Ahead of Israel's Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised Israel's security forces on Tuesday, and warned that factionalism in Israel represents a serious threat to the country.
Tuesday night marked the start of Israel's Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. An annual one-minute siren sounded throughout the country at 8 P.M., Tuesday, which will be followed by a two-minute siren set for 11 A.M. Wednesday.
"We have a strong Israeli army and outstanding security organizations," Bennett said at the Yad Le'Banim memorial in Jerusalem, honoring Israeli fighters killed in war.
"The guardian of Israel does not slumber and does not sleep," he said, in reference to the Book of Psalms. "We stand guard in the face of the threats near and far."
"As someone who bears supreme responsibility for Israel’s security, I can clearly state: Our power is greater than the combined power of all our enemies. But if Heaven forbid our mutual responsibility unravels, or if we permit anger and hate to take hold of us, then in a moment our enemies will exploit that to harm us. Unfortunately, our people bear on their body the scars of our forefathers' factionalism.”
Speaking at a memorial event at the Western Wall later on Tuesday, President Isaac Herzog echoed Bennett's message. "Our sons and daughters, who fell in defense of the state, fought together and died together," Herzog said. "They fell as Israelis… Disputes fall silent at the cemetery."
According to the president, "They didn't ask, and none asked them, who was left wing and who was right, who was religious, who was Jewish or non-Jewish. Bereavement did not ask either. They fell as Israelis, in defense of Israel. We are required to fulfill, together, their sole legacy – the redemption of Israel… united and cohesive."
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"Even today, our enemies rise up to destroy us with hate-filled terror, and as always they find us prepared and determined," Herzog said. "I send on behalf of all you, citizens of Israel, wishes of speedy recovery, physical and mental, to the wounded, who cope every day and every hour with the scars and the pains, even when those are not apparent to the eye."
Fifty-six names have been added to Israel's list of those who have fallen in war over the past year since last Memorial Day, the Defense Ministry said on Friday.
An additional 84 wounded veterans died as a result of their injuries or disabilities sustained during military service this past year, bringing the total number of people who have died in service since 1860 to 24,068.
The list includes members of various pre-state underground militias, the Jewish Legion, which served in World War I and the Jewish Brigade, which fought in World War II, as well as members of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the Israel Police and the Israel Prison Service.
After Tuesday night's siren, a commemorative ceremony is scheduled at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, followed by a memorial service at 9 P.M. in front of the Wall of Names Memorial and a "songs in their memory" event at the Knesset. Further memorial services are scheduled to follow on Wednesday: a ceremony to commemorate the fallen on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem following the 11 A.M. siren, then a memorial service for victims of terror at 1 P.M.
An online ceremony filmed on Mount Herzl for Israeli communities abroad will additionally be held and broadcast on the Defense Ministry’s YouTube channel. The event will be translated into English, Spanish, French and Russian.
Also taking place Tuesday night is the annual joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony, billed as an alternative “opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to both grieve together and stand strong in demanding an end to the cycle of violence,” in place of the traditional “Israeli Memorial Day, which justifies the political status quo, and asserts militarized nationalism and a narrow one-sided narrative.”
This year veteran Israeli actress Rivka Michaeli's announcement that she plans to attend the alternative ceremony – which is controversial among right-wing Israelis – has seen Michaeli denounced and threatened by right-wing extremists online.
Independence Day, which begins at 7:45 P.M. Wednesday night and runs through Thursday, will for the first time run largely without fireworks following requests by Israeli veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sunday's announcement that Tel Aviv had canceled its fireworks display was the latest in a string of such moves that began three weeks ago with the nixing of the display at the main Independence Day eve ceremony in Jerusalem. A chain reaction of cancellations followed, from Netanya to Tzur Hadassah, outside Jerusalem, joining locales such as Ramat Hasharon, Herzliya and Ra’anana, as well as 76 kibbutzim.