Kristine L Ming

Israel commemorates 23,544 fallen at Western Wall ceremony in Jerusalem

Israeli leaders and soldiers stood in silence and bowed their heads for one minute at the Western Wall on Sunday evening as a memorial siren blared across the country in commemoration for Israel’s Memorial Day.

The ceremony, which was attended by President Reuven Rivlin , Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and Police Commissioner Roni Alshich marked the beginning of the day which honors the 23,544 security forces who have died defending the State of Israel since the beginning of the modern Jewish movement in the Land of Israel in 1860 and victims of terror.

Over the past year another 97 soldiers and officers serving in Israel’s security forces, including 18 IDF soldiers and 37 wounded veterans who succumbed to their wounds, have joined the ranks of Israel’s fallen, according to numbers released by the Defense Ministry ahead of Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.

Lighting the memorial flame, President Reuven Rivlin said that ensuring the safety and security of Israel and its citizens, along with that of its soldiers, was the country’s first priority and that 50 years after the reunification of Jerusalem Israel still remembers the price that must be paid for the existence of the State of Israel.

Addressing the bereaved families, Rivlin said that “there is a price, and we, in awe and terror, are willing to pay that price. Dear bereaved families, you paid the price. The price of our liberty is purchased in blood,” he said, adding that “the IDF is all of us: it defends us, and so we defend it. We must always remember: together we fall, and together we stand.”

Rivlin also made special mention of the families of soldiers who did not return from the battlefields, stating that Israel remains committed to bringing them home. According to the IDF’s Location of the Missing in Action (MIA) Branch there are 179 soldiers who have been declared dead even though their bodies were not found and buried since Israel was established, most recently Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul whose bodies are being held in Gaza by Hamas after they were killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Following Rivilin’s speech IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot stated that “the Israeli people bows its head in memory of its commanders and soldiers who gave their lives to protect the homeland. We bow in the memory of our soldiers who who embarked on their missions with commitment to the lives of all Israeli citizens. Those who acted with ingenuity, with level-headedness and with supreme heroism – and sacrificed their lives for us. We will bow our heads and remember the sons and the daughters of the Israeli people, who acted with courage and boundless dedication to the very end.”

The “heritage of Israel and the IDF has been written by brave warriors who dared to fight even in impossible situations, who stood alone against many opponents – it’s a legacy of persistence and uncompromising fighting until the mission was completed,” Eisenkot added.

There are a total of 9,157 bereaved parents in Israel, thousands of bereaved siblings, 4,881 widows and 1,843 orphans under the age of 30 according to the National Insurance Institute. In addition 3,117 civilians have been killed in hostile acts such as terror attacks since the birth of the the State of Israel, including 122 foreign nationals and 100 Israelis killed in attacks abroad.

Over 1.5 million people are expected to visit military cemeteries spread across the country on Memorial Day which officially begun Sunday evening at the Yad Labanim memorial in Jerusalem at 4pm with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in attendance.

On Sunday at 10 AM President Reuven Rivlin inaugurated the the newly constructed national Hall of Remembrance for fallen soldiers on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other senior defense officials were present.

Speaking at the candle lighting ceremony later that evening, Rivlin emphasized Israel’s commitment to the memory of fallen soldiers, stating that “the true staying power of a nation grows from the living memory of our roots, of our history, and our tradition. The living memory of our heroes. Not only black-bordered pictures on the wall, rather, a living heritage, a torch that lights our way, the story of their life and of their death.”

On Monday at 11 a.m a two-minute-long siren will mark the beginning of official memorial ceremonies which will be held around the country, including at the Mount Herzl military cemetery which will also be where the official ceremony to honor those killed in hostile acts will take place at 1pm.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin will attend the ceremony in Jerusalem while Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman will attend the ceremony at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery near Tel Aviv.

Memorial Day will finish at 8pm on Monday evening with the torch lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl which will marks the opening of Israel’s 69th Independence Day celebrations.

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