Israel remembers its fallen

The national flag is lowered to half-staff at the Western Wall ceremony beginning Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars. (Channel 2)

JERUSALEM (JWN)—Israel came to a halt for the second time in a week on Tuesday night at eight, as air raid sirens wailed throughout the country, signaling a minute of silence. Last week the sirens sounded in memory of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Last night they sounded for those who gave their lives for Israel’s independence and continued existence.

As the terrible sirens sounded, traffic on all roads stopped and motorists got out and stood at attention, many with heads bowed. As the sirens faded, the state ceremony beginning the 24 hours of Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars commenced at the Western Wall.

The military ceremony began with the lowering of the national flag to half mast and the kindling of a memorial flame. President Shimon Peres and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz addressed an audience of bereaved families, as the entire nation watched on television.

A total of 22,993 men, women, and children have been killed defending the land of Israel or by terrorists since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem’s Old City to build new Jewish neighborhoods.

Since the end of the War of Independence in 1949, 2,457 people have been killed in Israel in terrorist attacks, 14 of them in the past year.

Since Remembrance Day 2011, 126 members of the security forces—Israel Police, Israel Defense Forces, Border Police, Israel Security Agency, and other organizations—have fallen in the service of the state.

The decades of conflict have left 10,524 bereaved families, 2,396 orphans, and 4,992 widows of service personnel in Israel, according to the IDF Spokesman.

Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the establishment of the state, according to the Hebrew calendar. This year the celebration is on Thursday. The day preceding this joyous celebration is devoted to the memory of those whose sacrifice made the country’s independence and continued existence possible.

This proximity is intended to remind Israel’s citizens of the terrible price paid for independence. On this day the entire nation remembers its debt and expresses eternal gratitude to its sons and daughters who gave their lives, and honors the bereaved families.

Before the state ceremony Tuesday evening, a smaller ceremony was held in the afternoon for the bereaved at Jerusalem’s Yad Lebanim soldiers’ memorial. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose brother Yonatan was killed leading the mission to rescue the hostages in Entebbe in 1976, spoke:

“After Remembrance Day, the State of Israel will celebrate its 64th birthday. The unbreakable bond between Remembrance Day and Independence Day underscores the fact that our dear ones who fell in Israel’s wars did not fall in vain. Thanks to them, the state arose. Thanks to them, the State of Israel will continue to develop and prosper, and thanks to them the members of the younger generation will also be able to live their lives in security and tranquility.”

At the Western Wall ceremony, Peres offered words of comfort to the many grieving families assembled: “We can gather all of the words from dawn till dusk, we can consult experts, try every expression, sentence, word, and I know that the word capable of healing the pain hasn’t been found.”

“This is the same darkness that descends on our land every day, but while this is an evening hour for the rest of the people of Israel, for yourselves—bereaved families—this time of heartbreaking sadness does not fade with time,” he said. ”No act or gesture on our part can heal your hearts; memories do not let go.

“Your sons and daughters will not return to you… Their bravery has left us alive, but their deaths have left us broken.

“The state of Israel, for which your children sacrificed their lives… is still threatened,” he said, adding that the IDF is more prepared than ever to defend Israel’s citizens from any and all threats.

Speaking after Peres, Gantz called the IDF Israel’s wall of defense. “We live in a different Middle East than the one we used to,” he said, adding that “threats are rising all around us. In this precarious situation, we are witness to attempts by our enemies, near and far, to harm us.”

Nevertheless, Gantz continued, “While we are here, the IDF is out in the field, united around its goal to protect us. The IDF is ready for every battle and every mission.”

The ceremony ended with an IDF Chaplaincy Corps cantor singing the El Malei Rahamim prayer for the fallen and the singing of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva.