National reconciliation comes out of our shared fate.”
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Memorial Day for the country’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism began at 8 P.M. last night with a siren that sounded across Israel. It commemorates the 23,477 men and women who have fallen in defense of Israel since 1860, the date when the Jewish community in the Land of Israel first moved outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
At the official ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin said: “Last year we did not have much time to be together. We each burrowed into our own paths of righteousness, and we had disagreements, by their very nature extremely difficult and tough, which speak to the root of our existence here.”
The president went on to focus on the Israel Defense Forces as being the army of the entire nation. “We must remember that the IDF does set the course. The IDF does its utmost, in the highest and most professional manner, to navigate safely and reach its goals. Our confidence in the IDF and its commanders, is our confidence in ourselves.”
Also speaking at the Western Wall ceremony, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stressed the importance of unity, saying that soldiers and officers “leave what separates them and the differences between them behind, and are ready to give their lives for the people and the land and for their comrades.”
Soldiers must know, he added, “without a shadow of a doubt,” that “the whole nation supports them and stands behind them, even when there’s disagreement. Unity isn’t necessarily agreement, but we mustn’t let those rifts harm the unity of our cause. The public’s trust in the IDF is crucial for our goals: Defending the state, safeguarding its existence and, if necessary, victory in war.”
Netanyahu referred to his brother, Yonatan, who died in the Entebbe operation in 1976, when he said, “There’s no one who hasn’t lost a son, brother, father, husband, friend, daughter – there’s no one who doesn’t cry out ‘why?’”
“I can testify that I asked exactly the same question when my brother fell. In time, I understood that this question should be asked with a slight change: ‘What for?’ For what purpose? And what is the significance of the price that was paid? Our sons and daughters embarked on a divine mission to establish the State of Israel and to ensure its future.”
Those who died in the service of the country include Israel Defense Forces soldiers, members of the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the Israel Police, the Prisons Service and those who died while serving in the pre-state underground militias and the Jewish Brigade in the British Army.
The number of civilians who have been killed in “hostile acts” since the end of the War of Independence is 2,576, according to the National Insurance Institute.
Since the last Memorial Day in 2015, 68 Israelis have been added to the list of the fallen and 31 civilians have died as a result of terrorist attacks. Bereaved families, including parents, widows and orphans, now number 16,307, according to the Defense Ministry.
Some of those included in the official Defense Ministry count died as a result of accidents or disease while serving. Disabled veterans who later died of their injuries are also included in the totals. Last year, some 59 such disabled veterans passed way, said the ministry.
Also attending the Yad Lebanim ceremony were Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel and the chief rabbis of Israel. A memorial candle was lit at the Western Wall in the presence of President Rivlin and Chief of Staff Eisenkot.
Memorial ceremonies began at the same time all over the country. The “Singing to Their Remembrance” event was held in the Knesset after the opening ceremonies, with Rivlin, Netanyahu, Edelstein, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich in attendance.
A second siren will sound for two minutes at 11 A.M. this morning. After the siren, the official Memorial Day ceremony will be held on Mount Herzl, with Rivlin, Netanyahu and Eisenkot in attendance.
Other ceremonies will be held simultaneously in military cemeteries all over the country. Ya’alon will speak at the ceremony in the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv.
The official ceremony in honor of civilians killed in terrorist attacks will be held at 1 P.M. today on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. A torch-lighting ceremony will be held there in the evening, marking the end of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day.