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In return to normal, families can visit fallen troops’ graves on Memorial Day

But Defense Ministry asks all others to stay away from military cemeteries that day; national memorial ceremonies to be held as usual, but with fewer guests

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Soldiers at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Military Cemetery on Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, April 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90) (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Soldiers at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Military Cemetery on Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, April 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90) (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The immediate families of fallen soldiers will be permitted to visit their loved ones’ graves on Memorial Day later this month, the Defense Ministry said Sunday, marking a partial return to normal after the cemeteries were shut last year in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, all other Israelis were asked by the ministry to refrain from going to military cemeteries on Memorial Day.

“This year, we won’t be at full capacity, but we will open cemeteries. The focus is on giving the families the opportunity to come to the cemeteries,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz told reporters in a phone briefing.

Despite ongoing coronavirus restrictions, the families of fallen soldiers will not be asked to present proof that they had been vaccinated or recovered from the disease in order to enter cemeteries, but will be allowed inside freely, according to deputy Defense Ministry director-general Aryeh Mualem.

In addition to the reopening of military cemeteries for the families of fallen soldiers, the government will hold the traditional national ceremonies on Memorial Day, though with fewer guests than usual. Those guests will be required to provide documentation showing that they have either received a coronavirus vaccine or have recovered from the disease, Mualem said.

Soldiers wearing masks stand at attention at the national opening ceremony for Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 27, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)

According to Mualem, roughly 500 people will be permitted to attend the Memorial Day ceremony that will be held at the Western Wall on the night of April 13, roughly a third the number normally invited to the event. The ceremony was held without an audience last year amid a nationwide lockdown.

This year, ceremonies will also be held at the National Hall For Israel’s Fallen at the Mount Herzl national cemetery and at the Yad Lebanim memorial center in Jerusalem on the following day, with hundreds in attendance at each, though roughly half the number of a normal year.

While military cemeteries will only be open to the immediate family members of fallen troops on Memorial Day, Mualem said, all other Israelis will be able to freely visit them the week beforehand. Israelis can also light a “virtual candle” on a Defense Ministry website.

“We are asking the broad Israeli public to visit cemeteries during ‘Memorial Week’ and to respect bereaved families and to allow them to visit the cemeteries on Memorial Day,” Mualem said.

Last year was the first time in Israel’s history that the nation’s military cemeteries were closed on Memorial Day, when people traditionally visit the graves of friends and relatives who were killed in action.

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