23,741 Fallen Soldiers: Israel Marks 71st Memorial Day

Sirens sound across country at 8 P.M. ■ Official torch-lighting ceremony held; joint Jewish-Palestinian memorial event to take place despite Netanyahu's criticism

Israeli soldiers attend the official Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, May 7, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

In the year since last Memorial Day, 56 servicemen have joined the ranks of those who fell while serving in Israel's security forces, according to the numbers released by the Defense Ministry ahead of Memorial Day, which began Tuesday evening at 8 P.M. with a one-minute-long siren. 

Furthermore, 40 wounded veterans died as a result of disabilities over the past year and were recognized as fallen soldiers.

According to the data released by the Defense Ministry, the total number of Israel's fallen stands at 23,741 men and women, counting since 1860 to date. The count begins in 1860 because that is when the first Jewish neighborhood was established outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City. Today it is considered the beginning of the rebirth of modern Jewish presence on the land of Israel.

>> Read more: Top court overturns Netanyahu's decision to bar Palestinians from joint Memorial Day ceremony

The numbers include soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, officers of the police, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad spy agency and the Israel Prison Service, as well as those killed fighting in the pre-state defense forces and units such as the Jewish Brigade of the British Army during World War II.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony to open Memorial Day Tuesday evening at the Yad Labanim memorial organization house in Jerusalem. "It may be that each and every one of you will find a unique way to cope with bereavement,"  the prime minister said. "But if there's something that unites most of us, and maybe all of us, it is internalizing the large sense of purpose of our loved ones, which gives us much strength to stand on this journey of sorrow."    

On Tuesday at 8 P.M. a one-minute-long siren sounded to mark the beginning of Memorial Day. After the siren, the lighting of the memorial flame took place at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem's Old City. President Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi delivered speeches

President Reuven Rivlin addressed bereaved families, saying the promises to “build a decent, quiet and safe life for our children, and return then home even if they didn’t come back from the battle - these are the promises that are at the foundation of our life here.”

He also urged Israelis to unite, saying “The State of Israel was founded out of dreams and faith and out of our deep desire for our own home. Even back then the forefathers of Zionism knew that its great strength would be in its human spirit.”

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said in his speech that “The soldiers who fell dies while serving the people, and each and every one of them has become a cornerstone in the wall of Israel’s security. Together they became the protective shield of the people.”

“Keeping their memory is not enough,” Kochavi added. “The greatest expression of the sanctity of life is doing everything we can to minimize the number of casualties in routine and in wartime.”

On Wednesday at 11 A.M., the official opening ceremony for Memorial Day will be held at the Yad Lebanim memorial in Jerusalem, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rivlin and Kochavi in attendance.

On Wednesday evening at 8 P.M., the torch-lighting ceremony that marks the beginning of Israel's 71st Independence Day celebration will take place on Mount Herzl.