Israel Marks Memorial Day
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Israel Marks Memorial Day

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Sirens wailed shortly after sundown last night to mark the beginning of Memorial Day, 24 hours of solemn retrospection, muted ceremonies and private grieving for the fallen soldiers in each of the wars Israel has fought since its founding in 1948.

The sirens sounded again this morning, at precisely II a.m. local time to announce the start of the main memorial services on Mr. Herzl in Jerusalem and at some 140 military cemeteries throughout the country. Speaking on Mr. Herzi, Premier Yitzhak Shamir declared that “Israel never wanted to live by the sword, but her enemies offered only annihilation or capitulation and Israel chose to live.”

He said he was sure peace will come and there will be a day when Israel will not be forced to fight for its freedom. “We are ready to fight for freedom while yearning for peace,” the Premier said.

At another memorial ceremony in Nahariya, Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party, noted that a war is still going on north of Israel (in Lebanon) where “evil men” had sought to wreak destruction on Galilee’s settlements. He said he hoped the danger would soon be contained, along the temporary line inside Lebanon and from bases within Israel.

There is now peace on Israel’s southern border, Peres observed. “Not yet a complete peace, but better a partial peace than a total war,” he said, referring to the “cold peace” now prevailing with Egypt.


The ceremonies last night centered on the Western Wall where President Chaim Herzog and Defense Minister Moshe Arens addressed a throng of mourners. “Nothing can console those who lost loved ones during Israel’s wars,” Herzog said. Arens added, “All one can do is keep in mind what would have happened if Israel did not face up to the challenges confronting it.”

At the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, Asher Ben-Natan, a former Israeli Ambassador to France and a member of the Labor Party, spoke critically of the war in Lebanon. “There was no other war in Israel like the Lebanon war, with its wide gap between the front and the rear areas, a war in which they (the soldiers) fought at the front while life continued normally in the rear,” he said.

Ben-Natan, who himself lost a son in Lebanon, was interrupted by a heckler who shouted “no politics.” The man seemed to have the sympathy of the audience. He was calmed by ushers but apparently not removed.

Memorial Day ends at sundown tonight and will be followed immediately by Independence Day, celebrating the 36th anniversary of the Jewish State. It is a festive occasion, following a day of mourning. The sudden change of atmosphere has, in the past, created emotional problems for the grieving families of fallen soldiers and others, especially since Memorial Day is preceded by the Days of Remembrance for the Holocaust victims.

But frequent suggestions that the Holocaust remembrance and Memorial Day be shifted to another occasion, such as Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, have been rejected by the authorities.

This year’s Independence Day will be on a somewhat smaller scale than previous Independence Days, mainly because of budgetary problems. There will be no military parade. The main event will be a football (soccer) match at the Ramat Gan Stadium accompanied by an Air Force display and free-fall parachute exhibition.

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