Israel Honors Her Fallen; PM Pledges to Seek an End to War
Jerusalem (ICEJ) — Israelis stood for two minutes of silence on Tuesday as sirens wailed throughout the nation in memory of more than 21,000 soldiers and civilians who have given their lives for their country over the last 55 years of statehood even as security services braced themselves for further terror attacks.
Dozens of intelligence warnings were in effect, Israel Radio said, referring to indications of plans by militant organizations to stage terror attacks to coincide with the two-day commemoration of Israel’s war dead and her Independence.
Stepped up security was in evidence at military cemeteries and memorial sites throughout the country for Tuesday’s ceremonies, and at parks and recreational centers expected to be flooded with holidaymakers on Wednesday. As of Tuesday evening, all remained quiet as the nation prepared to celebrate the 55th anniversary of its re-birth.
“The memorial siren for the fallen again makes the heart tremble and opens the wounds,” President Moshe Katsav said at the official state ceremony marking the start of the 24-hour memorial observance at Jerusalem’s Western Wall plaza Monday night.
“This night will be another sleepless night, another night of pain and longing… pain that does not heal itself from day to day, from one Remembrance Day to the next.
The main memorial service was held at the military cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl at 11am Tuesday where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke of his obligation to ensure the victims are remembered eternally and “to eradicate war for Israel, and bring peace and security.”
At the same time, he said, the victims’ sacrifices testify to the difficult struggle Israel has faced since before it achieved statehood in 1948, and the justice of its cause. “I belong to a generation that crossed the threshold from slavery to redemption,” Sharon said, his remarks broadcast live over Israel Radio.
Nobody from the Independence War generation, “can take the State of Israel for granted,” he went on, recalling the days when the fate of “the entire Jewish people was hanging in the balance, just three years after the Holocaust.”
Since 1948, 21,450 men and women have died in defense of Israel. Among them, 254 have fallen in the past year.
By tradition, Israel marks Memorial Day on the eve of celebrating Independence Day, as a special tribute to those who died to establish the country in 1948, and in ensuing battles in the years that have followed.
Speaking alongside the President at the Western Wall Monday Night, Israel’s top military commander, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon noted that the timing of the commemoration – falling as it does between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Independence Day – exists “to remind us of our history without a state.”
Calling the last 31 months of Palestinian violence “an especially blind and murderous” terrorism that “mercilessly and without distinction” targeted innocent civilians, Ya’alon admitted that the path to peace was “yet a long way” ahead.
“The past 55 years of independence have cost us a dear, dear price,” he said.
At 8pm Tuesday night, flags will be raised to full staff and a festive torch-lighting ceremony will be held on Mount Herzl to mark the opening of celebrations for Israel’s 55th anniversary.