Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heckled Sunday morning by a bereaved father during a ceremony opening a new remembrance hall for Israel’s fallen soldiers ahead of the country’s Memorial Day which begins in the evening.
Moments into his speech at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery, the prime minister was interrupted by a man shouting, “Apologize! I don’t forgive you.”
“I won’t forget the tears of Leah Goldin,” the man added.
The heckler, who was later identified as Shaul Chitayat, later sat down, allowing the prime minister to continue.
He was likely referring to an incident that took place two weeks ago during a heated Knesset committee hearing in which two Likud MKs yelled at bereaved families who had criticized the prime minister, also present at the meeting, for his conduct during the 2014 Gaza War.
MK Miki Zohar got into a verbal sparring match during the meeting with Goldin, whose son Hadar’s remains are being held by Hamas in Gaza. A second Likud MK, David Bitan, called another bereaved parent “a liar.”
A group of parents whose sons were killed in operation sent a harsh letter to Netanyahu last week condemning what they called his “too little and too late” apology over the incident.
In his only public comments on the outburst, which drew a chorus of condemnation from across the political spectrum, Netanyahu expressed “regret” for the behavior of his party’s Knesset members but stopped short at a full apology.
After the interruption, Netanyahu proceeded with his speech honoring Israel’s fallen soldiers, saying the new memorial site would become “one of the symbols of the state of Israel.”
“This building teaches us of sacrifice for the sake of the land and the people of Israel. Its walls are built of bravery, strength and sacrifice. And it is remembrance that joins them all together,” he said.
The site is meant to commemorate every one of the more than 23,000 soldiers killed since before the establishment of the state.
Construction of the memorial began in January 2015. The structure cost NIS 75 million ($20 million), with another NIS 14 million invested in multimedia. The site will first open to families of fallen soldiers on Monday.
Also speaking at the ceremony, President Reuven Rivlin said the site would provide an answer to those parents who ask who will remember their children after they pass.
“Now more than ever we promise: the memory of our sons and daughters will be inscribed in the heart of the nation, from generation to generation,” he said.
Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism will formally begin at sundown Sunday, as the country pauses for an annual remembrance marked with candle lighting and commemorative services.
Since 1860 when the first Jewish neighborhood was established outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, 23,544 men and women have died defending Israel and the pre-state Jewish community, according to official figures.
In the past year, 97 additional Israelis were added to the list of the fallen, with 37 of them having been disabled IDF veterans who succumbed to their injuries.
According to Defense Ministry statistics, there are currently 9,157 bereaved parents of IDF soldiers and security forces living in Israel, 4,881 widows, 1,843 orphans under the age of 30 and thousands more bereaved siblings and orphans older than 30.
Three thousand, one hundred and seventeen civilians were killed in terrorist attacks since Israel’s establishment in 1948, according to the National Insurance Institute.
Two sirens will sound to mark the day, each coupled with a moment of silence in memory of the fallen. The first, at 8 p.m., will indicate the start of the commemoration day, with an official state candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem taking place immediately after to be attended by President Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
At 11 a.m., an additional two-minute siren will ring, marking the start of the day’s official ceremonies throughout the country expected to be attended by 1.5 million Israelis.
An hour before, Rivlin will officially inaugurate the new Mount Herzl memorial hall for fallen soldiers with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The official ceremony honoring those who died in acts of terror will begin at 1 p.m.
The commemoration day, established in 1951 by then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion, was set for the 4th of Iyar, the day before Independence Day, which begins immediately after Memorial Day on Monday night.