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Israel Mourns Its War Dead

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Israel mourned its war dead today. But the annual day of remembrance of fallen soldiers and Independence Day which will be celebrated tomorrow, find the nation troubled in spirit and seriously divided over its government’s policies for the first time since the Jewish State was founded 35 years ago.

The memorial ceremonies began at the Western Wall last night where President Yitzhak Navon kindled a flame that will burn throughout the day. Similar memorial flames were lighted at army camps all over the country. Navon received the torch from Mrs. Simcha Luria whose son was killed in the war in Lebanon last summer. Another bereaved parent of the Lebanon war, Aharon Mizrachi, recited Kaddish.

Sirens sounded at noon today halting all traffic as Israelis stopped wherever they were to observe a minute of silence for the nearly 500 soldiers who died in Lebanon and the thousands of others fallen in the four other major wars and countless skirmishes that marked Israel’s first generation of Statehood. The weather, unseasonably cold and rainy today, corresponded with the general mood.

FEAR OF INTERNECINE STRIFE

But for the first time, Israelis were fearful that Independence Day, normally an occasion when partisan politics are cast aside, may witness internecine strife and possibly violence between Israelis. Those concerns are focussed on ceremonies scheduled for tomorrow officially transforming Beracha, a military (Nahal) outpost overlooking Nablus on the West Bank, into yet another civilian settlement. The ceremonies are to be a State event, organized by the government.

Nablus, with a population of about 100,000, is the largest Arab city in the territory and the ceremonies, symbolizing Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the West Bank, are regarded as deliberately provocative by the Peace Now movement which has called for a massive counter-demonstration at the site.

The Gush Emunim, strongly backed by Premier Menachem Begin’s government, is urging its followers and ranking officials to attend. The army’s central command has assured the public that troops will be there in force to maintain order. But tension is building and fear of possible violence has been expressed in some quarters.

On Friday, Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, urged Begin to cancel the ceremonies in the interests of national unity. He was backed by his erstwhile political rival, Yitzhak Rabin who appealed to Begin as “the only former Prime Minister still alive” to “have the courage to cancel the plans.”

Independence Day has always centered around a national consensus, he said but dedication of a new settlement adjacent to Nablus can only create national unrest, he warned. Begin ignored these pleas. His press spokesman, Uri Porat, said last night that there would be no government response to the Laborites.

The Voice of Israel Radio reported today that Defense Minister Moshe Arens, a hardliner on settlement policy, would not attend the Beracha ceremony although his appearance there has been announced. The report said that Arens would instead attend the dedication of a soldier’s welfare facility. In that case, Deputy Premier David Levy will be the only Cabinet minister present.

SITE IS SACRED TO ORTHODOX JEWS

Beracha at the moment consists of a few small buildings. But the multi-lane highway leading to its approaches indicates that rapid expansion to a major township is intended. The site is sacred to Orthodox Jews.

The name Beracha, meaning blessing, stems from the Biblical account of how the 12 tribes of Israel stood on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eval, near Nablus which the Israelites called Shechem, to recite blessings for those who abided by divine ordinances and curses on those who defied them.

Beracha has become symbolic of the deep divisions over the Begin government’s settlement policies. Peres warned over the weekend that the Likud government was making on historic error by ignoring the Jordanian option and laying the groundwork for a multinational state by incorporating the West Bank and Gaza, with their 1.5 million Arabs into the Jewish State.

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