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Ceremony at the Western Wall Ushers in Israel’s Memorial Day

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A brief but touching ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last night ushered in Memorial Day, a 24-hour period of mourning and remembrance in honor of Israel’s war dead. It traditionally precedes the Independence Day festivities which begin at sundown this evening.

President Chaim Herzog, who spoke at the Western Wall last night, noted that those ancient stones witnessed the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago. “May we remember that the fallen in Israel’s wars did not fall this time on the altar of destruction, but rather for rebirth, existence and life,” he said.

Flags raised this morning all over the country flew at half mast. At II a.m. the wail of sirens signalled the start of memorial services at military cemeteries and monuments to fallen soldiers. In classrooms, students observed the memorial and recalled former schoolmates who fell in battle.

Chief of staff Gen. Moshe Levy issued a general order which was read at all military cemeteries and installation in the country. It said in part: “Today, we remember our comrades who fell, each one of them a world unto himself … Some fell with the grace of youth still etched on their faces. Some had wed but had not yet established a household. Others were older and left behind entire families.”

GRIM STATISTICS RECALLED

The families and close friends of the fallen were those who crowded the military cemeteries and other memorial sites today. They had grim statistics to contemplate. In the 37 years of Israel’s existence, 13,035 men and women were killed in combat. They include the 653 soldiers who have lost their lives to date in Lebanon.

Israel suffered its worst casualties in the 1948-49 war for independence — 6,074 dead. In the Sinai campaign of 1956, and subsequent clashes with infiltrators, 972 soldiers died. The 1967 Six-Day War, Israel’s greatest victory, cost 803 lives; but the war of attrition with Egypt that followed took another 738.

The 1973 Yom Kippur War was Israel’s second worst in terms of casualties. It left 2,569 soldiers dead. Another 68 died in further clashes stemming from that war.

The only one of Israel’s wars that divided rather than united the nation was the Lebanon war, begun in June, 1982. The Israel Defense Force is now in the final stages of withdrawal from Lebanon, but casualties, dead or wounded, continue, almost daily.

One group of bereaved parents of soldiers who died in Lebanon urged Cabinet ministers not to speak at the various memorial services today unless the government agreed to conduct a full scale inquiry into the war. Their plea was rejected.

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