Ultra-Orthodox youth allegedly burned flags and floral wreaths left on fallen IDF soldiers’ graves during Memorial Day, drawing widespread fury and condemnation on Thursday.
Jerusalem police opened an investigation into the incident in an attempt to locate the individuals who stole and later burned flags and flowers from the Har Hamenuhot cemetery.
The wreaths and flags had been placed on soldiers’ graves to honor them on Memorial Day on Wednesday, before being stolen overnight.
According to information gathered by the police, young members of the ultra-Orthodox community removed the items from the graves and took them to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim. There, they set the flags and wreaths on fire and filmed them burning, according to Hebrew media.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the act in a statement, saying: “A horrifying act has been carried out to desecrate fallen soldiers, who are the reason why we are all here.”
“I strongly condemn this barbaric act and I expect the relevant authorities to bring those responsible to justice as soon as possible,” the premier added.
MK Ya’akov Asher of the United Torah Judaism party called the perpetrators “heartless and attention-seeking provocateurs.”
“[They] are doing whatever they can to try and create friction and provocative tensions against the general public in this country.”
“Their harmful actions, worthy of all condemnation, have long deprived them of the title ‘Haredim.’ They do not deserve it,” said Asher.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi decried the “serious and shameful incident, which insults the defenders of the state and its values.
“The IDF supports the bereaved families and condemns this disgusting and contemptuous behavior, and it is certain that the Israel Police will bring the perpetrators of the criminal act to justice.”
Israel commemorated 23,928 fallen soldiers and terror victims on Wednesday, including 43 soldiers and civilians killed since last year’s Memorial Day.
This year saw the return of Israelis to the country’s 52 military cemeteries and hundreds of smaller military sections of civilian cemeteries nationwide, after they were closed during last year’s commemorations due to coronavirus restrictions.
Since last Memorial Day, 112 new names were added to the roster of those who have died defending the country or in terror attacks since 1860. Forty-three were IDF soldiers, police officers, and civilians, and 69 were disabled veterans who passed away due to complications of injuries sustained during their service.
Memorial Day is one of Israel’s few national non-religious holidays, during which large swaths of the Israeli public typically visit the graves of loved ones and comrades.