IDF chief: Families suffer ‘unimaginable longing’ for lost loved ones
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IDF chief: Families suffer ‘unimaginable longing’ for lost loved ones

Two-minute siren blares as Israel commemorates 23,447 fallen with state ceremony, memorial services at military cemeteries

Israeli soldiers stand guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 10, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers stand guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 10, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Wednesday paid tribute to the families of the 23,447 fallen men and women who have died in uniform or as victims of terror attacks since 1860 as Israel marks Memorial Day.

In an annual statement by the IDF chief released to the press ahead of day’s events and services throughout the country, Eisenkot said: “Today, we’ll remember and we’ll mourn the brilliance of youth, and stand beside families who carry the memories of their loves ones and suffer unimaginable longing for them every day of the year.”

“We also remember our commitment to those missing in action and those whose burial place in unknown, and we promise to continue efforts to get them home. We also promise to continue supporting the injured, who have paid a dear price, and see them through their rehabilitation process,” Einsekot added.

Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism formally began at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday as sirens wailed throughout the country, signalling a solemn minute of silence.

Another siren, of two minutes, blared at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, bringing the country to a standstill and launching the official state ceremony at the Mount Herzl national military cemetery and other military cemeteries nation-wide. Radio stations played melancholy songs and Israeli TV channels aired specials featuring interviews with family members and loved ones.

The past year saw 68 Israeli soldiers and police die in the line of duty, as well as 32 civilians killed in terror attacks.

Political and military leaders observing a moment of silence at the official Memorial Day commemoration ceremony at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on May 11, 2016. (screen capture: Channel 2)
Political and military leaders observing a moment of silence at the official Memorial Day commemoration ceremony at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on May 11, 2016. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Eisenkot, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin were among those attending the Mount Herzl event Wednesday. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon were at the Givat Shaul military cemetery to attend services there.

The Jewish Agency held an event Wednesday to memorialize the Jewish victims of anti-Semitism around the world. The ceremony focused around the murder in 2008 of 37-year-old Jewish teacher Moshe Ya’ish Nahari, a father of nine from the town of Raydah in Yemen, by a radical Islamist. His family made aliyah following the killing.

According to the Jewish Agency, some 200 Jews have been murdered worldwide in anti-Semitic attacks since the founding of the state in 1948. Their names written on a memorial will be places at the Jewish Agency plaza headquarters where the event will take place.

On Tuesday night, speaking at the central state ceremony held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Rivlin said that the wave of deadly terror attacks that hit the country this year is part of the same efforts to destroy Israel that soldiers fought against in the 1948 Independence War.

“For over sixty-eight years we have been fighting the same war, the war for our independence; an ongoing campaign that changes its face and form. It is a painful battle that all the time adds fresh scars to the body and spirit of this ancient and robust people,” Rivlin said.

“But we realize the bitter and horrible truth: that there is a terrible price – which you have paid – to be a nation determined to protect its citizens and its independence. We will stand strong against anyone who dares to put our resolve to the test in any way,” he added.

Speaking after Rivlin, Eisenkot urged Israelis to rally around the military. It was apparently a response to a political firestorm over remarks made by his deputy, Yair Golan, at last week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day service, comparing trends in Israel to those in pre-war Germany.

Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall, May 10, 2016 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall, May 10, 2016 (Channel 2 screenshot)

Soldiers must know “the nation entirely supports them and is entirely behind them, even when there are arguments,” Eisenkot said. “Unity is not necessarily agreement. Even when there are differences, the public’s trust in the IDF is essential for us to achieve our goals,” he said.

Before the ceremony closed with the singing of the national anthem, Hatikva, the father of Hadar Cohen — a 19-year-old policewoman killed by Palestinian attackers at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate in February — recited the mourner’s prayer to commemorate all slain soldiers and terror victims.

Following the Western Wall ceremony, the “Singing in the Square” gathering began at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where thousands turned out to sing traditional songs of commemoration for fallen soldiers, often punctuated by songs for peace and in memory of the square’s namesake, assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a ceremony at the Yad L’Banim memorial in the north of the country.

“We will not give up on the hopes of reconciliation with our enemies, but firs we will reconcile among ourselves, and there is no deeper expression of our shared fate than when we remember, with love, and salute our heroic sons and daughters who fell so that we could live in our country,” he said at the memorial.

The commemoration day, established in 1951 by then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben Gurion, was set for the day before Independence Day, which begins immediately after Memorial Day on Wednesday night.

The Defense Ministry’s Families and Commemoration Department expects some 1.5 million visitors at the nation’s 52 military cemeteries and hundreds of smaller military sections in civilian cemeteries.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former chief of staff of the IDF, penned a condolence letter to the families of the fallen to mark the day.

“From Dan [in the north] to Eilat [in the south], men and women, Jews and non-Jews, religious and non-religious — grief knows no boundaries. We meet you, dear families, between the cold tombstones and at the memorial ceremonies, are moved by your strength, by your ability to choose life despite the disaster that struck you, and to be the pillar of fire that leads the camp,” he wrote in the annual missive.

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