Israelis will bow their heads at 8 p.m. Tuesday for a minute of silence as sirens sound throughout the country in remembrance of the country’s fallen soldiers and terror victims.
Fifty-six soldiers died during their military service since Israel’s last Memorial Day. Another 84 disabled veterans died due to complications from injuries sustained during their service.
The numbers brought the total of those who have died during service to the country since 1860 to 24,068.
The nationwide ceremonies for Israel’s Memorial Day, which begins at sundown, started in the afternoon with a commemoration event at the Yad Lebanim memorial for fallen soldiers in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy took part in the ceremony, as well as top army brass and families of fallen soldiers.
In his speech, Bennett recalled his time serving as a commando in southern Lebanon during the 1990s and mentioned several soldiers he knew who were killed while fighting there.
“We were there in Lebanon, all of us together. Kibbutzniks and city kids, secular and religious, from Beersheba and Haifa, right-wing and left-wing, Jews with non-Jews,” he said in an appeal for unity, as his disparate coalition fights to stay afloat after losing its parliamentary majority last month.
“There, in the bases of southern Lebanon, I fell in love with our wonderful nation,” the premier continued. “Many friends remain there… They were 19 or 20 years old and didn’t return.
“I can’t speak in their name, but I believe if they could, they would ask of us: Keep living together. Don’t allow disagreements to tear you apart from within.”
He warned that internal divides could threaten Israel’s security, saying: “If we allow anger and hatred to grip us, our enemies will take advantage of this to harm us.”
Levy noted his brother, Pinchas, who was killed in a 1990 shooting attack while serving as a reservist in the Jordan Valley, and lamented the servicemen and terror victims killed over the past year.
“Our loved ones paid with their lives so that the people of Israel would continue to live in their land,” he said. “Let’s be worthy of them.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni was killed in the 1976 hostage rescue in Entebbe, released a statement addressed to bereaved families.
“For us, every day is Memorial Day,” he said. “We wake up with the memory and go about our lives in the shadow of the memory.”
“A day before Independence Day, we stop our lives and salute our heroes, those who paid with their lives so our people will have independence, a strong country and a protective force,” the former prime minister added.
In a message sent to soldiers, military chief Aviv Kohavi said: “IDF soldiers and commanders operate in all sectors, develop means and methods of warfare, and head out on operations to defend the country. But the first weapon will always be the fighting spirit, the willingness to fight, and the quality of the people.”
“Along with you, I wish strength to the families of the fallen and embrace them,” Kohavi added.
Thirty-three names were also added to the list of terror victims who perished in attacks in the past year. Another four disabled victims died due to complications from serious injuries they sustained in attacks, bringing the total to 3,199 since Israel was established in 1948.
Counting from the “early days of Zionism” in 1851, the total number of terror victims stands at 4,216, according to Israel’s National Insurance Institute.
The list did yet not include 23-year-old Vyacheslav Golev, a security guard who was gunned down at the entrance to the Ariel settlement by two Palestinians on Friday night. The National Insurance Institute said a discussion was being held with the Defense Ministry as to whether he would be considered a fallen soldier or a terror victim, in light of a 2016 law that can count security guards as soldiers.
The main national ceremony, which takes place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, is set to begin at 8 p.m., when the one-minute siren will ring out nationwide.
A second two-minute siren will sound Wednesday at 11 a.m., launching the daytime commemoration ceremonies for fallen soldiers centered on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl. A ceremony commemorating terror victims will be held at 1 p.m.
At 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Memorial Day will end with the national torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl that will usher in Israel’s 74th Independence Day.
Memorial Day, established in 1951 by then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion, was set for the 4th of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, the day before Independence Day.